If you’re passionate about helping young people and making a difference to their lives, working in specialist care can be one of the most rewarding career choices. Here we ask Helen Sale, Team Leader at one of Options Autism’s specialist therapeutic residential care homes supporting young people aged 9-19 with autism and a range of complex needs, what she loves about her job and why you should consider a career in care too.
Helen has been part of the therapeutic care team at Options Kinsale since 2015 when she joined as a Care Practitioner, having previously worked as a school teaching assistant. She took on her current role as Team Leader in 2017.
What makes your job so inspiring?
I love my job because I make a positive difference to young people’s lives every single day. Here at Options Autism, we place the young person at the centre of every care plan, which allows us to bring out the best in each individual – nothing beats the feeling of sharing their successes and bringing a smile to their faces!
What might a typical day bring?
I lead a team of six fantastic and dedicated care practitioners, and together we plan daily activities for our young people to help them develop their social and life skills, such as swimming, a session in the light and sound sensory room, dancing at the local disco or watching a film in our mini on-site cinema. We even have our own bistro cafe where our young people learn catering and customer service skills!
We support our young people with their routines, personal care and medication, and prepare individualised visual schedules for them using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). We have a school on-site, and each day five care staff provide classroom support alongside our education and therapeutic teams. At mealtimes, we all eat together – creating a warm, family environment that encourages social interaction.
Our residential home has six flats that are specially equipped to suit varying needs – our young people may have autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, dyspraxia, ADHD, or impaired social or cognitive functioning due to early life trauma and attachment difficulties. I oversee the day-to-day running of their accommodation to provide the consistency and routine they need in order to feel secure and develop a sense of belonging – this greatly enhances their wellbeing.
My role also includes arranging appointments, emailing social workers, completing activity planners, and attending any meetings such as Looked After Children (LAC) reviews, as well as ensuring all paperwork is up to date – such as individualised placement plans and risk assessment protocols. I supervise and manage staff performance to maintain the high standards of care and professionalism expected at Options.
What attracted you to a career in care?
I have always known that I wanted to work with children as I enjoy helping them learn and develop new skills. Having worked as a teaching assistant in education settings for five years, I needed a fresh challenge. I chose Options Autism as its child-centred approach resonated with me and it offered great opportunities for my professional development.
What training opportunities have you had to support your professional development?
I have monthly training sessions which support my continuing career development. I started in Options as a Child Care Practitioner then took on the role of a Key Worker before progressing to Team Leader. Outcomes First Group supported me to study for and complete my QCF Level 3 in Health and Social Care Children and Young People, as well as my NVQ Level 5 Leadership and Management in Health and Social Care – these qualifications will provide additional opportunities to develop my career in care.
What are the most rewarding parts of your role?
Seeing young people develop and thrive! Even the smallest of achievements is massively rewarding. We recently supported a young boy with a restricted diet who would only eat dry food such as cereal; all staff including the clinical team worked together to help him explore and build up an interest in other foods and we were so excited when he started to eat porridge!
It is also gratifying to see our young people gain confidence and develop their independence skills, which will support them when they transition from Options – whether they are moving on to an Options Transition service, Supported Living Service or external placement.
And the most challenging?
Due to the nature and needs of our young people, they can display complex behaviour. However, patience, dedication and a positive attitude really pay off – seeing them develop the skills to cope with their emotions is incredibly rewarding.
Does your role involve shift work and how do you manage this?
Yes – I work one day on shift from 7am-11pm, then have two days off. This pattern equates to being on shift for two to three days per week, which I enjoy as it gives me more flexibility than a typical working week. The long shifts also help us to provide greater continuity of care for our young people as there are fewer handovers – crucial for ensuring the best possible outcomes for them. My role can be demanding – both physically and mentally – so knowing that I have two days off after each shift helps to boost my resilience!
What skills/qualities are essential for your role?
Excellent communication skills are a must – you need to be able to liaise effectively with staff, other professionals, parents and young people. Strong leadership, management and organisation skills are also essential.
Having a caring and supportive nature helps staff know that they can come to you with any requests. It also helps to promote the nurturing environment our young people need. The ability to stay calm in challenging situations and think on your feet is important too.
What advice would you offer to others considering a career in care management?
Go for it – seeing the difference you make every day in these young people will give you tremendous job satisfaction!
Look for employers that offer regular professional training and good opportunities to develop your career – mastering the skills that help you to unlock potential in the young people you support and watch them blossom whilst developing yourself is an amazing feeling!