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What's it really like?
Toria Macleod is a care assistant based in West Yorkshire. She gives us the inside story..
I am 24 years old and have been a care assistant for about a year and a half now. Previous to this, I trained as an illustrator at the Glasgow School of Art.
I’m currently working for a care agency in Leeds, so every day is varied. The level and nature of care required is unique in every situation. For example, one day I might be working in a home, supporting residents with learning or physical difficulties, and the next day I could be involved in giving palliative care to a patient who is dying and requires support in their own home. Some days, the support required will involve accompanying a resident on a trip to the supermarket, then coming back to a cooking class, and aiding in making something - encouraging them to be involved and independent as much as possible. Other days, a care package may involve more personal care as the client is more dependent, so that could mean getting someone out of bed, toileting, washing, dressing, assisting with breakfast and addressing other personal needs throughout the day.
In so many ways I find the job highly rewarding. I enjoy the relationship aspect of the job, building a relationship with the clientele and, through them, learning how to care better, and be more attentive to their specific needs. Most days are incredibly satisfying, when progress has been made, confidence has been built or life is just being enjoyed - on whatever scale. As in every job, there are challenges, and these are unique to each client. This can range from aggressive behaviour, physical or verbal, as a result of a number of reasons. Challenging behaviour can require quick thinking and often, creative problem solving. There are times when you are working with people who are suffering acutely, mentally or physically, and it is distressing. However, despite being exposed to both sides of life, its joys and sorrows, I feel privileged to be in a position to provide care and support.
If anyone were considering becoming a care assistant I would heartily recommend it but I would suggest exploring different avenues within the care profession, as it's so varied. Working for an agency is ideal, because you can get a feel for what area you may enjoy most. Some care work can be particularly physically demanding. I worked for nine months on a dementia unit, and although I loved the job, I found the strain on my back too much, so that's something to consider if you have a weakness already. It may be a good idea to volunteer at a care establishment to get an idea of what’s involved.
Another good thing about care work is that it’s easily transferable - there is always a demand somewhere. I never really felt that I would want to be a care assistant indefinitely, and I am keen to use the skills that I learned at art school at some point. For the moment, I'm enjoying being adaptable and being stretched in totally new experiences within the care profession and I'm hopeful that the skills I'm learning will be of value in whichever profession I pursue.
Care assistants provide practical help and support to people with physical and learning disabilities in a range of environments, such as residential homes, day centres or schools.
Care assistants work to assess the level of care a client needs, working with other health and social care professionals to draw up a care plan for the client. The care assistant aids the client and their families with the client’s personal, social and domestic care, carrying out tasks as varied as washing, shopping or supporting them with recreational activities. Care assistants may be based in a nursing or residential home or they could work in the community, visiting clients in their own home. Care assistants work with children, the elderly, and clients with physical or learning disabilities, supporting them on a weekly or daily basis as required.
Care assistants usually start on a salary of around £11,000 but this can increase to between £14,000 and £17, 000 with experience. Senior care assistants typically earn up to £24,000 a year.
The responsibilities of a care assistant vary depending on their client but typically they include:
There are no academic qualifications needed to be a care assistant; getting a job depends more on having the necessary skills and experience. Most care assistants receive on-the-job training from their employers which will equip them with the necessary skills and qualifications to do the job. All care assistants who work in adult social care are expected to undergo a twelve week induction programme which provides training in the basic aspects of being a care worker.
Care assistants need to have excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work with all kinds of people in situations which can be stressful or emotionally draining. More specifically they should have:
Care assistants usually work shifts which mean their hours and days of work vary from week to week. Typically care assistants work between 37 and 40 hours a week which may include night shifts or weekend work. Shifts can be long and demanding so care assistants need to have good stamina and both physical and emotional endurance.
Direct experience is not necessarily required for the job but it will be useful to have some experience of working with people, preferably in a caring capacity. This could be personal experience of working with a family member or voluntary experience, such as visiting elderly people in residential homes or helping in a school for pupils with learning disabilities.
Care assistants are in high demand and it is relatively easy to get a job, providing potential employees demonstrate a willingness to learn and a commitment to the job. The major employers for care assistants are social services, private or NHS nursing homes and voluntary agencies. Care assistants could also work for an agency which means they are placed in a range of caring environments depending on the need, giving employees the chance to find out which type of care work suits them best.
There are plenty of opportunities for care assistants to progress in their job, dependent on a committed, responsible and enthusiastic approach. Employers usually offer care assistants the chance to undertake professional development courses in hygiene, health and safety and other related topics but they may also be encouraged to work towards an NVQ level 2 or 3 in Health and Social Care. The NVQ will allow care assistants to progress (with enough experience) to a managerial or supervisory role, such as a senior care assistant, which involves being responsible for members of staff as well as clients and their families. Being a care assistant provides a range of transferable skills and equips care assistants with the knowledge and experience to work in various roles within a health and social care capacity.