Today I had the pleasure of speaking to Kristen, a Disability Support Worker from NSW. Kristen, a mother of six delightful kids, had pursued many different careers over the years before she found her passion in helping those with a disability. Talking over the phone, Kristen’s bubbly personality shone brightly as she recalled heartfelt stories where she and her team have truly made a difference in people’s lives. I hope you enjoy this interview with Kristen as much as I did writing it.
1. Tell us a little about your background and why you decided to become a Disability Support Worker?
Before I started doing disability support work I previously worked with troubled youth and young adults with behavioral issues in Sydney and really loved it. I did this for 6 years and learned a lot about autism and other specialised conditions affecting our youth I previously didn’t know much about.
It was also around this time I was looking after my grandfather who was diagnosed with dementia and sadly died shortly after. After my grandfather died, I moved house and was in desperate need of a job. Though unusual to a lot of people, I found the perfect job on Gumtree, looking after an 82-year-old quadriplegic man. While I had never done this kind of work before I thought, “why not?” It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the job. I worked closely with him for a few years until he tragically passed, leaving me terribly broken for some time.
I dabbled in a few other things like real estate and even had my own beauty salon, which I ran from home, but I still didn’t feel like I had found my niche.
I started with Edmen soon after this and knew this was it. This is what I had been searching for all this time. Since working with Edmen I try to have a bit of fun with the clients, making them happy and smile often. So far I am loving the challenge of doing this every day.
2. What kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis with your clients?
The shifts usually consist of work around daily living (ADLS), meals, giving medications, activities, cleaning, washing (we change the bed sheets daily as majority of our clients are incontinent), cooking and of course, having fun. As a beauty therapist I am also known to give great head massages.
Throughout all these activities and ADLS, I try and encourage and support every client to participate and do as much as they can themselves, even though we know it will take longer.
I work in multiple group homes which are commonly referred to as Supportive Independent Living (SIL). The homes vary in ages, level of disability as well as gender and normally hold around 3-6 clients each. I usually rotate between two homes at a time but I have rotated in up to five homes in the past.
3. Why did you choose to work with Edmen in comparison to other agencies?
While I had worked in some community support roles in the past, I didn’t like the short shifts which were often the only ones available. I didn’t have the opportunity to bond with the clients because I was only there for a few hours and I found I wasn’t really making an impact.
It was this passion to make a difference that led me to look for different opportunities that allowed me to work these longer shifts. I soon found Edmen and I’m so glad I did. Edmen gives me the flexibility to work around my family and their commitments whilst also giving me options to pick up extra shifts when available. The work-life balance I am now able to achieve is a lot healthier than when I ran my beauty salon from home. Edmen are super friendly and are really good to work for.
4. What has your experience been like working with Edmen?
Incredible. This company goes above and beyond. I have been offered permanent work many times however I continually decline because I love working for Edmen so much.
The ability for me to work around my kids is excellent. They allow me to book a couple of weeks in advance so I can plan other commitments but they will also call me if last minute shifts pop up which they need filling. When the staff from Edmen call they are always in a happy mood. They are really friendly and understanding if a shift doesn’t work or I need to change my schedule.
There was recently an incident involving myself and a client which was handled so professionally by Edmen Management. They have made contact with me on multiple occasions to see if I am okay, offering ongoing counselling if I needed it. After a bad event in the workplace we would expect our employer to care but they really went the extra mile. I have been very impressed and felt incredibly supported.
5. What impact do you feel you have on your client’s lives?
I’d like to think I have a big impact. My goal is to make them laugh and be happy, that’s all. I don’t care if I look like a fool in front of other clients and staff, I just want others to have a good time.
While COVID has forced the closure of many day programs, the clients now spend most days cooped up inside. As a distraction, along with dancing a lot, I like to focus on their meals, making this much-anticipated part of their day deliciously enjoyable. I think I spend more time perfecting these meals than I do at home!
6. What advice do you have for people considering becoming a disability support worker?
If I had the chance to do it all over again I would have done things a little differently. I would have obtained my certificates and completed my studies much earlier than what I did because once you start, it’s hard to stop and study. Secondly, you need to prepare yourself for loss. Throughout this job you will develop close professional relationships with your clients but you need to find a healthy balance between work life and home life.
Thirdly, you will have challenges on a daily basis. This is a tough job that requires teamwork and support. Ask for help if and when you need it, there is no shame in that.
7. Would you recommend Edmen to other people looking to work in the industry? If so, why?
100% They are an excellent, professional company to work for who will have your back if something was to go wrong.
Kristen is one of the most genuine, kind, supportive and passionate healthcare workers I’ve chatted to in a long time. What a pleasure it was to learn more about the vital role disability support workers play in looking after the valuable members of our community.
Emergency Registered Nurse
Co-founder The Other Shift