Judy Fortune first worked with the handicapped while she was living in Toronto, before she moved to Alberta in the 1980s. Judy worked with single clients then and says that now, with up to four clients under her care, her job is quite a bit more demanding. Judy is presently a Superivsor at the Association’s 101 Ave group home.
Judy studied courses from the Rehabilitation Program offered at the college. Within the Association, she has also had the opportunity to attend many training workshops and conferences over the years.
Judy finds that supervising a group home is a balancing act that requires creativity in organizing activities to suit the needs of the clients as they arise throughout the day. She says that clients appreciate “every little thing” that most people take for granted. They don’t seem to want as much as most others. Judy has learned from the clients to be content with less.
Personal Planning sessions give Judy the opportunity to collaborate with everyone who is involved with the well being of the clients in her care. She values the chance for co-ordination between the work life and the home life of the clients. The insights help all the workers to have a greater understanding of the clients they interact with. The relationship with parents and guardians is enhanced as well. Sometimes expectations cannot be met, but there is always a chance to offer alternatives.
Judy remembers a situation she encountered while shopping in a local store. She was accompanying a client who loved babies. The client reached out to touch the hand of a baby who was in her mother’s arms in the line in front of her. The mother was very upset and she complained to the manager, who asked Judy and the client to leave the store. They refused. Judy explained that the client had done no harm and that she was also a customer in the store.
The clients are so well liked by so many people. When strangers stare, which happens much less frequently than in the 1980s, Judy will approach them ask, “Were you never taught not to stare?” She wants to make them aware that their stares are rude and can cause some clients to feel uncomfortable.
Judy has learned so much from the clients. They have taught her many lessons, in particular to stop taking things for granted. As she has come to know them, she has discovered that not all clients were born with their disability. And all of them have a need to communicate. She has found ways to understand what they are trying to tell her when it is difficult to do so. She might ask them to draw a picture to describe what they need or she may ask another client to translate. For some reason, she finds that clients can sometimes communicate better with each other than with her.
Judy always lets the clients know when their behaviour upsets her. Some staff shy away from letting their feelings known when it involves conflict. She says that the client understand very well what being upset is. It happens to them as well.
Those who are new to the field of Rehabilitation might find it difficult to resist doing everything for the clients. Judy notes how important it is to remember to let the clients use their own skills.
Give them the opportunity to use their skills because they need to have control over part of their lives. So be patient and tolerant, very tolerant. Listen to them when they speak. It may come out differently, but listen. If you don’t understand, ask.
Dealing with parents and guardians is a challenge that Judy has learned to manage. She says that situations are not clearly black and white, but there is a lot of grey. It is important to find ways to communicate so that the correct message is delivered.
Judy writes about an early experience she had as a group home worker, an experience that taught her new skills in dealing with parents and guardians.
A Learning Experienceby Judy Fortune
One morning I reported for my shift at one of the many residences operated by GPDAMH. One hour into my shift, I answered an incoming call. On the other end of the telephone line was a guardian who was calling to inform me that her daughter, who suffered from a heart condition and could not walk any distance, was four blocks away from the home. I immediately responded by saying “that can’t be, as I saw her two minutes ago, but I will go and check.” I ran to the hallway and quickly down the stairs in to the basement as fast as my feet could carry me. I was overjoyed to see the “missing person” relaxing in a chair in the basement. “Hi”, I said, “how are you?” She responded by saying, “I’m fine. What’s wrong?” I said, “Oh, nothing’s wrong.”
During this time the mother was placed on hold while I tried to solve the mystery. I raced up the stairs and through the hallway once again to the telephone. Breathlessly, I picked up the receiver and said, “She is downstairs, sitting in the basement.” The mother continued to doubt me. I then indignantly responded, “Ma’am, you and I are fully aware that it is physically impossible for your daughter to be seen four blocks away and be at the home in that short time.” She continued, “ The person who saw her, knew her from when she was a baby and would not make such a mistake.” I responded, “Well, obviously she did in this instance. Maybe she saw someone who looks like your daughter.”
Meanwhile, several thoughts were racing through my mind. They are all lying. It never occurred to me to have the daughter take the telephone and say hi to her mom. At the end of the argument I felt good knowing in my mind that I had proved that I was right and she was wrong. I then said, “Goodbye,” and replaced the receiver on the hook. I completed my shift. I had no idea that the parent was quite upset while I babbled on saying and implying that both she and her friend were wrong.
The following day, my co-ordinator called me and said she needed to talk to me. When we got together the co-ordinator informed me that she had received a complaint from a parent. I instantly knew who it was and proceeded to get into the defensive mood. I said to the co-ordinator, “She’s lying, her daughter could not walk that distance and get back to the house in such a short time.” I was right and the parent was horribly wrong. My co-ordinator at the time sat quietly while I rambled on. At the end of my long story (the co-ordinator did not have a chance to get a word in edge-wise) the co-ordinator said to me, ”Judy, when you are dealing with a parent, you need to be diplomatic. You could have responded by agreeing with the parent and setting her mind at peace. You could also have let her know that you were going to look into the matter immediately.” I still could not see her point of view. I felt I told the parent the truth. I simply kept saying, “She is lying, she is lying. I am not allowing anyone to say I was negligent.”
However, looking back I realized I could have handled the situation very, very differently instead of antagonizing the parent. I must confess I now have become a professional at this and no longer will be caught in a similar situation.
I had a very good co-ordinator who worked through this with me. I would like to say thank you to GPDAMH for the help and guidance I received.