Thursday, 31 January 2013

What makes people great at supporting people with learning disabilities?

We know that training, sound policies and good managers create a competent workforce but what creates great support workers? Those support workers that go the extra mile to support people well and who have a real passion for their work.....are they born great support workers or do they learn on the job?

Probably a bit of both...some of us have those natural qualities that mean we are just good with people.  Some of us have a passion for justice and equality and making sure all people lead equal lives. Some of us work with great teachers/managers that lead by example and teach us how to support people well.

If I think about about my own work and what had the greatest impact on the quality of the support I gave, the most defining factor was probably having a family member with learning disabilities. This meant that I put my heart into my work and really cared about the people I was supporting. Though that wasn't enough to make me a great support worker. My first job supporting people was as a student and I worked in a residential care home where poor practice and abuse was rife. I learned alot there about what you don't do and this job gave me a determination to make things better.

I went on to work in a much better organisation that took more care to support people well and had good managers that supported their staff well but that organisation was confined by institutional models of housing and support. Lots of competent staff but very few great staff.

I still vividly recall the first thing that really transformed how I worked- I went to a seminar by Lynne Seagle who runs Hope House Foundation in the USA. She talked about people with learning disabilities having ordinary lives and ordinary relationships, taking risks and being part of their communities and an organisation that worked around the people it supported. She told stories about people and conveyed a strong vision for what was possible. This was a lightbulb moment and I never went back.

I was lucky enough to go on and work in organisations that valued learning and I went on to have similar 'lightbulb' moments with Peter Kinsella, Simon Duffy, Carl Poll and Jayne Knight, people who can tell  stories and communicate important messages that connect with peoples hearts and minds. I also had lots of other learning in how to create better systems, use  person centred planning tools etc that were all valuable but in my view, not as important as the learning that changed how I felt about people.

Now for the shameless plug...I know that with dwindling training budgets that even fewer support staff will get the opportunity to meet great leaders in our field like I did, that inspire and really change practice. That is why  H&SA embarked on a partnership with Open Future Learning, a person centred approach to e-learning especially for those who work with people with learning disabilities and led by some of the most inspiring trainers and speakers such as David Hinsburger, Simon Duffy, Beth Mount, Doreen Kelly, Patti Scott and our very own Sam Sly, amongst others.

We are offering H&SA members a free 3 week trial (non-members a free 1 week trial) so do take us up on this offer and see what your staff think. We have courses on sexuality and relationships, autism, challenging behaviour, employment, rights and self determination alongside many others and your staff will benefit even in the trial period. Here is a great video from Open Future Learning...

For more info go to and email to request your trial along with the email addresses of up to 8 staff.