Straight Talk
Karoline Gerlich • Chief Executive and Founding Director • NACAS

Karolina Gerlich of National Association of Care and Support Workers (NACAS) explains why she believes professionalisation is not just a good idea, but essential to maintaining standards and respect.

I’ve worked in frontline social care for many years and I’ve lost count of the number of people, including family and friends, who’ve told me that anyone can do this job.

Care work is a skilled and unique profession that deserves recognition, respect and celebration. The skills and expertise care workers demonstrate every day make a significant difference to people’s lives. This is not always fully appreciated or understood until people experience this care first hand.

The efforts of care workers go well beyond simple physical care; they provide companionship and psychological support and invest large parts of themselves into their roles. No value can be placed on the ability to make someone laugh or smile and make their day better. The role is complex and requires high levels of patience and empathy.

It is time to finally recognise care work as a profession, akin to nursing, physiotherapy, or dentistry. That’s why we celebrated Professional Care Workers’ Day on the 4th of September – a day of recognition for the amazing work that care workers do every day.

On that day especially, we wanted to shout out loud that care workers are skilled professionals who need to be better respected and valued. We asked the industry to come together and applaud those who are there day in and day out, in the snow, scorching sun and pouring rain, at night, on the weekends, at Christmas and Easter.

I strongly believe that professionalisation (via registration, a robust training framework and professional development opportunities) is essential to ensure good-quality care. At NACAS, we believe that everybody should receive outstanding care. We also constantly remind people that care workers cannot be expected to deliver care with respect if they do not receive it themselves.

Registration of care workers is the driving mission of the National Association of Care and Support Workers. We have submitted evidence to both social care all-party parliamentary groups, focusing on registration as a route to professionalisation. Supported by good training and professional development opportunities, and together with better pay and working conditions, this should dramatically improve the quality of available care. But all of this has to be supported by increased funding from the Government.

Many other professions that involve looking after people’s health and wellbeing require qualification and registration already. They have industry standards transferable from one employer to another and formal opportunities for personal development. In healthcare, professionals are regulated and supported with their training and continuous professional development. This means more consistent care, improved standards and staff who feel supported in their roles.

It is time for the care industry to come together to demand the same.

We want to protect people who use services and care workers themselves. Being registered should give care workers access to appropriate levels of training and make it easier to deal with breaches of contract and bullying in the workplace.

Registration should look at competence and recognise the skills and knowledge that can be gained after a few years’ experience. It should not be a system that accepts only a single qualification, as that would exclude a large portion of the workforce. It must be adaptable and enable staff to demonstrate the care, compassion and skill needed to do the job. Care workers should feel proud to register and be able to maintain the required level of skill to retain their registration.

Registration should not be seen as limiting an individual’s choice but that, the same way we have only qualified dentists or nurses, only people with the right values and skills should be available. The choice will still be plentiful, just much safer.

We have recently launched a petition demanding a professional register for care workers. We hope that as many people as possible will sign it so we can fight for this important change.

Both Professional Care Workers’ Day and the petition for registration are part of our social movement; we are driving towards professionalisation of the workforce, to benefit the whole of society.

The movement also aims to educate people outside of the social care sector about care work and abolish myths that the job boils down to personal care.

We are on a mission to drive the quality of care upwards and ensure that the workforce responsible for this amazing care is properly paid, trained and included in decision-making at every level.

Karolina Gerlich is Chief Executive and Founding Director of the National Association of Care and Support Workers. Twitter: @KGerlich777

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