Choosing a Support Worker


This material can be used by carers and whānau in situations where you are either selecting a ‘Support Worker’ for you or your family member – or, if you are involved with selecting someone who will be employed by an organisation. Many of the points will remain the same.

Often we want a thoughtful person who will be trustworthy, understand our family and provide great support.

It is important we remember this when selecting a support worker.  The candidate may give you the responses they think you want to hear, as they are looking for employment. You need to find the right person for the job. This means you need to be very clear on:

  • what you are wanting
  • have a good idea about the things you are looking for in a person, and
  • ask questions in a way that doesn’t tell the person what you want to hear

A     Being clear on what we want

It may be good to divide things up into three categories ie what you need, what you might like and what you would love.

Things you need the person to have:
These may be things like a driver’s licence, the ability to send and receive texts, an ability to respect the culture and ways you do things as a family and a willingness to learn how your family member communicates.

Things you might like the person to have:
These may be things like experience working with other disabled people (or not), relevant qualifications and a sense of ‘ease’ with you and the person you are caring for/family member.

Things you would love the person to have:
These may be things like connections with people/places that may be of interest to the person you care for or the ability to communicate really well.

When you have identified these things, we have a framework to help us stay clear about who and what you are looking for.

B     Identify clues about whether the person will ‘fit in’ or enhance your family situation

Focus on what a person says … and also what they do. The two need to match one another.

It is often worthwhile to take a moment to check what your ‘instinct’ (gut) or ‘intuition’ is telling you. Ideally, we need to pay real attention to what the person actually does before we choose someone.

Did the person:

  • arrive when they said they would (or let you know if they couldn’t)?
  • seem ‘at ease’ with the person you care for?
  • appear relaxed in your home?
  • listen carefully to what you are wanting?
  • have any ‘paper’ you wanted to see ie. driver licence, current first aid certificate, etc.

Some things other whānau have listed as being important to them include the person being:

  • Non-judgmental
  • Punctual (turn up when they say they will)
  • Stable
  • Able to be adaptable
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Friendly
  • Respectful (of you and your family members boundaries)
  • Patient
  • Sense of humour
  • Ability to not take things personally
  • Empathy with the person you care for

Six important characteristics can be summarised as “The Six C’s”.

  • Competence
  • Caring
  • Compatibility
  • Cooperation
  • Communication
  • Commonsense

Our challenge is to think about ‘how we might see or experience’ these things or how we might get a reliable clue about these things before we select someone.

Sometimes this can be as simple as identifying what is important to you and then how you might expect to experience this in someone else’s behaviour.

C     Identifying what skills might be important to you?

Sometimes carers, whānau and organisations look for slightly different skills. Some of the things whānau often mention as important skills are:

The ability to:

  • Build and keep a trusting relationship
    It’s important to determine whether you and the person you care for can build a connection with the support worker.
    You may want to think about what ‘trust’ means to you and how ‘trust’ is built in your family.  You can ask them what ‘trust’ means to them.  This might give you a clue about whether you see things in a similar way. If someone is coming into your home, confidentiality is vital. Explore how they have maintained confidentiality in previous working situations.  This will help you know whether it’s possible to build an atmosphere of safety and trust with them.
  • Communicate well
    Many people will look for a relaxed, two-way conversation in the interview.  This will give you some idea about whether your communication approaches ‘match’.
  • Compatible
    Are they a good ‘fit’ with your family and home environment? Talk about some of the common situations that might arise and what they would do in those circumstances.  They need to connect with your family member – this ensures time together is enjoyable. Observe how they interact with your family member, other siblings, friends and the home environment.
  • Understand (have knowledge of) disability or the specific disability the person you care for lives with
    This can really depend on your circumstances.  Some people may really need support people to have a specific set of skills (or be open to learning them). Other people just want to identify someone who they believe they can ‘trust’, who is a good ‘fit’ for them, who they can teach specific things too (as needed). Just think about this before you start trying to select someone … there is no ‘right’ way.  But, it can help if you are clear about what you are looking for.
  • Be flexible
    Change will always happen.  Can this person respond to slightly different times of the day when you might need them … or doing things slightly differently? This is very difficult to tell. If they need the job, most people will suggest they can do almost anything. However, some people can be very clear about times of the day/year they are not able to work (eg. at nights, school holidays) and this will help you:
    – understand them as a person, and
    – get an idea about how flexible they are.

