With more than 30 years in the care sector to his name, Mike Cleasby, quality director at adult social care provider National Care Group, discusses career progression, the importance of finding a strong mentor, and how his day-to-day role is shaped by his 20-year-old daughter, Ellie, who has a diagnosis of autism and learning disabilities.
There are more than 830,000 adults receiving some form of adult social care in the UK, with 1.5m working in the sector. Such is the scale of the required support, that in my time in the industry, I have seen its many pressure points, from the level of funding at a local and national level, to levels of pay, and the general mental and physical strain a career in care can place on peoples’ lives.
But while these factors seem to be ever-present within our industry, I’m pleased to report that my experiences, stretching now to 32 years, have been filled ultimately with a feeling of reward. One that comes from making a real difference to people’s lives, helping them achieve their dreams and aspirations in life. It’s a sentiment shared by so many people I work with, and one that overrides the feelings stirred up by those national conversations on pay and funding.
The first steps in care
I started my career in care with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, where I was a support worker in a residential setting. It was my first taste in the sector and where I started to develop a passion for what I do. I’d decided at an early age that academia wasn’t for me, but my parents had always instilled in me a good work ethic, something which put me in good stead for this role as well as lots of outside interests. I was a member of the boy’s brigade for 20 years, while I acted as a volunteer in the police for a similar period of time, eventually becoming chief officer of Durham Special Constabulary in 2013. Helping others then, became second nature.
In my time at Redcar and Cleveland Council, I made my way up to senior, honing my craft with lots of care-related NVQs, diplomas, and practical skills. By 2003, an opportunity had arisen with Sunderland City Council, and it was here that I really got to grips with what my roles and responsibilities in the sector were. As well as managing and developing two learning disability day services, I had the opportunity to deliver a number of micro-enterprises within the community, including an art gallery at Barnes Park, a café, a fruit and vegetable offering, and hydrotherapy services. I’ve found that being in care means you need to become an extension of the community, understanding its needs and helping others feel more integrated in their environment’s, ensuring home isn’t just confined to a physical location.
Developing an understanding in care
In 2007, I was appointed as a valuing people coordinator for South Tyneside Council. At this time, the government had launched a white paper aimed at stimulating health, housing and employment opportunities for adults with a learning disability, which was a key performance area for local authorities. It was here that I was able to extend my focus outside my role of day-to-day care, setting up a learning disability partnership board, which focused on initiatives that made a difference to the way people view supported individuals. This included engagement around reducing hate crime, as well as promoting social inclusion for those living in supported settings. Crucially, it also included work with minority groups, encouraging a range of people with diverse backgrounds to help join the care sector and enrich it for the better.
In all of this, I was guided by the advice of mentors, who supported me with ongoing practice development, and ingrained into me valued practical and mental learnings that still impact my approach to this day. By the time I made my way to National Care Group in 2019, I was a well-rounded professional – someone who understood the needs and concerns of the people we support, having both been there on-the-ground, so to speak, as well as extending outward into the community.
A personal approach
Another crucial milestone in my life and career has been my daughter Ellie, who I can proudly say works for National Care Group as an accessible care officer. Ellie was diagnosed with a severe form of Down Syndrome at birth but has been remarkable in her journey to where she is today. She is a shining example of how National Care Group works with a number of ‘train by experience’ initiatives, which are allowing the people we support to give back and become fully fledged members of our workforce.
In upholding the standards of care and support we provide at National Care Group, I often employ the ‘Ellie test’ and that is, would I be absolutely happy sending Ellie into this environment to be cared for. My answer, unequivocally here with the services we provide, is a resounding yes.
Looking back on the sector and with advice for the future, my message is clear to those looking to start their career in social care: if you have a positive ‘can-do’ attitude, absolutely go for it. With the right mix of interpersonal skills, a good mentor behind you, and a strong work ethic, the future will look bright for you and the people you support.