When Christine Howland left school, she was a “very feisty punk” looking for an employer that would accept her. What she found was a rewarding career as a care professional that’s let her positively change the lives of other people without ever having to change herself. Christine took a few minutes from her busy day as a service manager to tell us all about it.
Hi, Christine. Can you tell us how your journey into caring started?
I left school at 16 with not a lot to show for it! I was a very feisty punk and I desperately wanted to leave home and the town where I lived, and I wanted to do a job that made a difference and that was about making society better. When I saw a television advert that featured a punk supporting a little girl who had learning difficulties, I thought “Okay, that’s somewhere that will accept me” so I contacted them. They sent me to work in Milton Keynes as a community service volunteer.
What was volunteering like?
I think it was the best start ever because the people I supported weren’t shy about putting me in my place! I was supporting people in their own homes who had quite profound physical disabilities, but they were opinionated and could clearly communicate what they wanted. I quickly stopped even noticing their disability. I made some very, very good friends there. It wasn’t just work, it was fun.
That seems to be a thread that’s continued throughout your career; caring isn’t work, it’s a vocation.
Definitely! Supporting people is the best job in the world, it really is. Because of my appearance – tattoos, piercings, dyed hair – I’ve never been the norm, but the people I’ve supported have always completely accepted me. If they’ve ever had an issue with me, they’ve just said it without any moaning or grumblings. They’re much more honest and supporting them has given me loads more confidence. They inspire me every single day.
You’re in a management position now. What have been your favourite activities when you’ve given caring and support throughout your career?
I love anything, especially creative arts activities that give people a voice. I like working with people who other people might find a bit difficult to reach or to be with – someone a bit feisty like myself or someone who has very, very profound needs. My favourite thing is just being with people. I think we often concentrate too much on ‘the doing’ when actually it’s about ‘the being.’ I love the communication side of our work, and any approach that helps me get to know someone. I like an approach called Intensive Interaction. It is all about being with people and communicating with them, using a person’s natural abilities. I love that. I could do that every day.
Is it possible to narrow down to the most rewarding moment you’ve had?
It’s always fantastic when you get those ‘firsts’. I once supported a young man who other people labelled as difficult to support. He would never sit down, he was often standing on chairs and he wouldn’t interact with people. I thought he was an interesting guy! I used Intensive Interaction and walked and stood on chairs with him until one day he sat on the floor and started playing with my keys. He allowed me to sit next to him and gave me an eye contact that was just mind-blowing. Everything took off from there. I still get letters from his family thanking me.
That’s when you know you’ve made a profound difference in somebody’s life. How many other jobs can do that?
Absolutely! When I do staff training, I always ask, “Who do you think is the most powerful person in the room?” It’s not the manager and, unfortunately, it’s not the people we support either. It’s us, the support workers. We make or break people’s days. We make people’s lives and it’s such a privilege when people let you into their lives. We can make such a difference.
So, is it fair to say that every single day is different?
Yes, and if it’s not then I think it’s because we, as support workers, haven’t brought something different to the table. I’m getting paid to do things I like to do and share them with other people. That’s fantastic. There’s no other job that gives you that.
How would you recommend this work to people?
I would say to people, especially people who have struggled to find the right thing for them, that support is the place to be. As a manager I’m far more likely to recruit somebody with no experience but who has the right values. I think you just have to go for it.
What would you say are the best things about working in care?
The life opportunities. This job will literally change your life. The people you support will change your life. You’ll have so many opportunities to grow and develop in terms of being a person and the things you can get up to and get paid for is just amazing!