D     Interviewing

It is best to interview a support worker in person. Before you conduct an interview, try to determine what personal qualities you are looking for and make some notes about questions that you might have.  It’s easier to break the ice by describing your family and your child first and then asking questions about the support worker. The questions you ask that mention real situations will bring forth the most revealing answers.

Include the person you care for as part of the process. And if the person is older actively engage, or have them, conduct the interview.

E     Some possible interview questions

General Open Questions

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Describe your experience working with children/disabled people?
  • What are the things that make you the right person for this role?
  • Tell me about your interests?
  • What are some of the things you may find challenging about this role?
  • What are your thoughts about conflict?
  • What are the questions you have about us?

More Focussed Open Questions

  • If my child has to be taken to the doctor/hospital for an emergency, what steps would you take?
  • What would you do if you asked the person I care for to do something and he or she refused?
  • What hours are you available to work? What about during holidays and weekends?
  • What should we do if we disagree about something?

Specific Questions

  • What special training or experience do you have (first aid, CPR, other)?
  • Would you be willing to have a police check?

Try to ask questions in a way that does not tell them what you want to hear eg: ‘I think all disabled people should have some paid or voluntary work during the week.  What do you think?’ or I really believe sticking to ‘x’ diet will really help my family member.  Do you think what a person eats is important?”

F     Does all the information add up?

Key question: Is what you experienced directly (saw and heard for yourself) similar to what they said about themselves and what others said about them (references)?

It is essential to get permission to contact two other groups of people:

1       People they have worked for before. This might be other families or organisations.

2       People who know them well and can talk about what they see their strengths and challenges as being.

Questions you can ask a previous employer or referee:

  • ‘Tell me some things about … (their name) … ?’
  • ‘What do I need to understand about … (their name)?’
  • ‘Tell me about any concerns you might have about (their name) working in a home environment?’
  • ‘I would appreciate you describing some of (their name) strengths?’
  • ‘What are some of the things (their name) might find difficult?’
  • ‘What else do I need to know about (their name)?’

Remember, this is about you, your family and where you live. Trust your ‘gut’.  Even if everything seems fine, or even great, you do not have to take someone.

G     Supervising a Support Worker

It is important to establish a good working relationship with the support worker from the very beginning. Be clear about what you expect from them. Allow time for them to get to know the person you care for and meet the whānau. There may be some specific tasks that need to be carried out in a particular way such as assisting your family member to eat, to move around, or go to the toilet.

Some whānau create a book (clear files) that outlines the tasks, daily routine, likes and dislikes, emergency procedures, etc.  This can be added to by new staff as part of their role. This way instead of the whānau taking on the task of teaching/orientating a new staff person, they can hand this task to the departing staff person.

Other whānau have diaries (or a text/message system) so that staff can write down what has happened during the day, this ensures important information is passed on, and reduces lengthy handovers at the end the day.

You or the departing staff can show the new staff person how tasks should be performed until the new person seems confident and meets your expectations.

It may be important that tasks are performed in a consistent way.  Having clear communication and expectations from the beginning (particularly where there are more than one staff) will make this easier, rather than having to go back and adjust how tasks are done.

Provide prompt feedback if there is a problem with their performance. Be sure to recognise a job well done. Keep open lines of communication. If you and the support worker communicate clearly from the outset, any issues that arise will be less difficult to deal with.

The following are suggestions to consider when supervising a support worker:

  • Discuss the requirements of the job in detail.
  • Discuss what behaviours are or are not acceptable to you (ie. being late, performing duties to a standard you are happy with, attitudes, etc).
  • Be sure you are clear about what you want the person to do.
  • Explain the work you want them to do on the first day.
  • Do not assume your instructions are always understood. It may also be useful to leave instructions in writing.
  • Review what to do in case of an emergency.
  • Be clear on work hours, and time off.
  • If the worker is not doing the work correctly be sure to address the issues
  • If the job performance is not satisfactory let the support worker know. The person you care for and their well-being is what is most important.
  • If a support worker does not seem competent to you, or has been unable or unwilling to follow your directions for safe care, consider finding another worker.
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