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How to be a good support worker

Dale Elkin-Walker, Consensus

Dale Elkin-Walker, Consensus

A lifetime in care, the last 23 spent in hospital with few possessions and little family contact, Debbie faced another move. This move however has been a positive one, out into the community. Dale Elkin-Walker has supported Debbie over the last two years as she has transitioned back into the community.

Debbie with her car

Dale started her career in social care some 40 years ago working for many years within the mental health arena. She progressed her career working within mental health wards in hospitals whilst bringing up her family and accompanying her husband who served in the military for 22 years.

Once settled in Bolton, Dale spent time working within her local community in domiciliary care and says this gave her a good grounding in supporting people outside of the hospital environment. Then, a new opportunity came about which found Dale supporting people diagnosed with learning disabilities, autism and challenging behaviour, for the very first time. What struck Dale then was just how wide the autism spectrum is and how differently people could experience life on the spectrum.

Something that stands out when Dale talks about the support she provides is the word ‘Trust’. Dale says that although it takes time to build it’s such a big thing and that when you have trust between yourself and those you support you can build and develop their skills, confidence, interests and relationships.

This trust is something that proved key to the support which enabled Debbie to make her hugely successful transition from her home of 23 years Calderstone’s Hospital to her very own bungalow.

Dale was part of the transition team from Consensus, that began visiting Debbie two years ago when the hospital was due to close. To support her transition a bungalow with its own tenancy was offered by the Council combined with a bespoke support package by Consensus.

Dale was able to approach the transition with huge empathy having worked in institutional settings for many years prior. She and the team took ‘baby steps’ with Debbie taking her on a number of very short outings to visit her bungalow, and the local area. Always going at Debbie’s pace, Dale was able to slowly begin building their relationship. In her late forties, Debbie had spent the last 23 years in hospital and had very few possessions. Some of their first trips out together were to purchase items for the bungalow and this progressed to clothing. These early days were challenging not least because Debbie was being offered choice by Dale, something she just wasn’t familiar with. Choice was an overwhelming experience and so Dale and the team factored in time for Debbie to process options and encourage her to express her wishes.

In the early days Debbie felt extremely anxious, turning to self-harm by way of a release. Again, Dale supported Debbie with compassion and empathy adjusting the pace and nature of interactions resulting in a decrease over time of Debbie’s anxiety and behaviours.

At times Dale wondered whether Debbie would be able to settle, she had always been moved on from one place to another, each time proving traumatic. But Dale and the team leading by example as role models have encouraged Debbie to maintain her tenancy, become a part of the community, and socialise. Indeed, Debbie now volunteers in the local community hub in their café and loves every minute. She hosts small gatherings for friends and family, supported by Dale and the team with preparing and cooking meals regularly and more recently her 50th birthday party. Two years on and Dale is immensely proud of everything Debbie has achieved, so far and when asked what she thinks Debbie might like to do next, she laughs and says, “What doesn’t she want to do!”. It is said with such pride and such pleasure and it is clear to hear in Dale’s voice the joy that Debbie’s progress has brought.

Debbie is about to go on her first holiday. Location, timing and activities all chosen by her. Dale will be going with her and travelling in Debbie’s latest purchase, her very first car. A huge milestone in an extremely positive transition from hospital to her forever home.

Dale says supporting Debbie is such a pleasure and hopes to grow further with Consensus continuing to promote independence and inclusion and inspiring others as a role model.


Edel Harris





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