Karolina Gerlich, a home care worker and founding director of the National Association for Care & Support Workers, a not-for-profit company campaigning for greater recognition and respect for care workers, highlights the importance of an official registration of care workers in England.
A report published last month by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland states that the compulsory registration of care workers has greatly improved quality of care in the country. Two years after official registration was introduced, 73% of care providers said they have seen an improvement in quality of care delivered and that the care workers themselves feel more confident in their roles.
The report also notes that care workers feel that there is more accountability in their role, people receiving care are better protected and that they want to live up to the Standards of Conducts and Practice introduced alongside the registration.
Scotland and Wales also have different levels of care worker registration. So, why is England lagging behind?
Registration of care workers is one of the most important things for me in driving the mission of the National Association of Care & Support Workers.
Anybody who cares about the industry knows the importance of care and support workers, and knows that the job is highly skilled and incredibly difficult. It is not up for discussion: care workers are highly skilled, and this needs to finally be recognised.
Other professions that involve looking after peoples’ health and well-being require qualification and registration. They have industry standards that are transferable from one employer to another, and formal opportunities for personal development.
It is time now that the care industry comes together to demand and establish the same. This is for the protection of people who use the services, and for care workers themselves.
There are many people in the community that provide care on a cash-in-hand basis, often without any training or accountability. I have seen care jobs advertised on Craigslist, Gumtree, or Facebook. I have been to see people with live-in housekeepers who double up as carers; who, never trained in care, do not know that we cannot force medication, food, or move people without proper equipment. Care work is a responsibility for another persons’ life, and such a large responsibility must be regulated properly.
We have to ensure, though, that any future compulsory registration is reasonable, realistic, and responsive to the current workforce. We must ensure that it is not a box-ticking, ‘one qualification only accepted’ system, where we exclude a large portion of the workforce.
It must be adaptable to people who are already amazing care workers – with alternative options for oral submissions and practical skills sign-off to show the care, compassion and skill needed to do the job. It must be a registration system that includes all care workers, in care homes, home care, supported living, on direct payments, personal assistants and self-employed. It must be a registration where a care worker feels proud to register, and can maintain the required level of skill to retain it.
Registration should also give opportunities for continuous professional development. Care workers on every level should have a chance to develop in their role.
It should be possible to have pathways and specialisms in dementia, learning disabilities, or palliative care. The industry already has good opportunities for people who want to go into management; we now have to look at opportunities for people who want to remain in roles delivering care directly every day.
They need opportunities that appreciate their experience, patience, and fulfilment in working with people face-to-face for a large portion of their working life. CPD opportunities are needed that show recognition of their expertise and commitment, and help them constantly improve.
All of this should then tie in with pay increases: with skills gained, time served, and commitment shown. I still work as a home care worker – by choice, not lack of ambition. I do so, because helping people is the best job in the world.