A Day In The Life Of A Care Worker

When the Editor of the web magazine asked me to do an article about what I actually did on a daily basis I started to go into panic mode, not because I do not know what I am doing (although some of the staff that work for me might say otherwise) but after many years of talking about the service I realise that I have never done anything about the fundamentals of the work.

Rather than sit here and pontificate about the work that we do, or what it should be in an ideal situation, which is what I have done more times than I can count, I thought it might be a good idea to take a snap shot of a working day.

You may have to allow me some artistic licence at this point as quite clearly the staff are not always on duty from early morning to bed time, although it does feel like it at times and it is not unusual for a member of staff to work a fourteen-hour day.

Although I am the care manager, I do work many of the shifts with the staff, thus allowing me to monitor practice. However, more often than not, it is just to cover shortfalls in staffing, and so I feel more than able to talk about the working day.


Our shifts start at 7.30 a.m., which is a joyous time when children and young people jump out of bed with excitement and wonderment at what the day may bring, and exchange pleasantries with those around them (I wish).

For many of our young people in the school, bed can be a sanctuary, especially if they are worried, depressed, or not happy with life, so that the process of getting out of bed can be quite traumatic. Waking and preparing the young people so that they are ready and positive about going to school can be quite a skill.

Firstly, we make the initial wake gentle and without any lights on; this may be repeated on more than one occasion until the young person is awake. I expect the staff to be in good humour and sociable first thing, thus creating a calm and happy environment.

The next step is even trickier, and for those of you who have brought up any children – especially young males who seem to take the Elizabethan approach to washing and hygiene – you would recognise this.

The skill is to ensure that young people whose sole aim is to avoid the dangers of contact with water and soap carry out the hygiene process whilst still maintaining their privacy. Good indicators that this process has not taken place range from dry hair or body, wearing clothes into the shower, standing outside the shower curtain and an overpowering smell of Lynx. When this process has taken place, we then spend the rest of the time up until 9a.m. having breakfast together on the house areas and in final preparations for school.

Bearing in mind that many of our young people at the school have had bad experiences or have been disenfranchised from education, this can also be a time when fears and anxieties can manifest themselves in behaviour. It is therefore important that all staff are aware of this, especially when a child is new to the school and may not have built up trust and formed relationships.

Unfortunately, much of the world outside residential education seems only to function between 9a.m. and 5p.m., resulting in 90% of all meetings involving external agencies being between these times. In an ideal situation staff that have slept in the night before or have been on an early shift will get to go home until the evening shift that starts at 3p.m.. However, if a review or strategy meeting takes place, the child’s key worker will need to be present, resulting in staff having to stay on.


Staff that have not been on duty in the morning generally start at midday and will be involved in lunch duties and after lunch activities. The afternoons are the times when we can get together for meetings, supervision and performance management.

In a residential school, the bulk of a residential care workers’ time is spent working between the end of formal school and bed time, and we are no exception. This time can be both the most difficult time and the most productive and enjoyable.

Over the years I have worked in a number of schools and in all of them without exception, the hand-over period between the end of school and the start of the leisure time has been complex and potentially problematic.

When I was at school, the time between finishing school and my journey home was a legitimate time to let off steam and do all of the things that I should not be doing. However, in a boarding school the children and young people do not have this luxury, and this can often result in pupils coming onto the house areas bringing with them any unresolved conflicts of the day or at best very excitable and needing to let off steam.

In common with most men, I am not very good at multi-tasking but at 3.30p.m. I have to override my genetic inheritance as I am confronted with being a listener, problem-solver, conflict-manager and fire-fighter. When we have finished dealing with anxieties and hormones, we can then concentrate on preparing the children for their evening activities.

All of the children and young people at the school choose a set of activities at the beginning of each term, then spend the rest of the term swearing blind that they never chose the activity and would like to do something else. On three days a week we the run these activities between 4.30p.m.-5.30p.m. and 6p.m.-7p.m., interspersed with tea. During these activities, a member of staff will monitor the children’s progress in line with the five key outcomes, which in turn will be recorded in each individual progress file by the child’s key worker.


From 7p.m. to bed time this is what we call “free time”, when the children and young people can socialise with their peers and staff. It is also a time when key workers can spend time listening and working with individuals on care plans or simply talking through concerns or the events of the day.

The informal times can present a bit of a dilemma for the care team. If we are carrying out our duty of care correctly we should ensure the every child is safe in our care, that they are free from abuse, that they taking care of their hygiene, that they have privacy, that their dignity is maintained and that they are allowed to have time on their own or with a friend without adult interruption.

Whilst all of the above are fundamental rights that must be maintained, it does mean that we are constantly trying to maintain a balance between ensuring that someone is washing properly but at the same time maintaining their privacy and dignity. We have to allow individuals to have time for themselves or friends but at the same time ensure that bullying or a child protection issue does not occur, and this can only be done through adequate supervision. I hope and believe that we have got the balance right. However, we are constantly monitoring and re-appraising our practice.


It has always seemed a strange irony to me that bed can be a sanctuary in the morning but can be a nightmare to the same individual at night time. For some children that are home sick or have had dysfunctional bed times this can be a stressful and anxious time, so that – as in the morning – staff must be mindful and understanding. If I had a pound for the number of sleepless nights that I have gone through in my career, I could have bought my own residential school by now.

Is it the job for you?

I hope I have shown what our job entails and the skilled approach that is required. Of course I have not mentioned the occasions when a child comes to you and tells you that they have been abused, or when you find an individual trying to self harm or commit suicide. It is on these occasions that you realise just how skilled care workers should be.

If after reading this, you are wondering if this is the job for you, I should tell you about something that happened to me last week. A past pupil came for a visit to the school who left us ten years ago. While he was talking to myself and a group of staff he turned to me and said, “Do you remember, when I was having a problem, how you used to take me outside and talk through the issue. I still remember those words and they still help through difficult times now.”

If I ever needed a reason for doing this job or carrying on, I found it last week.

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