Children’s mental health and disability is harmed by care worker shortage - Lynn Bell

LOVE Learning is a charity that provides specialist support to vulnerable children and young people, and many of those we work with are affected by disabilities or poor mental health. These children are at the heart of the support services provided by public, private and third sector providers across Scotland.

In recent times, I have been writing articles relating to the issues and needs that are creating greater demands for these services. Issues like Covid19, increases in poor mental health and a lack of support for those with additional support needs.

There has been a focus on the lack of support services, the shortfall in funding available and increasing waiting lists for mental health treatment, all reinforced by shocking facts and figures. However, there is an even greater issue that is impacting on critically low staffing levels and that is grinding social care to a halt. This relates to the inability to attract and retain care workers, whose role is vital in supporting the needs of our vulnerable young people.

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Working as a care worker is said to be the most rewarding job personally, but the worst financially, with no career pathway. How would you feel in your job role if you were told that only part of your daily job was paid, or that you were expected to pay your own qualifications to stay registered on a low or minimum wage?

For many of the public, care workers are not viewed as professionals, with individuals involved in it often mistreated or looked down on. Yet they are expected or required to be qualified to degree level and work with some of the most complex cases that some specialist professionals cannot.

Care workers are often working in highly complex situations, requiring a developed skills base. They are frequently working with those with disabilities, requiring an understanding of medication; trauma; mental health and wellbeing, and social and emotional issues. All of this on a low salary with minimum benefits.

Brexit and Covid-19 regulations have had a huge effect on providing care services. The former has seen many foreign care workers depart from the sector while the latter has seen many individuals leave the role altogether. I welcome the recent announcements from Scottish Government on new isolation rules for care workers and overseas workers. However, this does not solve the problem long term as the inability to attract and keep staff is a much larger issue and one that requires to be vitally addressed.

Staff shortages in Scotland are now at critical levels and with no clear career pathway or incentives, the care sector will quite literally grind to a halt. Services have been cut dramatically and shortage of staff is also contributing to lack of services for our children. We live in a world where supermarkets or Amazon pay more or have more attractive benefits.

This does not just affect children’s services. We will all be affected, needing care services in our lives or for our families. We need to start valuing the work that care staff do in Scotland, the complexities of their role, long hours, lack of training, and the personal strength required. We talk about recruiting for values into care. How do we insist on this when there is a national staff shortage and the sector is in crisis?

As a nation we have pledged through ‘The Promise” that we will deliver a change in care for children and young people. I suggest that this change is a responsibility placed on all of us.

Culturally we need to value our care workers, and that means going beyond platitudes and rewarding them financially, as well as ensuring that working in social care has identified career pathways.

By suitably rewarding care workers and letting them realise their full potential, they will provide a first-class service for us all.

Lynn Bell is CEO of LOVE Learning, a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition

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