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What is a Support Worker?

Support workers help look after people who can’t easily look after themselves. This might be for various reasons, ranging from old age to learning disabilities.  

These professionals are highly compassionate, caring, and hard-working, enabling a better standard of living for those who would otherwise struggle day to day.

What is a Support Worker (UK)?

We’ve given you the basics of support work, but let’s look at it in a bit more detail.  

What Duties Does a Support Worker Have?

  • Aid with day-to-day physical activities (like washing, dressing, going to the toilet or getting out of bed).  
  • Provide emotional support and companionship.  
  • Help with administering medications and other medical equipment that the individual needs (like a blood glucose monitor, for instance).  
  • Support daily tasks (like cooking, cleaning and managing finances).  
  • Assist with mobility support (pushing an individual’s wheelchair around, for instance, or helping with occupational therapy exercises).  
  • Liaise with family members and healthcare (and other service) professionals to keep them updated with how the person being cared for or worked with is getting on.  
  • Keep detailed documentation describing the care provided (and any changes to the client’s condition).  

If you couldn’t already tell from the above, support work is highly varied, and the type and level of care provided changes on a case-by-case basis, according to a client’s individual needs.  

An elderly individual might solely require physical aid to help them get around; getting out of bed and into a wheelchair, for example, whilst an individual with a learning disability might require more comprehensive emotional support and help with daily tasks like managing their finances, for example.

  Elderly woman and support worker.

What are the Different Types of Support Workers?

There’s a wide variety of support worker types here in the UK, with each (generally speaking) having the same core responsibilities at their heart, but with each also having their own individual specialism and traits, too.

We know you want to get straight to the different types, though, so without further ado, here they are.

Family Support Worker

Family support workers work with families by assessing their needs, developing support plans, providing emotional support, connecting families with community resources, providing immediate support in crises, and regularly reviewing a family’s progress towards its goals.

An Example

A family might be struggling financially with the parents finding it difficult to find work. At the same time, their children are having issues at school with one child starting to act out and the other demonstrating early signs of developmental delays.  

A family support worker would coordinate an action plan with the family, helping them towards employment resources, liaise with the children’s school to see what could be done as regards their respective needs, and provide emotional support to the parents and provide them with coping skills to manage their children’s behaviours. 

Child Support Worker

Child support workers work with vulnerable children and young people up to 18 to help provide as healthy and safe an environment as possible.  

Their role is typically to provide emotional support to children and young people going through challenging periods, encourage the development of social, emotional and educational skills, implement behavioural management strategies, and help with learning (e.g., assisting with homework).  

They will also collaborate with other professionals (e.g. social workers) to ensure that the young person’s care plan is delivered in the best, most effective way possible.

An Example

A child is placed into foster care after her parents are no longer able to look after her due to substance abuse issues. The support worker first works on establishing a rapport with the girl, playing games with her and developing trust.  

The support worker will then help assess the girl’s needs by observing her behaviour and communication, which will give an indication of her emotional, educational and social development. The support worker will continue to provide emotional support to the little girl, as well as offering educational support.  

If possible, the child support worker will facilitate social interactions between the little girl and other children her age to bolster her social skills. If appropriate, the worker will also supervise occasional visits from the girl’s family and provide prospective foster parents with as much information as possible about the young girl’s needs and situation. 

Healthcare Support Worker

Healthcare support workers work across various healthcare settings, from hospitals to GP surgeries. Working with healthcare professionals, they will help patients move around, assist them in getting changed, serve them food, and more.  

They may also help process samples, sterilise and restock equipment, perform routine health checks, and take blood.

Mental Health Support Worker

Mental health support workers are primarily focused on aiding an individual with their mental health, rather than their physical activities. The support worker will offer therapeutic support, listening deeply to their client and building an unshakeable rapport.  

By working with a mental health support worker, day-to-day living becomes more accessible for the person affected by ill mental health. They provide support and guidance to the person struggling and often help assist the client with the recommendations made to them by their licensed therapist – making sure they take their medication, for instance.  

