"The level of support, training, stability, and professionalism to keep clients and staff safe is excellent"

Learning Disability Manager

Working for an organisation like Southdown means the outcomes for clients are much better. There’s an awareness and expectation of staff to be professional and to meet standards. 

I am a Service Manager in Hove. It’s a Supported Living service for four gentlemen with autism. We provide 24/7 support – that’s a full day of support for each client in this service.

I’ve been here for just over a month but I’ve been working for Southdown since 1997! I joined Southdown as a Support Worker when one of our services first opened and was there for six years. I met my wife there on my first day! I then became a Deputy Manager at another service for 13 years where I covered as a Manager for a year. My first official position as a Manager was in April 2016.

I didn’t go into management for the glamour or money! It was purely to have the strength of voice to drive a service in what I believe to be the right way. I wanted to be a Manager because I feel passionately that clients are at the centre of our work and we are there to support and enable them, to give them the power and knowledge to live their lives the way they want to.

Career progression is definitely possible in support work. I joined Southdown without qualifications but I had experience - I worked in a day centre for a few years in Havant after seeing my sister work in a supported living service and thinking I could probably do that!

In my twenty years here, I’ve got two NVQs and I have moved from being a Support Worker to a Manager. Because the organisation is so big, there are possibilities for movement – within our learning disabilities services and also in others such as mental health services.

Southdown are keen for staff to develop their careers here. We have clear values and having people with these values stay in the organisation is vitally important.

As a Service Manager my responsibilities are to provide a safe working place and qualified, happy staff to enable our clients to live their lives. I need to ensure my staff team are happy as they are my most valuable resource. I’m nothing without them.

We answer to the clients. Nowadays they have a much higher level of expectation for their lives and from staff. In the past I’d never have heard a client say, “It’s my choice,” but now that’s commonplace. Empowering clients to take control of their lives is fantastic.

When I first worked in this sector, I didn’t know anything about behaviour, communication, and supporting clients. There used to be no solution to people’s problems and challenging behaviours, and clients had to fit in. Now, there’s more discussion with clients and we support them to be as safe as they can be within the choices they make. 

Working for an organisation like Southdown means the outcomes for clients are much better. There’s an awareness and expectation of staff to be professional and to meet standards. 

All the clients here have very active families and advocates and I meet with them regularly. We talk about what’s going on, about the clients’ health, activities, and finances. I also take on board what the family feel - the relationship with families is so important. 

My working hours accommodate my childcare. We have policies at Southdown to protect parents and enable them to have a work-life balance. This is very important for me and allows me to continue to give my full attention to each area of my life when I need to. Without these policies and Southdown’s commitment to them I couldn’t keep working in the way that I do.

When I first start my day, I log on to the computer and check my emails. I read the communication book, service diary, rota, and clients’ daily logs to see what’s been happening and see how they are getting on. I then start my to-do list.

It is a responsive job – which is why systems are very important. To have the daily, weekly, and monthly recordings happening in a planned way throughout the week helps us focus on the clients and respond to their needs and choices.

Quite often I work one-to-one with clients because staff need time to complete their admin. For every service, you need to learn about the needs of each individual – what people like and what they don’t like. This time also helps because I need to know how to support a client in order to coach my staff and empathise with their experiences and concerns.

The one-to-one time and work with clients is my favourite part!  To know you’re making a difference, to build a positive relationship with someone is what I enjoy. As a Service Manager, there are so many plates spinning, but when you work with a client you have to let them go and just focus on them.

Gaining someone’s trust to enable them to step forward in their lives is satisfying. When people are having a good time and you see that, it feels good. But even getting through a day without a client feeling anxious is an achievement.

If you’re creative and thoughtful you can have a good time. You’re allowed to have fun and be expressive with clients - not being subjected to social judgement is really freeing in that safe space with a client.

On fun days you go home and think, “Ha ha, I got paid for that!” It’s important to remember those moments when you have a challenging day.

It can be frustrating not understanding what the clients are trying to tell us. Communication is so important and it is vital that all staff teams work hard to develop our understanding of how a client is communicating, and how we can understand what they are saying. We can then support them to develop this to make more informed choices and broaden their lives and experiences.

All behaviours are a communication. We try and put pieces together – what has happened before, what normally happens, and what hasn’t happened. Record-keeping and daily logs are so important to help us with this. There’s lots of paperwork which can be frustrating because staff just want to support, but it’s totally necessary.

Throughout my career, I’ve become much better at understanding communication systems and why people communicate. We have three approaches at Southdown which really sum up what support work should be like – Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), Active Support, and Great Interactions. 

It’s all about supporting somebody in the way they want to be supported. With PBS it’s about getting it right first time and understanding the reasons behind a client’s behaviour. With Active Support we get clients involved in their own lives - empowerment is so important. And we use Great Interactions to enrich the experiences clients are having. 

Since starting Southdown I’m more qualified than I was. I’ve also learnt that I am more skilled and more professional than I thought I was. My strongest point is that I have good listening and communication skills with my staff and I always try and act on what they’re telling me. I’ve always valued the work I do, but I feel more secure and steady now.

It’s important for Support Workers to be able to communicate differently with each client because people’s needs and responses vary. Sensitivity and flexibility is important.

The ability to self-reflect is really important too. It’s key to be able to honestly look at what happened and what you did, and to see if something worked well and how it could work better. Being able to communicate these successes and learnings is so important too.

There is a culture of openness and learning here that encourages workers to be honest and reflect on what’s happened. I wouldn’t have been working for Southdown for 20 years if I didn’t think it was an excellent organisation. The level of support, training, stability, and professionalism to keep clients and staff safe is excellent.

 

Southdown manages supported living services across Sussex. Supported living is where an individual owns or rents their own home and has control over the support they get and how they live their lives. Accommodation and support is provided separately. It can be very different for different people. For one person, supported living might be a few hours of support a week to enable them to live independently by themselves in a rented flat. For another it may be around the clock support in a shared house or self-contained flat.