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Being a support worker

Posted on: 3rd November 2015

Myles Quirke talks about his long career supporting clients with brain injuries

What led you to becoming a support worker?

I started working with JSP about 16 years ago, when there were only about 3 or 4 case managers. Before that I worked in the leisure industry (pubs clubs and restaurants) for approximately 15 years, latterly as an operations director. This involved overseeing the running of 45 pubs, clubs and restaurants through out the north of England, which required a lot of commitment and travel time. I decided that I needed a change from this type of work and spent a short while having a break so I could figure out what I wanted to do next.

Some close friends asked if I had ever considered doing voluntary work, which I had never thought about, and I ended up volunteering with Mencap. This involved working with young adults with learning disabilities at the Gateway club in Sheffield. I really enjoyed it and felt that I could develop this role more with the right support and training.

I was later introduced to a quadriplegic guy who played wheelchair rugby. I accompanied him as his personal assistant around the world to countries such as USA, Canada, Singapore and New Zealand. Supporting him helped me to realise that I enjoyed this type of work and soon after started work with my first JSP clients.

Initially I worked with two clients on a short term basis and then started working with David. I didn't know it at the time, but I would go on to work with David for 14 years! When I started working with him he was 18 years old and still in hospital recovering from his traumatic brain injury. After various adaptations had been made to his home, I supported him during his transfer out of hospital.

“I have known Myles from the very beginning of his career with JSP clients. He has certainly had some very tough issues to deal with over the years. And he has had to learn, often in very difficult circumstances, that it is essential to find that balance between being ‘friendly’ with his clients and not being a ‘friend’. He has learnt how to use supervision with the case managers to good effect and been able to adjust his practice when required. It is tough at times but he has stuck at it and proved himself to be an excellent support worker with many brain injured clients over the years.”

- Jackie Parker, managing director

How did your role develop?

Dave’s ambition was to be ‘normal’, to have a family and to live independently. After 14 years of hard graft, he’s achieved all of this and he’s doing really well. To begin with, he had 2 to 1 support on a 24/7 rota – 3 to 1 support at times – and then, later down the line, he had 1 to 1 support. Now he has no support, lives independently and has a family of his own.

There was a lot of hard work in between. Dave was quite a challenging young lad – all he did initially was sit in his wheelchair, listening to music and smoking cigarettes constantly, and he could be quite aggressive. He went through physio, hydrotherapy and other therapies. He gradually learnt to walk again – he moved from his wheelchair to walking with a frame, then to using crutches and eventually to walking unaided. This was particularly challenging for him because he had a big fear of falling after being told by somebody that, if he fell and banged his head again, he could die. However, he eventually progressed enough to go jogging and he is now even riding a bike!

Initially I thought my role was just to assist David physically, with his day to day routine and his rehab programme. As I gained experienced, I learned that it goes a lot deeper than that. There were many issues as a result of his brain injury, especially his memory problems. One thing that used to really irritate me was, when we were driving somewhere, every 5-10 seconds he would ask me where we were going and why. I bought him a little pocket book and we’d write in it each day with the answers to his questions, so when he asked me in the car I’d say “look in your book”. Eventually, the repetitiveness helped him learn to plan and the pocket book was soon replaced with a proper diary. He didn’t like having a diary to begin with because it wasn’t the thing to do for a young lad but he realised after a few years that it was working and he was getting along a lot better.

“Myles has quite an unorthodox (but always appropriate) approach at times – he definitely thinks outside the box, which has helped him in some difficult scenarios. He gets to know his clients really well, so he’s able to support them in a way that suits them best and he often goes above and beyond the call of duty.”

- Kate Marshall, senior case manager

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of supporting brain injured clients?

I think the biggest challenge in this line of work is not taking things personally. When someone calls you a fat, bald **** you’ve got to think ‘they don’t really mean it’. Of course, ten seconds later they’ll probably want your help with something – that takes a lot of getting used to. Rather than taking it personally you need to try to emphasise to them why what they did or said wasn’t acceptable. It’s important to have a rapport with the client – being their mate but keeping it professional. Finding the right balance can be quite difficult when you’re spending so much time with them.

When David no longer needed support and I stopped working with him, initially I was a little bit upset but then, after thinking about it and getting great feedback from case managers, I got a real buzz from it. He’s gone through a massive challenge, he’s come out the other end and he’s got what he wanted – and I was part of the team that helped him get there.

My work continues with two other clients – one of whom I’ve worked with for many years and another who I started working with about a year ago. Every client is different – you have to get to know them and find out what their needs and goals are. I’ve also learned that I can draw on my experience from working with one client and use it with another client.

“Myles can come across as a bit of a ‘jack the lad’ but he has a heart of gold. He can handle the really tricky situations. By his own admission, he’s made mistakes but he’s learned from them and that’s made him the good support worker he is now.”

- Steve Wright, senior case manager

What keeps you motivated?

I think the difficult times and situations are what really keep me going – it’s rewarding to sort out problems for clients, to help to put them on the right path and rebuild their lives. Of course when things go wrong it can be tough but there’s always support available to you from the case managers. Taking a step back, sharing what you’re going through and getting advice in supervisions really helps. I’ve always felt part of the team at JSP, like it’s a big family.

I’ve worked in a team of support workers and I’ve worked with clients where I’m their only support worker. There’s a good side to each way of working: having a team can be great but it helps if you get on well with different people; and if you’re working on your own, you don’t have to feel isolated – there’s always someone at JSP you can call – the case manager or the administrators who answer the phone (they’re a friendly bunch). There’s usually a family member of the client you can speak to about things too.

To help me develop my skills as a support worker I’ve completed a health and social care course, a life coaching course and a course in supporting an individual with traumatic head injuries. I’m always learning new things in this job! I see being a support worker as more than just a job though – I’m very committed to the clients I work with.

Over the years there have been highs and lows – one of my clients was diagnosed with a terminal illness and subsequently passed away. The high in the job comes when you have supported someone for many years and they succeed in achieving a level of independence, which means they don't need your support any more.

I can’t see myself doing anything else now – I really enjoy it. This is me until retirement!