I work in an area of adult care that often feels like a backwater.
The client group I work with have profound learning difficulties,
challenging behaviour and no formal means of communication. They
fall into the category maligned by the reputation of community care
legislation. Some of these individuals have come from long-stay
mental hospitals, emptied because they are no longer the places in
which we wish to care for them.
But the nature of these hospitals’ existence probably contributed
to the depth of these people’s disability. They were admitted with
little understanding of their needs and languished in cramped,
inappropriate and unsuitable conditions. Most now live in various
forms of housing within the community.
My type of work does not lend itself to promotion or career
development. Hostels over the years have built up large numbers of
senior staff, but when they retire or move on they are not
replaced. New vacancies are for low-grade residential social
workers. The fact that most of us do not hold recognised social
work qualifications often means that our work involves cleaning and
personal care and little else.
Even the level of NVQ you can work towards is determined by your
grade and salary. So for those at the lower end of the salary scale
there is no chance to move on to higher grades and better pay.
Now residential homes for people with severe learning difficulties
and challenging behaviour are staffed by people on low grades and
low pay who are experienced and trained to high levels of
competency. Finding promotional opportunities may involve
travelling further to work. Given the shift rotas we work this is
Is this satisfactory and does this contribute to good work
practice? Could we work with management committees to which all
staff are responsible and work together as “collectives” with no
ranking? We work unsocial hours with extreme levels of challenging
behaviour at times, together with low staffing levels on some
shifts. These cause anxiety and stress that are detrimental to the
health and safety of staff and clients.
Look at the local opportunities in shops to earn the same pay with
no stress, no call-outs and low levels of responsibility. Our work
is important to society but this is not going to be reflected if we
perform caring duties under constant stress and frustration.
Patricia Shonibare is a senior residential social