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



carecareers is a not-for-profit recruitment initiative aimed at increasing attraction and retention within the community care and disability sector. Our jobs board www.carecareers.com.au has expanded to meet demand for an Australia wide platform for a broad range of roles within the community sector.

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