January 19, 2017, by lqxab11
Adult social care workers should have the opportunity to learn about theory and research relating to the needs of siblings and other family members
I am a PhD student in the school of Sociology, Social Work and Social Policy. My research is exploring the experiences of young people who have a sibling with learning disabilities. Before starting the PhD, I worked in adult learning disability social care and health services.
The focus in adult learning disability services is often on person centred support, this can be empowering for service users, workers and families. However, focusing on the independence of the adult with learning disabilities can sometimes mean the needs of their families are overlooked.
A few years ago, I worked as a support worker in a supported living environment for adults with learning disabilities, most of the adults were aged over 40 and many of their parents had their own social care needs or had passed away. As parents were no longer able to provide direct support, siblings were often the primary family contact for the adults I worked with. Some of the siblings were very eager to be involved in all aspects of their brother or sister’s care and support. As a worker, this could sometimes be frustrating when I thought the sibling was providing too much help and I was trying to promote independence for the adult with learning disabilities. Some siblings had minimal contact and when I sought their input I could tell they felt a little put out, I felt disappointed that they didn’t want to help.
On reflection, I judged the siblings harshly. I was so focused on supporting and promoting the independence of the adults who were using the service that I failed to think about their sibling’s needs. Siblings of adults with disabilities may have to juggle the care of their own children and the support of their siblings. They may feel unprepared to provide advice and support to social care workers about their sibling’s needs. They may be dealing with feelings of guilt because they feel they are not doing enough for their sibling. I lacked any training about the needs of family members and how I might work with them. I was so focused on the adult with learning disabilities I did not really think about what their siblings might be going through.
I started studying for a social work MA in 2013, only then did my thinking really broaden to consider the needs of all family members. I learned a lot about family systems theory and the needs of carers in adult social work. On my final social work placement, I worked in a secure unit with adults with learning disabilities. Facilitating family contact was a large part of my role. Again, siblings were the primary family contact for many adults with learning disabilities. In most cases siblings were an ally and helped provide information to support their brother or sister. Sometimes siblings were hesitant to be involved or did not want to be involved at all. This was their choice and I understood how difficult it must be for them, they had their own lives to lead and they often lived far away from where their sibling had been placed.
My education and training throughout the social work course had encouraged me to consider the needs of family members. This definitely helped me to work more collaboratively with siblings and my practice had clearly improved since before I had started the social work MA. I only received the training I needed when on the MA and would have loved to have more opportunities to learn about theory and research before this whilst I was working in social care.
Support and care workers should be given the opportunity to learn about theory and research relating to the needs of families as part of their job roles. Social care workers are doing jobs that require a high level of skill, this should be recognised with fair pay and adequate training and education. Within this training a focus on the needs of families (including the specific needs of siblings) would hopefully encourage a more collaborative approach between workers, services users and their families.