Tim Jones, South West divisional director for learning disability charity United Response, continues our regular feature on decision-making with his career highs and lows
My best decision concerns Steve,* who has Asperger’s syndrome. Steve had spent much of his life being moved between residential homes.
When United Response came into contact with him in 2001, he was about to move yet again. The problem had been that everyone was too busy sending Steve to places they thought would work for him rather than asking him.
A place would be found, Steve would move in, it wouldn’t work out and a few months later he’d be moved on. I spent a lot of time with Steve and his mother trying to find the right solution. We didn’t get it right immediately – probably because I didn’t listen well enough – but my best decision was to persevere. In doing so, I found out what Steve wanted was to be five minutes from his mother and to have his own front door.
Through a shared ownership arrangement with United Response, Steve moved into his own home, near his mother, three years ago. Now he has a support team he has hand-picked and control over his life.
One of the best things for me is that I’ve learned a lot from Steve. He knows what is important to him and is about to become something of a “quality controller”, letting us know what sort of job we’re doing in supporting others. Steve has joined our leadership team and brings a refreshing perspective.
In the same way that getting it right depended a lot on listening and understanding, getting it wrong is often the consequence of doing neither well.
Take my time as a trainee social worker. Getting to know a family of travellers, whose children were at a specialist boarding school, was not without its difficulties. Nor was it easy to deal with the frequent messages I’d receive saying they had absconded, necessitating a visit to the caravan site in order to return them.
On one such occasion my supervisor accompanied me, complete with running shoes. We gave chase and duly returned two upset children to school. When we arrived, the teacher who greeted us asked how their mother was. Unbeknown to us she was seriously ill and the children wanted only to be near her.
In my mind, all that mattered was safely returning the children to school. In focusing on this I had acted in a way that was uncaring and insensitive to their real needs. I had made the worst possible decision.
Some people may find it hard to say what’s troubling them. By not looking past a person’s behaviour, decisions based on assumption are often made. This can be deeply damaging. That much I have learned during my 38 years in this work.
*Not his real name
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This originally appeared on p34 of the 19 February 2009 issue