Mental health support workers often act as the bridge between the client and the doctor, nurse or therapist. They also support the individual and advocate for them to access community resources and other resources that might benefit their mental health.

An Example

An example scenario might be as follows: a woman struggles with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression and struggles to attend work because of her symptoms. Her mental health support worker works with her to create a structured daily plan, factoring in time for self-care and enjoyable activities.  

The support worker also teaches her about mindfulness and other relaxation techniques to help try and bring down her anxiety somewhat. It’s not a substitution for clinical therapy. However, it aids the woman in blunting her anxiety so that it doesn’t feel so immediate the entire time.  

The woman is also reminded by her support worker to take her medications when she needs to, accompanies her to her medical appointments (which cause her a lot of stress and anxiety) and sets goals with her – both short- and long-term.

Residential Support Worker

Residential support workers are those who visit an individual’s home to help them perform their daily activities. The support worker might visit during the day or act as a live-in carer, staying at the client’s home. The latter is more usual if the client’s needs are more complex.  

Other environments residential support workers can expect to work in include children’s care homes, hostels and retirement homes, to name just three.

What are the Skills of a Support Worker?

Support workers have a vast variety of skills, ranging from soft skills like empathy and active listening to hard skills like behavioural management techniques; support workers are incredibly versatile in their skill sets.  

The primary skills support workers need to have include:

  • Compassion. Support workers and other care professionals have an immense capacity for compassion. You’ll need help finding more warm-hearted individuals than a support worker. After all, it doesn’t get much kinder than helping people who can’t help themselves.  
  • Patience. Sometimes, support workers help people who don’t particularly want to be helped; an elderly individual looking to retain more independence, for example. In these instances, the support worker must be able to remain calm and dignified, despite any resistance they may be facing.  
  • Interpersonal Skills. Support workers need to be able to build trust and rapport with their clients, as well as with healthcare professionals and the client’s family members. Support workers often work with people from vulnerable populations, so building that level of trust is crucial in ensuring clients get the care they need and deserve.  
  • Problem-Solving. Unexpected situations are part and parcel of daily life for support workers, and the ability to adapt and act flexibly is part of what makes them the talented professionals they are.  
  • Communication. Support workers must be able to pick up on verbal and non-verbal communication. Often, when working with clients who aren’t able to communicate verbally, support workers must be able to look out for gestures, facial expressions, and other actions that convey meaning without words.  
  • Behavioural Management Techniques. From conflict management to de-escalation techniques and positive reinforcement to modelling appropriate behaviour, support workers use a wide array of daily behavioural management techniques with their clients.  
  • Foundational Medical Skills. Support workers should have first aid training, be able to monitor vital signs like temperature and blood pressure and dress minor wounds.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the Job Requirements to Be a Support Worker?

Entry requirements to become a support worker can vary from employer to employer, and some support worker positions don’t have any formal requirements, whatsoever. However, the following can all help secure a support working position:

  • GCSEs: Some employers may require a set minimum number of GCSEs to work as a support worker, with GCSEs in English and Maths being the most requested.  
  • Diploma: Beyond GCSEs, a diploma can be very helpful, particularly in something like a Diploma in Health and Social Care or Mental Health Care. There are several diploma levels, with a level 3 diploma equivalent to an A-level qualification.  
  • Care Certificate. Some employers like their support workers to have a Care Certificate, which offers a solid introduction to the core principles and standards in the care sector.  
  • Experience. Employers are always keen to see examples of practical, hands-on experience in a care setting, whether that be paid or voluntary.  

What is the Average Salary for a Support Worker?

Salaries for support workers depend on factors like experience and location. However, an average of just under £23,000 can be expected. Note that this is an average, and some salaries may be lower/higher.

Are there Support Worker Apprenticeships?

Yes, you can undertake a support work apprenticeship if you want to combine on-the-job training and academic studies whilst also receiving an income for your troubles.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, then! All things support worker-related for you to browse. Hopefully, having read this, you’ll better understand what a support worker’s role is, the specific types of support workers out there, and how to become one.

Carry on reading