As this year’s Carers Week enters its closing stages, we have had timely reminders of the commitment and honesty of those whose love and care for others is unconditional - and who at times have found themselves in situations where support and understanding from others may have been lacking or hard to access.
The caring experiences described by Maggie Sanderson and Ally Khodabocus this week (supplied courtesy of our friends at Research in Practice for Adults) prove why person-centred holistic social work is needed now more than ever.
Caring goes beyond the practical and clinical – it is also about relationships and empathy - the emotional connection between carers and those for whom they care. As social workers, we help strengthen and maintain that connection, or fix it when it breaks. We do this by listening to and understanding people’s concerns; looking within and beyond family and friends to find additional support networks and possible solutions.
Our ultimate goal? Mutually assured wellbeing!
Alongside their personal stories, Maggie and Ally were kind enough to provide some top tips for social workers supporting carers and I’d like to share them with you.
I also recommend you read Lisa Smith’s blog (if you haven’t already) promoting RiPfA’s resources for social workers working with carers and to watch this film in which carers offer our profession more food for thought.
The best social workers are the ones who keep listening and learning. Over to Maggie and Ally…
Top tips for social workers supporting carers:
- Be aware of what’s going on – carers might have lots of other demands on them and other people they are trying to support.
- Make time and opportunity to speak in private.
- Keep technical language to a minimum and use words that people who might be quite poorly, stressed or worried will be able to understand.
- Of course you should be professional, but make communication and support accessible and warm.
- Do what you say you’re going to do. And be realistic. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. We would prefer you to be honest. If you don’t know when you’ll get time to call, or think that you might not be able to make something happen, tell me. Then I can manage my expectations. It doesn’t help me to have my hopes raised and dashed.
- Don’t assume that people understand just because they nod and say yes. They might just be telling you what you want to hear, they might be confused and not want to look stupid, or they might be stressed and just want you to leave quickly. Ask the person or carer to recap what they think has been agreed or what will happen next. And if they can’t tell you, then find another way to communicate it. Don’t leave until you have a shared understanding
Read Maggie’s story here
Top tips for social workers supporting carers:
- Be open minded, be willing to listen.
- Don’t be suspicious, put assumptions on a situation or think that people are saying certain things just to get something. There is a real need sometimes. They are not just creating a scenario to get resources, it is not make believe.
- We want social workers to be human, and I don’t want to feel that I’m just one of their cases adding to their stressful workload, that I am a burden or a nuisance. It makes me feel guilty, as though I shouldn’t ask for help, as though I don’t have a right to support.
- You are always dealing with an individual. No two people are alike and one jacket does not fit all. Don’t make assumptions about the person in front of you, what they can or can do, what they need.
- It is OK to tell people there aren’t the resources available to meet a particular need. It is better than telling them they don’t have that need.
- Think about what you are saying. It is incredibly difficult for people to let strangers in their house to assess their children and whether they are ‘coping’. It is hurtful to hear someone tell you that you are doing the wrong things and that you are not coping.
- Remember that when you leave, that family is still trying to live behind that closed door. They are already suffering and that is why they are asking for help. What happens while they are waiting for a plan? Is there any way to put temporary support in place while there is a full assessment? Even if it is just a little thing? If you had a leak in your house and a plumber came, he wouldn’t go away and leave it leaking just because he couldn’t fix it ‘properly’. He would make a temporary fix while you were waiting for the parts.
- The human touch is important. It is good to be able to see your social worker as a friendly person, someone you trust, who you can talk to.
Read Ally’s story here
Social workers are listening and so is the Department of Health. The call for evidence to support the creation of a new national Carers Strategy continues into the summer. Carers, social workers and anyone else seeking better ways to support our ‘hidden workforce’ are invited to contribute.