What makes an ideal Support Worker?

Author Mel Schlaeger

Melanie Schlaeger has both lived and professional experience of disability. She recruits her own support workers, and some of them have been outstanding. Here Melanie tells what’s important to her when selecting who to work with:

Working in the disability support field is such a variable space. It is not a “one size fits all” kind of career choice. But in my experience there are a few key qualities and traits that it is important to be mindful of when entering the industry or selecting your support staff.

From my perspective these qualities are, being mindful of and respectful to the individual you are supporting. In practical terms, this means trying to avoid feeling that you are creating a life for someone because you are present in their life. You may instead like to consider the concept that your role in someone’s life is to support the life they have created for themselves.

This doesn’t mean someone may not ask for your input.  But considering this concept has in my experience helped to create and maintain positive dynamics and relationships between my staff and I. It is also important to me that our personalities are compatible. That’s because it is much easier and more enjoyable to receive support from someone that you get along with and can have a laugh with when you find yourself in a funny or tricky situation. And that’s almost a daily occurrence when you have a disability.

People who struggle to not be over opinionated when supporting someone can sometimes unwittingly put a strain on the relationship with the person they are supporting. This is because many people with a disability have a few support crew in their lives, and  that creates so much opportunity for different opinions. So, it is important that the person being supported and the worker can acknowledge when it is appropriate to express opinions.

In my opinion, a person’s willingness to learn and be open minded is far more important than any qualifications. Qualifications can be learned, but every situation needs first to be approached with the right attitude. Like any other opportunity for work, support work has capacity to challenge you, drain you and make you excited. But, if you think of your relationship as a partnership that has to be the right match, then you are setting yourself up to create something that wont disappoint both parties.

Melanie Schlaeger

Meet our 2017 Workmate of the Year – the amazing Veronica!

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The carecareers’ audience across Australia has voted and declared Muswellbrook’s Veronica Matheson as the 2017 Workmate of the Year.

Veronica was one of 10 finalists shortlisted to win this year’s award.

Described by supporters as “a beautiful, warm, kind and giving person with a heart of gold and the patience of a saint” she was a clear winner based on your Facebook votes.

“I am just very flattered,” she said.

“But you couldn’t do this job without a great team behind you because working in the disability sector is a total team effort and we have a brilliant team here.”

Veronica, who works as a manager for Joblink Plus in Muswellbrook supporting people with disability to find employment locally, said it was a role and career that relies totally on a love for the job.

“It’s just so rewarding. Seeing the smile on people’s faces when they get a job and make it work – and the difference it can make to their lives is just amazing,” said Veronica.

We had some brilliant nominations this year from right across Australia – and unfortunately we could only shortlist 10!

And it was a tight competition.

Veronica was voted Workmate of the Year ahead of Gippsland’s Narelle Barlow and Adelaide’s Harbinger Singh.

Thanks everyone for nominating, and for voting. Your comments, and your enthusiasm remind us all of why we all chose a career in our sector in the first place.

And for even more feel good, we’ll leave you with this final comment from Veronica:

“I was just saying that this is the first time I’ve won against someone else. I did win senior girls champion in primary school, but it was a very small school and I was the only senior girl.”

While we may not be the most competitive of sectors we certainly have a lot to reward and celebrate.”

In our eyes, you’re all winners (but this year the iPad goes to Veronica.)

TRUE STORIES: Joseph Majambere – Supporting people from all backgrounds to become who they wish to be.

Joseph is a Support Planner (Case Manager) with Community Care Options (CCO) in Coffs Harbour, NSW

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I was born in Burundi, a small country located in Central-East Africa. In 1993, at 11 years of age, civil war broke out in my country – I lost my father as a result of the war and due to survival needs, our family was unable to grieve for him. My family and I lived in a refugee camp for the following 14 years. Living in the refugee camp was extremely formidable, adjusting to a new way of living, I experienced numerous times of hunger and starvation. I often felt extremely scared and we did not feel safe. On many occasions we left our tents and slept in the forest, as we were in complete fear that killers would come during the night and murder us.


My mother became unwell and this became a normal state for my family. As the eldest child of my siblings, I assumed responsibilities and cared for my mother and my siblings. I grew up before my time and missed out on experiencing my childhood and adolescence. As time and the years moved forward, I was familiar with this way of living and embraced my circumstances – although I had no material possessions, I had great wealth in the love I shared with my family and the refugee community.


In the camp, I became a Youth Leader and encouraged children/teenagers to become involved in the Norwegian People’s Aid’s (NPA)  ’Right to Play Program’ (a NGO that established various activities to address needs of the refugee population such as emotional trauma; assisting people to maintain their health, hygiene and well-being; farming and knitting cooperatives to develop economic independence);  and becoming involved in NPA’s ‘Coach to Coach Program’ (various sporting activities, for example, soccer, netball, marathons, rectangular jumps) – Norwegian People’s Aid provided the opportunity for some play time, social interaction and teamwork for young people to enjoy and be part of in the camp. The work NPA achieved left a lasting impression upon me and was life-changing for me.


Ten years ago, my family and I arrived in Australia, unable to speak English and were settled in Coffs Harbour. This presented another totally different culture that I learnt to adapt to. I found this to be very personally challenging as Australia has so much freedom, I had never previously been exposed to the level of freedom enjoyed in Australia and the diverse culture. I learnt to write and speak English. As I have grown, my confidence has increased and I’ve become more comfortable and familiar with the Australian-way-of-life. The support I received in Australia is truly appreciated.