Respite carer calls for better pay and proper training

Respite carer Carol Singleton says there should be a minimum qualification for carers who look after autistic clients.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Respite carer Carol Singleton says there should be a minimum qualification for carers who look after autistic clients.

A respite carer has called for compulsory training for people looking after autistic clients as currently no formal qualifications are needed. 

Blenheim woman Carol Singleton has been a carer for 30 years, and spoke out after calls for better work conditions for respite carers.

Autism New Zealand and workers' union E tu want more pay for carers, who earn $75 a day regardless of how many hours they work.

Singleton, who is self-employed, said improvements to the sector should include an hourly pay rate and proper training.

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"I think especially with autism, you need specialised qualifications and you need to be able to understand it more," Singleton said.

"And if you're doing a sleep-over job, or you're there all day, the money the Government pays is nothing. It's physically and mentally demanding and we deserve at least minimum wage."

Singleton recalled regularly caring for an autistic man when she lived in England in 2002 who was quite unpredictable.

"He was really good with numbers. That was his thing. And if he was doing what he wanted to do, that's fine. But you can't be doing numbers all the time, you've got to do everyday things like showering and eating," Singleton said.

"But if you stop them doing what they want, they can throw a tantrum. They can get quite violent, and they're really strong, stronger than most, I think."

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Singleton wanted to see standardised training for carers that included a focus on autism.

"As an ordinary carer, you don't need any training. If you work for an employer, they'll train you on the job, but anyone could become a self-employed carer. 

"With dementia and autism, and a lot of intellectual disabilities, you need to know how to deal with certain situations and how to react."

The Ministry of Health-funded Te Pou, a national centre for workforce development for the mental health, addiction and disability sectors, provided funding for carers that wanted to complete training.

The centre commissioned a report on how to improve care of autistic people in 2015.

The report's author Sharon Brandford,​ a disability support consultant, found autistic people made up 19 to 26 per cent of respite care clients.

Most companies provided basic training on care for autistic clients, but needed more in-depth training, she said.

But introducing a formal qualification was difficult because many respite carers of autistic people were family members, and each individual had such varied needs, she said.

"Providers found training that was person-specific was more helpful. Staff needed to understand how to communicate with a person with autism, and how to manage sensory sensitivities, as they all have quite different needs.

"People thought a mix of training and workplace translation, that is, translating what they learned in training to actual practice ... was a good start."

However, there was not always enough funding for such training, she said.

Te Pou disability and pacific workforce manager Manase Lua said the centre was creating a national framework to make training more consistent across organisations.

The goal was to make it easier for carers to develop their skills, and the project should be finished by the end of the year.

In Marlborough, there were 36 people with autism receiving respite care funded by the Ministry of Health.

Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan​ agreed there should be some sort of training for anyone looking after an autistic person.

That should include parents, family members working as respite carers, self-employed respite carers or carers employed by a company, he said.

"The very nature of autism means that training is quite critical," Dougan said.

"I'm not suggesting the family know more or less than anyone else, they probably know more. But there are tools and techniques that can make situations go more smoothly."

 - The Marlborough Express

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