Beth Britton writes about the need for social care staff to understand and practice essential skills that are often assumed, undervalued or neglected
In my role as a training and mentoring provider (http://www.bethbritton.com) to social care professionals, I meet everyone from apprentices to management trainees.
You might think that with such a diverse audience my approaches would be very different, but there is one discussion I have with everyone from new starters to those who’ve been working in social care longer than I’ve been of working age – the ‘key skills’ conversation.
The reason is simple: Without good observation, responsiveness, creativity, flexibility and reflective skills, everything else you might teach will never be truly successful. If a professional’s positioning, eye-contact, listening skills, use of touch (or not using touch) and ability to empathise and show patience is lacking, the person they are supporting will never truly have a positive interaction with them. And if a staff member isn’t able to assess their strengths and weaknesses, motivate themselves and others, or feel confident in their work, they will never truly fulfill their potential, particularly if they aspire to leading a team.
Given how essential all of these skills are, it’s alarming how poorly understood they are amongst the social care workforce, which is leading to them either not being practiced at all, or not being practiced well. Yes, these skills may seem very obvious, but ask staff to explain what they are, how they practice them themselves and how they identify them in the practice of their colleagues, and many will falter somewhere in that process.
An example is reflective practice. Many social care professionals mistake handover, an often task-focused dialogue, and supervision, which is far from daily, as being all the reflective practice that is required for their role. Very few staff have ever spoken to me about the educational value of reflection until they’ve been given the knowledge about what it is and how to include a thought process about what’s gone well, what could have gone better, and what to change for next time into every day. Armed with this knowledge and a sprinkling of creativity, informal individual reflection has gone on to be incorporated into break times, and even trips to the loo or an after-shift shower!
So why is key skills education slipping under the radar in many social care services? In my experience, a lot of care providers assume their staff have and use these skills, but rarely check on this. Without that critical appraisal, any gaps in skills aren’t identified. Supervision doesn’t always pick it up either. Many staff don’t recognise when either their interactions with the people they support are fantastic because of their approach, or when their interactions are lacking in the application of key skills.
I want to kick start a revolution that helps everyone working in social care to understand and appreciate the importance of these skills as vital building blocks of great care and support. Some green shoots of positivity are beginning to emerge: I’ve run more workshops on key skills this year than in any previous year, and the tips sheets I use to augment staff learning in these skills have been well-received. I’ve also written a key skills guide for private live-in carers so that they can improve their skills set to enhance their relationships with the people they support.
There’s still a long way to go before key skills get the recognition they deserve amongst social care professionals, but I for one will continue to ensure that in everything I educate they are front and central.