How Community Support Workers Help Families and the Community

Together with doctors, nurses, parents and other family members, community support workers play an important role in the lives of those who have disabilities. Regardless of whether the disability is intellectual, sensory, behavioral, physical or a combination, those who take a community support worker course can work in areas that contribute to the assistance of individuals dealing with disabilities, which also helps their families.

The career path for a community support worker can be diverse. Jobs range from working with children who have autism to helping adults experiencing addiction to assisting women and their children facing domestic abuse. Those who take a community support worker program can expect to have several career options, and often, it can be challenging to narrow down the path they want to take.

Let’s look at Tiana’s career path as an example. After completing her community support worker course, Tiana decided she wanted to work in addiction recovery. This was because drug addiction ran through her family. She’d lost a cousin to heroin addiction, and her brother had been in and out of recovery programs for more than a decade.

“I wanted to help people like those in my family recover and see themselves as valuable assets to our community,” she says. “It was really important for me to give those struggling with addiction a sense of purpose.”

Tiana spent two years working with a program in Vancouver in tandem with clinical counselors. She helped with getting the program participants settled in, talked to them, gave instructions, helped them fill out forms, prepared them for counselling sessions, worked with them in activities while they waited, even supported them when they were uncomfortable with the process of the program.

After a while, Tiana started feeling that she needed a change. She took a few community support worker courses to refresh her skills and open her mind to new options. After her course, Tiana decided to help families who had children with severe disabilities and needed occasional regular respite care.

“I realized that by filling in to give intermittent support to children who needed constant care, I could help strengthen families and support them. I guess in a way, I knew I could prevent family members from burning out or turning to alcohol or drugs to cope with stress. So it is kind of related to what I used to do except I’m caring for a child now,” she says. “I’m continuing to strengthen families and communities, just in a different way.”

She’s been in her new role for a year and a half, and her duties include going to three different private family residences for one or two days each week. Depending upon the child’s needs, she may feed them, offer personal care assistance, or work on games and activities as part of each child’s development plan, provide general supervision and summarize each day’s events to both the families and the agency she works for.

Like Tiana, those who take a community support worker course often find that their needs in terms of the work that fulfills them changes based on a variety of factors. Therefore, a person who starts out working in the public school system as a teacher’s aide for children with disabilities may find work in a group home with teens and adults with disabilities to be a better fit as their career progresses. The duties in each role are quite diverse, not just because of the nature of the numerous jobs, but also because of the unique needs of the individuals who require support.

A community support worker can expect to be involved in a one or many of a range of tasks such as: feeding and personal care, listening/counselling, creating/managing activities, 24/7 monitoring, childcare (for mothers in sessions), life skills support/integration, companionship, outing support, senior care and much more. To be prepared for these roles, a community support worker course should include classes on various methods of communication, exploration of developmental disabilities, understanding human development across various stages of life, learning about mental health, psychology and basics around pharmacology and medication to name a few.

Being a community support worker can be exhausting. As we saw in Tiana’s case, what once was fulfilling and inspiring can become emotionally draining due to a link to personal experiences. Fortunately, she was able to continue doing what she loved. While the job is still challenging for her, Tiana is again able to go home with a great sense of accomplishment knowing that she is supporting both an individual and their family in a way that improves their way of life.

“There are days that I wonder why I chose this occupation,” she says. “One of the children I work with can have some pretty severe outbursts, and it frustrates both of us because I don’t know what she needs. I remind myself that she is communicating in the best way she can think of to get her needs met, so I go back to my training and try to find ways to understand what she is telling me. When I figure it out, we are both rewarded. It’s not easy, but I love it so much.”

Now, Tiana feels like part of the families’ support structures. They often talk to her about new challenges they are facing and update her on what is happening with their children so that she can take steps to create more harmony for everyone.

If you too, like Tiana, would like to have a rewarding, meaningful career, consider becoming a community support worker today.

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