Findings from Being in Residential Care

The first few weeks of this placement were spent in the care home side of the company. I stayed there while they prepared the room I am now in and debated if they wanted to keep me or not. In this residential unit I lived with a glassy eyed woman and a man who watched Star Trek on loop. Both were very sweet but spent the days shouting in their own languages and daydreaming in front of the television. I was in a room in between the two of them; in a bed which I soon gathered the room’s former resident had died in. It was very loud and lonely. When I moved out and into supported living the only way was up. My views on residential care and supported living revolve around five points:

  1. There are not enough suitable placements for people with mental health problems.

Being placed in a care home/independent living setting when the support on offer doesn’t cover your disability feels like treading water. For the last six months I have been the only resident on site who doesn’t have a learning disability. So I find myself pretty isolated and have my care needs only partly covered. I also feel like I am in a semi caring role for everyone around me. My social workers have known that this was not a permanent placement for me from the get go- blog here. I came here because the NHS were understandably keen that I stopped bed blocking in hospital and that I move ‘somewhere great’… ‘somewhere right’… ‘somewhere ok’… ‘anywhere that is not hospital’. The understanding has thankfully got better overtime, but there were many tears along the way.

I’m not alone in needing to make do with ill fitting placements. Like mine, many regions have joint provision for people with learning disabilities and people with mental health problems. This means they have to share resources like accommodation despite having very different needs. The outcome can be that neither group get the specialist support they require.

2. Continuity in Care is Needed

Of course, you are destined to like some carers more than others and probably outright dislike a fair few too. But when it comes to the rota you as a client have no control. Even though it is your care and effectively your house you are at the mercy of management as to who will come through your door. If you raise issues with this you are blikely to be branded as ‘difficult’ or ‘picky’. I’d argue that there is no such thing as ‘picky’ when it comes to care, yet in lots of care settings clients have no power over who gives their care at all. You might have a care team of up to ten people pop in and see you at different points during the day- all asking the same courteous questions like: “how was your day?”. What isn’t recognised is how completely overwhelming and frustrating it is to have to repeat answers again and again. Clients get grouchy… is it a surprise?

3. Staff in care work can be a mixed bunch

Some of the people I have met here are outstanding. They go above and beyond for the care and dignity of clients and are respectful of their opinions. With these amazing people everyone has a voice. Even if they are under resourced, underpaid and working long hours- some carers will go out of their way to help.

Like in any profession, care work has a few bad pennies. In theory carers should be caring; but with a shortage of carers nationwide more and more people are turning to care work as a simple means of paying the bills. I see staff with this attitude every day. They are the ones who don’t hide their sighs and mutterings because they believe the clients won’t notice. They text their friends through the shift and turn on awful plug in air-fresheners without asking. I would like to establish a rule, this rule is simple- you have to be caring to be a carer. If you aren’t caring about anything external to yourself you aren’t cut out for the job. You shouldn’t do it to your clients, your employers, or yourself. If you don’t live and breathe the profession you are going to spend days and weeks feeling so irritable it is like being tasered.

4. Actual Independence is Hard to Come By

Although living in an ‘independent supported living’ setting I don’t have a lot of independence. It’s certainly a step up from the hospital days of not being allowed to get my own drink; but the amount of planning that has to go into basic tasks is enormous. Want a member of staff to give you a hand with your weekly shop?

  1. Work out how many hours of care you will need to use during the week.
  2. If you have any left over you can go ahead and try to book it.
  3. Caution: you will have no idea who it will be with and whether they will have a driving licence or not. Therefore you will need enough hours to cover the possibility of having to use public transport.
  4. Make sure the time doesn’t clash with any shift change; if it does you need to plan it four weeks in advance so it can be specially put on the rota.

The spontaneity of everyday life is completely absent and with that goes a lot of fun.

5. It is what it is.

It is a roof over your head and you are covered enough care wise to get by. You meet the salt of the earth and the not so. It’s hard to change things when it feels like you are the only one seeing a problem. The staff you get on with can share with you the biggest laughs. Get to know how to contact PALS and CQC for anything seriously dangerous or harmful or just in case.

My time in residential/supported care has without doubt been one of the easier stints of my homeless journey. Though it can feel like I’m treading water I know I have come a long way from when I first arrived.

Well now… What will the next adventure bring?

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