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25th March 2016

Enhancing Unique Expertise – Support Staff Training in Wales

The theme of our most recent article and blogs has been the importance of including direct care and support staff in our strategies for meeting the expectations of the Social Services and Wellbeing Act. Thus far, we have discussed the concept that support workers arguably develop the most importance expertise within Health and Social Care i.e. knowledge of a person as an individual.  In our last blog we focussed on the importance of retaining experienced staff, as opposed to viewing them as a disposable commodity, as the main means of promoting continuity and consistency within a service.

If we accept that the relationship between direct support staff and service-users is important in achieving Wellbeing goals, we should consider ways of getting the best from this resource. As discussed in our last blog, retention is obviously important, but is of limited value if the staff member is not working therapeutically with the people they support – which leads us to the issue of training.

The need for basic staff inductions was identified in the Care Standards Act at the beginning of the last decade, with staff typically being put through core courses such as Health and Safety, Infection Control, Food Hygiene and Safeguarding. If these inductions occurred at all, they have typically taken the form of one large block on commencement of employment, with little thought being given to ongoing professional development. Inspectorate enforcement of this training has also been sporadic at best. There has also always been a question mark over whether these types of generic courses have been sufficient to prepare staff for working with individuals with unique needs.

This has recently been addressed with the introduction of the Social Care Induction Framework, which places a far greater emphasis on areas such as Person-Centredness and Communication. This is obviously a progressive step, but still raises the question regarding the effectiveness of an information overload at the beginning of employment, with little else subsequently.

While an induction is important, the knowledge which support workers gain through contact with service-users is undoubtedly more powerful and more effectively retained, but is also ad hoc in nature and very subjective to the support worker’s individual experience of their work. So how can managers ensure that the relationships between staff and service-users are enhanced by effective training?

As always, a short blog cannot deliver all of the answers, but a few suggestions are as follows:

  • Offering Clinical Training: Giving staff knowledge about conditions has sometimes been seen as encouraging labelling and going against person-centredness. Research has also shown, however, that if staff are not aware of the reasons for a person’s behaviour –such as irritability in dementia – then they will draw their own conclusions, which are likely to be negative. Enhancing the support worker’s knowledge of a health condition may also help them when imparting experience to more junior colleagues
  • Making best use of Vocational Training: All too often, there is a cursory approach to gaining these qualifications, but QCF training affords an ideal opportunity for more experienced support workers to learn more about their roles, and to reflect on this knowledge in the context of their work experience.
  • Informal Training: Learning cannot simply be about classroom or online courses, however valuable these may be in terms of theoretical knowledge.  Senior staff can encourage reflection in more junior colleagues, with a view to affirming examples of positive practice and learning from more difficult episodes within a supportive, blame-free culture.

Paul Rees – QCS Expert Welsh Care Contributor


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