Working with vulnerable people in society is pivotal in the community services sector. The sector is also one of the largest in Australia, with the COVID-19 pandemic increasing demand for “care economy” workers.
The sector covers all stages of life — from childcare to aged care — and incorporates a range of roles. It can also involve working with vulnerable people experiencing domestic violence, discrimination, illness, disability or other forms of hardship.
This includes working in various sectors, including aged care, mental health, family services, child protection and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island individuals and those with specific disorders from Autism Spectrum Disorder to dementia.
According to LinkedIn’s 2021 report, Jobs on the Rise, several community services roles are currently some of the most in-demand in Australia. These include childcare workers, case managers, youth workers and social service specialists.
If you are keen to work in a sector that involves working with vulnerable people in our communities, here are some skills that might be beneficial.
- Working with vulnerable people can be challenging. And while skills and training are paramount to maintaining high working standards, a passion for helping those in need can make a real difference.
- Dedication to the profession is also crucial. Many people who work in community services view their job as more of a “calling” than a job. They are the people that often family and friends look to in times of need. And for many, their role is part of their identity and putting others first comes naturally.
- Along with training, care workers bring varied life experiences to their work, enabling them to relate to clients more effectively. Simply getting through challenges or having experience in other areas of life can be wonderfully beneficial to the worker-client relationship.
- If clients are exhibiting behavioural issues or are withdrawn, a friendly presence will often help them feel safe and happy. When working with vulnerable people, being warm and open also helps those in community services build rapport with their clients. This develops not only better working relationships but long-term friendships.
- Because those in this sector regularly encounter individuals from a variety of backgrounds with diverse health issues, it may impair their ability to communicate. Interacting clearly with clients — who may have individual needs — will assist with effective working practices. Good communication will colleagues also ensures clients receive a standardised level of care.
- Isolation is a situation many of those needing support face daily, and this can have a range of negative consequences. Humans are generally social by nature, so just being present can be a huge part of working in this field. In addition to physical assistance, listening and engagement are some of the most valuable support mechanisms that can be offered.
- A sense of humour. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine. When clients suffer from health issues, making them smile — even for a short time — can make a world of difference to their physical and mental wellbeing.
- Many of those working with vulnerable people are on the front line, facing clients’ challenges alongside them. Many will build close relationships, and it may be difficult seeing people suffer. However, if they can remain positive and strong during difficult times, it can help clients face their difficulties more effectively.
- As a worker in community services, it is often valuable to place yourself in your client’s shoes. Questions to ask include: How would you feel in their situation? How would you react? Imagining yourself in different scenarios can help you better understand your clients’ behaviour and mindset, helping you to provide the individual support they need.
- A desire to learn. In many professions, when you are working with vulnerable people, you will need to complete training to ensure you are safe and effective at work. However, treating every day as a learning experience can improve your skills and knowledge and contribute to your continued professional development. This learning can also be used to complete further training as you advance in your career.
- Exceed expectations. Community care workers understand they are responsible for providing their clients with the best quality of life possible. Even in demanding or stressful situations, they go the extra mile for vulnerable individuals in society, often without expecting or receiving recognition.
- Open-mindedness. Working with vulnerable people often involves dealing with people from diverse backgrounds, including people with cultural, behavioural and physical differences. Treating clients with respect, regardless of their situation, will ensure they receive the dignity they deserve throughout their care journey.
- Organisational skills. Depending on their work environment, those working with vulnerable people may have to coordinate a range of activities in a working day. This can include planning and coordination with colleagues and other specialist health and wellbeing services to ensure a holistic service delivery.
- Calmness under pressure. Working in the community services sector can be stressful. And given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, resources can be stretched. Time and budget constraints, and the desire to provide the best possible care to clients, can often be a constant balancing act.
- For many vulnerable people, those who assist them are their lifelines, and they rely on care input for much-needed social interaction. It can also extend to the area of assisting with basic activities for daily living, so reliability is vital.
- A calm presence is essential for putting individuals at ease, particularly when working with the elderly, including those with dementia. Those with personal care needs or mobility issues may also require extra help. Working with clients at their own pace can improve the delivery of care.
- Critical thinking. Working in community services is complex, and a wide range of challenges may be encountered. Problem-solving, where appropriate, ensures individuals remain safe while continuing to deliver the highest quality care.