5.8 Different roles: personal assistants
One of the major changes brought about by the introduction of individual budgets has been the growth of a new workforce of personal assistant s (PAs) to support children and adults with a range of needs. The role is no longer a very new one. It does, however, mark an important shift away from formal carers being almost entirely agency-based.
Parents can use an individual budget to employ a PA (or several PAs) to meet their child's agreed support outcomes. PAs can be involved in a very wide range of support activities, including personal care and enabling children to take part in social, leisure and sporting activities. PAs make take on roles as various as assisting a child to shower to accompanying a young person to T in the Park. The Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013 describes the parents of children who are under 16 as 'the supported person' because they are responsible for managing their budget or individual service fund. Parents have a legal responsibility to take account of their child's views about the support, though the extent of the child's involvement in decision-making will obviously depend on the child's age. A young person who is over 16 is themselves 'the supported person' and in control of decision-making about their care (unless they lack legal capacity to make these decisions - see Section 4 ).
The PA may be drawn from existing paid staff or directly from the wider labour market. Sometimes PAs can be family members or someone in the individual's existing social network, although there are restrictions on these circumstances (e.g. when undue pressure has been exerted on someone to make these arrangements).
There are some important differences between the role and accountability of a privately employed PA and someone employed by an agency, such as local authority or voluntary agency. These are explored in the next activity.
Activity 5.5 The role of the personal assistant
In this Activity you will listen to parents and a personal assistant talking about their experience of directing their children's support. Both families use an individual budget to employ personal assistants to support their children. First you will Duncan MacKendrick, the father of Cameron (19) who has autism, and Kayleigh, one of Cameron's personal assistants from Enable Scotland . Then you will hear Clare Dooley, the parent of three children with a range of additional needs talking about some of the challenges she has experienced employing personal assistants to support her family.
Transcript: Mr and Mrs McKendrick and Kaleigh Nesbit, personal assistant, Enable
Transcript: Clare Dooley
Once you have listened to the podcasts, use your learning log to identify:
- examples of the kinds of activities and tasks that a personal assistant might be involved in when supporting children and young people.
- the skills and capabilities that personal assistants may require
- potential challenges of working as a personal assistant and/or employing a personal assistant
If you have experience of working as a personal assistant, or employing one, you may want to draw on your own experience, as well as the podcast content, to answer these questions.
It is evident from these short podcasts that personal assistants may be involved in a very wide range of activities, depending on the needs of the particular family and child. For example, Clare Dooley describes how the personal assistants who support her family provide domestic help and assist her three children get ready for school. Kayleigh's role with Cameron, a young adult, is more focused on supporting him to develop skills and confidence in more independent living e.g. travelling independently, using money.
Kayleigh, Clare and Duncan all refer to some important skills and capabilities for personal assistants. Just some of those that you may have noted down were:
- Communication, relationship building and sensitivity to young people's needs and wishes
- Good team work
- Respect for family privacy and confidentiality
- Flexibility (e.g. to respond to young people's changing needs and wishes)
- Good organisational skills (e.g. to work towards agreed outcomes in a co-ordinated way)
- Recording skills (e.g. keeping records up to date)
- Ability to recognise and share concerns (e.g. about risk of harm)
Kayleigh clearly gets a great deal of job satisfaction from her work as a personal assistant. However, there are, inevitably, potential challenges for both the employer parent or young person and the personal assistant. As Clare points out, it can be challenging to find the right people to support children and young people. Managing a team of personal assistants is a potentially heavy responsibility for parents who are already fully stretched caring for their children. Claire also explains that appropriate boundaries between the professional role of the personal assistant and the private life of the family can also be hard to negotiate. Later in this course you will find out more about the kinds of support that may be important for supported people (see Section 5.13 ).
UNISON, one of the UK's largest unions, in its response to the consultation on the self-directed support legislation, has also highlighted some of the challenges of for personal assistants who are employed directly by families and individuals:
User-appointed personal assistants hired directly by individuals raise questions over opportunities to scrutinise their working conditions and regulate practice standards; of awareness of employment rights; of their accountability; of opportunities to benefit from best practice developments; and for collective bargaining.