The Most Impactful Lesson I've Learned as a Social Worker for People With Disabilities
Since I first told people I was going to study social care, people have told me “Oh, you’ll have a wonderful experience going into that!” or “That will suit you as a career.” Having my brother in my life has brought me down a path of patience, encouragement, and open-mindedness — which I know will go a long way in the social care sector. However, after recently starting a new job in social care, I’ve learned things I never thought I would and felt emotions I struggle to understand. Doing things one way for so long because I know what works for my brother has challenged me in social work because I slowly have to start opening my mind to other ways of doing things. I am learning that I should never have expectations or preconceived ideas about how to help others. Just because a person has a disability you generally understand doesn’t mean you know their individual needs.
In my new position, I’ve started working with a young adult who is autistic and non-verbal and has epilepsy. Being able to bring ideas that have worked for my brother into this man’s life has been hugely rewarding. I can see a benefit to bringing these ideas in, and I have found that even bringing a simple idea that worked for my brother has ended up making this young adult’s milestones and successes more profound.
One thing we were always told in social care is to separate our personal and work lives. I always thought this was a cold-hearted way of working in the field. Our clients depend on us, so the thought that I can’t even think of them outside of work hours just didn’t seem right to me. However, working in a social care job has shown how important it is to find balance. If I bring this young adult’s challenges home, I’d struggle to look after my own mental health, which I need to succeed in helping him. It’s OK to not think about your clients when you go home — it doesn’t mean you don’t care about them. It’s often important to look after your well-being and “switch off” from work to give your clients the care they need.
I have also found the “paperwork” side of social care to be eye-opening. I was always someone who enjoyed administrative work and staying on top of my checklists. In social care, every aspect of a service user’s life is to be written down somewhere. There’s a different form for everything — incidents, family contacts, and sometimes even clients’ food intakes. We always have to make sure everything we do “ticks a box.” I completely understand that we fill out paperwork for our clients’ safety and well-being — making sure everything we do benefits them in some way. However, I feel sometimes we receive the message that the paperwork is more important than the service users themselves. This paperwork has been put in place to protect service users and staff from harm, but what harm have they gone through to need this extensive paperwork? I always worry that if service users saw the amount of paperwork going on behind the scenes, they’d view themselves as case numbers instead of people.
If you are considering a job in social care, my advice would be to treat clients like human beings. At the end of the day, these are their lives, so coming into their worlds putting in little to no effort because you are tired or cannot be bothered is not acceptable. Let each day your clients have with you be a positive experience for them — no matter how small. Not all days will be “good,” but not all days will be “bad” either. You can make sure that even on hard, stressful days, your clients have you with them every step of the way. Try your best, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Treat your team and your clients with respect. Social care isn’t an easy line of work, but I am proud to say I work in such an impactful field.
Getty image by Valeriy_G.