Young care workers in Dorset are pitching the profession to the
next generation of recruits in secondary schools. A group of 18 to
25-year-olds from various care settings in the county have just
finished a pilot scheme that began last December.
The idea for Care Ambassadors came to project manager Denise
Harrison one year ago while Topss South-West were trying to think
of ways to change the perceptions of young people about social work
and social care.
“We wanted to inspire young people to consider a career in
social care and social work,” Harrison told Recruitment
“It was clear that there were no materials in schools that
were stimulating or accessible.”
Late last year the first pilot scheme began in three schools. As
soon as word got around every school wanted to sign up.
There are seven female Care Ambassadors and two men. They are all
qualified and the team is made up of care assistants in residential
care, a primary care manager, a deputy manager of home, an adult
learning difficulty worker. But their biggest qualification is
Sara Neil, 20, trainee manager at the Old Vicarage residential home
for older people in Sherborne was one of the first Care
Ambassadors. “At school I never got any information on social
care, certainly not as a career option and so never considered
it,” she says.
Like most of her contemporaries, she believed in the stereotype of
social care as being about “middle aged women looking after
Neil planned to go to university, but during her gap year she
obatined a part-time job at the Old Vicarage. She never intended to
stay but was still there two years later when the home was
experiencing recruitment problems.
Neil helped shape Care Ambassadors. “We discussed who we
wanted to aim at and what we wanted to say to them.” They
decided it was best to go for pupils in Year 9 (13 year olds).
“This is when they are making up their minds as to what GCSEs
to take,” says Neil. It is also the year before the pupils do
their work experience, usually for two weeks, so they aim to
influence their choices of who to do this with.
Harrison said the care workers were taught presentational skills.
“If you don’t grab their attention in the first 30
seconds you have lost them”, she insists.
Sara and her colleagues use presentations, working with material
that is relevant to the pupils (images of David Beckham abound!) to
outline career choices and paths. Above all they use their own
experiences as a way of bringing it all to life for the
A session in class will last about 25 minutes but given the number
of tutor groups each Care Ambassador will do several sessions each
“Every one at the schools has been very positive,”
recalls Neil. They, like her at their age,
“come to the subject with the same prejudices and
misconceptions” as she did. But they soon shift. “I
have had no negative responses,” she says.
The pilot scheme has been a resounding success. But this is just
the start of the process of winning hearts and minds for social
care, says Harrison. Getting the Year 10 children onto work
experience is key.
“We have to make sure that mentoring is offered; employers
will offer Saturday morning employment. We need to ensure that the
work they do is stimulating and not menial. For example, they could
help plan a care worker’s rota for a week, or produce a work
book outlining the core values of the establishment,” she
On average the Care Ambassadors have been used once a week for a
two-month period, plus additional sessions when they have been
presenting to partnerships.
This is all on top of their working week, says Harrison.
“Employers have been enthusiastic and helpful. The employers
say they have noticed the positive effect it has had on the care
ambassadors themselves. It boosts their confidence and makes them
realise they are valued,” she reports.
Now the scheme is being evaluated and made more broadly available.
Topss South-West have produced a leaflet for schools that opens out
into wall chart illustrating a career path of how they can go from
care training to care manager.
Harrison’s team have produced a Care Ambassador tool kit with
a CD so that other areas can copy what they have done. It explains
how the Care Ambassadors were recruited, what training they
received and how they conduct their sessions.
The future is bright for the project. The Learning and Training
Skills Council is providing funding for a project co-ordinator for
“We need 25-30 Care Ambassadors to meet the need that
exists,” Harrison enthuses. They certainly realise they need
to sign up more young men as Care Ambassadors if they are to full
succeed in breaking down stereoptypical images of what makes a care
worker. The aim is to have the scheme in all Dorset school next
Best news of all is that Topss England has agreed to take on the
project and it will be rolled out nationally in November.
• For more go to www.topsssouthwest.org.uk