From working in nursing home kitchens to becoming a Registered Care Manager

Two smiling men stand together outside wearing climbing helmets

I’ve worked in social care since I was 16. Now I’m a Registered Care Manager leading a team of support workers.

It was only when I started working with Sense that I really saw how communicating and connecting differently gave disabled people with complex communication needs the confidence to live independent and active lives.

I started out in the kitchens of a nursing home

I started out in the kitchens of a large nursing home. As the only male member of staff, I found myself helping 20 men with shaving every morning, even though I’d only been shaving a few years myself!

I soon moved into a care role, working for an agency to learn skills in different settings.

I got involved in Sense in 1998, in a service for six people who’d been referred because no one else could support them due to reported behaviours that challenged.

Some of those six people referred to Sense had moved from really quite harsh institutions that were being forced to close down, and they had lots of what people would call ‘institutional behaviours’ as a result of the poor care they’d received.

The individuals had been in environments where you weren’t allowed to put drinks or pens down, due to the risk of harm. So I had to really be on my toes, focused on what I was doing, and working to best support people who’d not received good care in the past.

Supported living and one-to-one care gives independence and confidence

After a lot of experience in larger care environments, I went on to assist a man who’d moved into his own purpose-built flat. The one-to-one approach was a really interesting and rewarding change.

The man I supported really liked his own company, but he liked me being there. Having someone who knew him well and who understood the signs and the way he communicated, helped him grow in confidence.

I’ve since moved onto a new role, but we stay in contact. That individual I supported had started life in an institution where he was really neglected and barely communicating. Now he’s someone who talks, chooses his own music, and has just really flourished.

It’s lovely to see him walking around with his support worker, and he’s often got a smile on his face. To know I’ve been part of that journey, and done great work with him, feels really rewarding.

The core values I believe you need to be a support worker

A man holds another man to assist him in a swimming pool

After almost 20 years working with Sense, I’ve experienced being in most of the roles that, in one way or another, support disabled people with complex communication needs.

Today I’m a Registered Care Manager in Peterborough where I manage a team of support workers, but still enjoy working hands-on with the people my team help.

From my experience as a support worker, I think it’s about creating choices, or making the people you support aware that they have choices, and promoting that as much as possible

It’s also important not to overload with too much choice, so it’s about structuring and delivering options carefully.

Importantly, I think that as a support worker, you really need to get to know and understand the identity of the person you’re supporting.

Finding out what interests or excites someone is part of exploring someone’s identity.

Sometimes when I introduce someone I’m supporting to something new, I can see that spark. That might be an activity, a sound, texture or smell they’ve found really interesting, or some new experience that has just blown their mind. When that happens, it’s just so wonderful to witness, and helpful to learning more about their identity.

From there, you can learn – sometimes after quite a long time – what it was that was interesting to that individual. Through exploring these different interests, you start to build a clearer picture of the individual’s personality, wants and needs.

I think the final quality that’s so important to have in any role supporting disabled people with complex communication needs, is good communication skills. Communication can be the big things, but often it’s the subtlest, smallest thing, like moving a little finger to show which arm of your shirt you want us to help you put on.

I get to take my passions to work

A group of men and women building a make-shift bridge from pieces of wood across a shallow river

I feel very lucky to be to have a job where I can bring the things I really enjoy into a place of work. Outside work I rock climb, and at work I’ve supported people to go rock climbing, which is just great!

My interest in outdoor sports and activities has shaped what I’ve done as a support worker. I’ve supported people to go deep sea fishing in Denmark, built bridges from trees, helped out on hot holidays, cold holidays, camping holidays, hotels, cottages, adapted cottages, all environments… and I’ve seen people have such a wonderful time. I don’t think I’m ever going to find another job like that.

Search the Sense Jobs website to find Support Worker roles and other rewarding opportunities to support people with complex communication needs.

Author: Jay Harper

Jay is a Sense Registered Care Manager who manages a team of Support Workers.

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