There have been a number of cases in the headlines recently where the care of disabled and vulnerable people has reportedly fallen far short of acceptable standards. But what makes a good care worker?
Unfortunately, it’s true to say that most people don’t give a thought to those who work in care homes until they themselves, or a relative needs care. Carers are too often stereotyped as only taking up such a role because they are not qualified or able to do anything else. All too often we hear the comment; “well, someone’s got to do it I suppose,” as if caring for the disabled and elderly is somehow a demeaning occupation and the only option available to those who can’t get a ‘proper’ job.
This could not be further from the truth. Whilst it is true to say that some carers are poorly qualified and take up this kind of work because there are usually plenty of vacancies, this is not the rule. Care work for many is a vocational choice. Many care workers choose this path comparatively late in life. They have worked in other occupations for many years; some are graduates who were previously settled in what appeared to be a secure, long-term career. There is generally a trigger event that prompts this often radical career change; perhaps a relative or close friend has needed care, for example.
In my experience, it’s these latecomers to care work who bring with them compassion, understanding, common sense and a genuine desire to do the job. They care for people because they want to; not just because they need a job.
Unfortunately, the old adage; “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” tends to be applied to care work. The wage is usually the minimum, even once qualifications in the field have been gained. I know several wonderful care workers who left because they could get shop or cleaning work for the same money but with evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays off. It’s high time the private sector paid care workers their true worth; in my opinion.
Could it be time for some radical thinking? The better the working conditions for care workers and the happier and more fulfilled they are, the better the experience of those they are caring for; one would think. Maybe those who enjoy the profits made by their care homes should join those at the ‘sharp end’ and work at least one shift every month or so, alongside the carers they employ. Perhaps this would raise awareness of just what care workers do and how important they are to those who rely on them.
Links between the local community and care homes and also the agencies providing domiciliary care should be stronger. It’s so important that those who may one day find themselves reliant on carers gain an understanding of just how demanding, responsible and sometimes challenging a role they fulfill. Only in this way will care workers’ true value be understood and finally acknowledged and rewarded.