The different roles of a Support Worker
We look into different types of support worker jobs and how you can become a support worker in a variety of different settings. Words by Sarah Gill.
22nd July 2011
Support worker jobs are available in all sectors of health and social care and it’s one job you can do without any formal qualifications, although many employers do ofter the chance to study for NVQ qualifications while you work.
As a support worker you could be required to work nights and weekends as well as day time shifts, depending on your role, and there is a huge opportunity for part time working. Support worker jobs are available throughout the UK, and it will depend on the employer as to the terms and contract offered, but you can probably find a vacancy close to you which meets your needs.
In order to be a successful support worker you will need a broad skill and knowledge base, not least of which is an understanding of vulnerable people. You need to be able to understand and adhere to your role in a strictly professional capacity, and to know how legislation works to protect yourself as well as the client. You will definitely need a sense of humour and the ability to manage challenging or difficult behaviour. It can be a very intense job, and some people describe it as a lifestyle rather than a job because you usually get to know the individual(s) you are working with very well.
Support worker jobs in learning disabilities
If you are a support worker working with people who have learning disabilities, you may be working with just one individual or a group of individuals living together in a supported environment. You will work on building a relationship with the individual(s) while you support them with in living their lives.
Promoting independence and wellbeing in a person with learning disabilities is the biggest part of being a support worker. The individual care plan will very much depend on the service user and their capabilities, but as a support worker you will ensure they are safe while still getting the most amount of satisfaction from their activities. Some people undertake volunteer work during the days, others live almost independently by shopping, cooking and cleaning for themselves. In your capacity as a support worker you can offer your opinion and advice about any activity or issue, but ultimately the final decision of the person you are supporting must be respected. For example, you could advise about healthy food choices when assisting an individual with making their shopping list, but it is their choice if they actually buy what's on the list when they get to the supermarket.
You could be involved in assisting them with any type of physical activity such as helping them exercise, or with recreational activities such as shopping, playing games, or cooking and cleaning in their home. Some service users may be able to live independently and will only need support when going out, others may need assistance in their own homes to undertake daily tasks, but whatever the needs of the individual you will support them at a level that is appropriate for their needs.
Support worker jobs in mental health
Mental health is a very varied area for a support worker to work in, you could be working with individuals who have a drug or addiction problem, depression, or dementia to name just a few possibilities. Support workers in this area are sometimes called STR workers, which stands for support, time and recovery worker. The emphasis is on providing support to the individual, giving them time and in so doing, aid their recovery.
Your work could include arranging peer support groups for people with a particular issue, or working alongside a psychiatrist, social worker or community mental health team in the managing a caseload of individuals with a range of mental health problems. Your role will be to promote independent living, give regular and practical support and assist the service user to gain access to resources they might otherwise be unaware of. This could be through a community mental health team, early intervention service or day care centre - there are STR or support workers based in all these locations.
It’s important that you have a genuinely caring nature, and the willingness to help the individual overcome their problems, as well as the ability to prioritise your workload. It’s common that an individual will be under the care of a multi-disciplinary team, so your ability to pass information effectively between other team members is essential.
Support worker in the community
A support worker in the community visits people who need assistance in their own homes. They may be people who have been discharged from hospital, or are elderly and losing their mobility, or they simply need a small amount of assistance in order to maintain their independence.
The tasks a support worker will usually perform include personal care, bathing, dressing, cooking and sometimes a small amount of cleaning if required. The range of needs that a person has will depend greatly on their mobility and how much treatment they are receiving. It may be that you will work alongside a community nurse as part of manual handling guidelines set down when moving a person, or you could be working on your own to ensure a service user has a healthy cooked meal that day.
You could also be a children and families support worker in the community working closely with both parents, guardians and children to provide emotional and practical advice. This could involve working alongside a social worker or a case manager, so a key part of the job of a support worker is to be able to actively participate both as part of a team and as an individual.
Being a support worker is hugely rewarding career, it can offer a real sense of achievement and reward in the knowledge that you are helping to make someone’s life better. However, it can also be stressful and you could find yourself working in isolation on some occasions. You need to be strong character able to recognise the signs of stress, but strong enough to ask for help when you need it. You will never be asked to work outside of your capabilities and you should always draw an employers attention to your skill level if you are asked to do something you haven’t been trained to do. Most employers will train you in basic first aid, manual handling and sometimes medication handling, but you must never put yourself or others at risk by trying to undertake a task you have not been trained for.
There are support worker jobs in clinical settings as well as the situations we’ve looked at in this article. There are support workers in virtually all areas of healthcare from occupational therapy to physiotherapy to maternity. The range of tasks involved in your particular role as a support worker will vary hugely between each department so you should take a careful look at the job description before you apply to any support worker vacancy.