Personal experiences which have influenced the
lives and opinions of those involved in social care.

One of my carer friends complains that her
sister’s care worker persists in talking to her, ignoring her
sister, who cannot speak after a stroke, as though she were
incapable of understanding anything. My husband, who cannot speak,
read or write, and I have had similar experiences.

Our care workers are qualified with NVQs that
cover handling, shifting, and health and safety, but they receive
no training in communication skills.

Rather than take my anger out on them, I came
up with my own training course. My idea was to co-ordinate the
training for them and to make the programme accessible, because
care workers do not usually have training budgets allocated to
them, can’t afford to take time off work and often have to pay for
any training themselves.

I would recommend the following model of
communications training. Trainers should go to the care workers’
own workplace – for example, a day centre or care home. Training
should be delivered in short sessions of no more than two hours, so
care workers do not have to take days off or travel to attend

Experts in communications techniques should be
brought in because theory is as important as practice. The
practical aspects consist of filming actual conversations with
people with communications difficulties. The film is reviewed and
analysed by a speech and language therapist face-to-face with each
trainee between the weekly practice sessions. These sessions run
for four weeks or so.

A major advantage of this approach is that
people with communication difficulties and their carers help with
the training. This enables care workers to sit around the same
table with carers outside of the caring situation to share
experiences, coping strategies and resources. Carers and users are
assessed and receive support and, where necessary, training.

Bringing into training the abilities and
experiences of carers is central to this model. Besides the
advantages to the trainees, engaging carers in the delivery of
training offers many advantages to them. Because of the
individualistic nature of their job, they are a difficult group to
reach. They may well feel isolated and alone. Involving them in
training helps to break through the isolation and provides some
respite from their caring role.

Other direct personal advantages for carers
are: observing others in conversation will help their own learning;
they learn in a way that is non-threatening and productive; it is
an opportunity for them to examine their own strengths and
weaknesses; and it helps them examine their own emotions.

And, in an era when so much emphasis is placed
on preparedness for the workplace, no one should overlook the fact
that this kind of training enables carers to learn new skills and
techniques, opening up jobs for them while they’re caring and when
caring stops.

Monica Clarke is a carer in the London Borough
of Camden,

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