Dec 17

Personal relationships - the subject we don't like to talk about

Posted: 6 December 2017

Jim Thomas, Programme Head, Workforce Innovation 

Death and sex - two subjects that seem to be amongst the most difficult subjects for people in social care to address.

But as we strive to deliver person-centred care, we need to encourage more social care workers to have open and honest conversations about them, so they can deliver care and support that’s focused around the individual.

Death is a subject that Skills for Care continues to discuss with employers through its work on end of life care. Sex and a wider consideration of personal relationships, however, is a new relatively area that we’ve been exploring.

Although new for Skills for Care, it’s not new for me. As a young health and social care trainer in the early 1990’s I developed and ran a learning and development programme on personal relationships. We would start by exploring all the ‘rude words’ and then look at things such as people’s roles, power and control and what it meant to support people with their personal relationships in a respectful, open minded and dignified way.

Coming back to this area of practice recently, what surprised me the most was how much knowledge and skills seemed to have got lost or muddled up with safeguarding and concerns about mental capacity.

I learned that often workers are more likely to address personal relationships by immediately raising a safeguarding concern, rather than considering the individuals human rights, consent, personal preferences and understanding first.

It saddened me to see that some workers assumed that anything other than a very superficial relationship inherently contained the risk of abuse or would lead to ‘intimate relations,’ rather than be about companionship, closeness love or mutual support.

Sadly we can’t pretend that the personal relationships of people who access care and support aren’t subject to all sorts of different norms that for those of us living outside the care system. However accessing care and support shouldn't be a reason for someone not to have meaningful personal relationships in their life.

This year I’ve had the pleasure of working with people who access care and support, employers and other professionals to develop guidance to redefine learning and development around personal relationships – making an open understanding of personal relationships the starting point.

It sets out what values and knowledge workers need, what employers need to know and includes a set of training materials used by the Avenues Group that can be freely adapted by employers for their own use. 

The guidance doesn’t claim to be extensive or perfect, but it’s a way to reset how we consider workforce issues around personal relationships.

If, as social care employers, we’re not enabling our workforce to have open and honest conversations with each other, people they support and their families about personal relationships, then we’re holding people back in a very important of their lives.

Yes relationships may include risk, safeguarding issues, preferences that surprise us or tricky issues of mental capacity. However for many of us it’s only through meaningful relationships that we can experience the kindness, passion, challenge, companionship, rewards, connection, joy, fun, disappointment that most people find makes life worth living.

Who are we as people supporting others to deny those experiences to anyone?

You can download the guidance here, and if you support people with learning disabilities and/ or autism, we have lots of resources to help.