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Recognising the professionalism of care workers .. My story

Paul Featherstone, Founder, National Association of Care & Support Workers Association

Paul Featherstone talks about the story behind National Association of Care & Support Workers, the only professional body exclusively for care workers, run by care workers.

My name is Paul Featherstone, I am 62 years old, and I am proud to be a care worker. This is my story about how I got into care and my inspiration for setting up a professional body for care and support workers.

I am a qualified engineer, who diversified into retail management, before ending up working in the voluntary sector as a manager for a local development trust in Swansea. When I was made redundant, I was 54 years old, and thought it would be nice to sample some form of semi-retirement, but it soon became clear that I needed to still be earning an income – but at my age I did wonder who was going to employ me, and what I was going to do.

It was my wife Janet, who was and still is working in the social care sector, who suggested I become a care worker. I am sure that my neighbours could hear as I laughed at the very thought of becoming a care worker. Me, a care worker? Not in a million years!

Thankfully Janet persisted and asked me to at least think about it, and I am so glad that she did.  I then became a support worker for people that had significant mental health and behavioural issues, to enable them to live independently

It is fair to say, social care found me, I was not looking for it, and I was completely unprepared for the impact it was going to have on me and my life.

My learning curve was very steep indeed, nothing could ever prepare me or anyone for the realities of trying to support someone who didn’t want you any where near them. I lost count of the number of times I was kicked, punched, spat at, even having to dodge flying chairs at times, but I persevered.

All the while I was asking my colleagues what support was out there for care workers.  Was there an organisation that provided any support? Why was there a culture of brushing aside any concerns ? I was told that I was in danger of becoming a trouble-maker if I kept asking questions. Some of my colleagues refused to talk to me about these issues, whilst others were very fearful of repercussions for themselves if they spoke openly about it. It was better to “just get on with the job” and “keep your nose clean,” as the managers could make life very difficult for you.

This I felt was so wrong and I started to research what support was out there for care workers.

There was nothing in the UK, not a single organisation that stood up for, or represented care workers. Yes, there were some trade unions, but this was not what I was looking for. Whatever it was it needed to be exclusively for care workers, and if possible, run by the care workers themselves.

So I set up the idea of creating a unique stand alone professional body for the social care workforce – after all care providers had their own, nurses and doctors had their own, social workers had their own, so why not care and support workers?

So now I knew what form the organisation was going be. Now it was the simple matter of setting it up, or so I thought.

It was not lost on me, that what I was about to set up was completely new; it had never been done before. I was also aware that it was going to be a long process.

After almost two years of research my wife and I dipped into our personal monies and set up the UK Support Worker Association in March 2016, as the very first and only professional body that aimed to represent and support the care and support workforce.

In May of 2016, our website went live, and in June we signed up our very first subscribing member. I was actively engaging with all the major social care stakeholders and in August 2016, the Association was invited to become a strategic partner to represent the care workforce at Social Care Wales, formerly the Care Council for Wales. In mid 2017, the decision was made to re-brand UKSWA to become the National Association of Care & Support Workers Association (NACAS).

NACAS represents positive action. We are taking positive steps to recognise the social care workforce as the professionals they are. We are reaching out to individual care workers and inviting them to become members of their own professional body. Likewise we are reaching out to care providers, asking them to consider promoting professional body membership to their teams or perhaps supporting NACAS by becoming a corporate member.

I firmly believe that by working together with individual care workers and care providers alike, we can and will gain the respect and professional recognition social care workers deserve and help us to raise the profile and prestige of the workforce.

Care workers do some of the most important work in social care, and it is time that society and the sector realised this.

To find out more visit www.nacas.org.uk

Edel Harris

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