The Covid-19 crisis has made us all realise what’s truly important, our friends, families and of course, our communities too. During the pandemic, we started to appreciate the people who look after our community day in and day out.
There are currently over 43,000 people registered as social care workers in Northern Ireland. They make up the largest part of the health and social care system, representing 4pc of the total workforce. It is also sector which will be required to grow in the future to meet the emerging demands of a growing ageing population.
As a result, Health Minister Robin Swann has launched a new campaign to help boost the adult social care workforce here in Northern Ireland. The ‘Social Care – Making a Difference’ campaign was developed by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council and highlights the important and valuable role of the social care workforce.
Telling the stories and recognising the contribution of social care workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, the campaign highlights the diversity of roles and career choices available across the various sectors and care settings.
There are men and women of all ages, working in social care across Northern Ireland. One such person is Stephanie McAleese from Connected Health in Limavady.
Stephanie started out as a care assistant with 20 clients and now leads a team of 120 staff. She believes there is no other job that is as fulfilling as a social care worker.
“Before I started in the care sector I was working as a deli assistant at my local butchers counter,” she explains. “I loved interacting with people and knew I had good communication skills especially when I was interacting with older members of the community. Once I was ready to go back to work after being on maternity leave, I made the decision that I wanted to give back more, so I applied for the job with Connected Health as a care assistant.
“I love my job and the career progression has been fantastic with second to none training provided,” Stephanie continues. “While I have more of an office-based role now, when the pandemic struck, I took on the role of carer with the Covid team answering call outs four times a week. I have three young children and had to make a choice to go back out into the community, but I knew it was something I had to do.”
Through her important work, Stephanie has met many clients and often thinks of them as part of her own family.
“I developed a special bond with Willie McCormick who was one of my first ever clients and I developed a real connection with his family providing a holistic approach to his care,” she explains. “I looked after not just his medical needs but also his emotional care needs and was a friendly face to talk to.
“Willie was bubbly and fun and we had a great rapport. When I got the call to say he had Covid I knew I had to be the one to care for him. I tried to encourage him to eat and get his strength back up, but he didn’t get better. I sat with his wife on the day of the funeral and watched from the family home offering moral and emotional support.”
According to Stephanie, carers are an indispensable part of our healthcare system.
“Carers in the community play a vital role,” she states. “They are there to get people out of bed, wash them, make them their dinner but it is more than that, it’s about the social interaction with the elderly and those in your care. All the carers are fantastic. They go over and above for everyone. It’s a career I would recommend to anyone, it’s really fulfilling. There is nothing else I would like to do.”
The ‘Social Care – Making a Difference’ campaign hopes to highlight more stories like Stephanie’s and inspire a greater understanding, appreciation and awareness of the role of social care workers through a series of video testimonials and inspiring images captured by Pulitzer award-winning photographer, Cathal McNaughton.
Speaking about the campaign, Health Minister Robin Swann highlights the importance of this sector.
“Our social care sector works tirelessly, day and night to provide quality care to the most vulnerable in our society,” he explains. “The pandemic very clearly brought home the absolutely vital role of the sector and it was only through the effort and commitment of care workers that services were maintained.
“In Northern Ireland, we have a skilled and dedicated social care workforce who help transform lives and enable people to live well. However we can’t ignore the fact that the needs of our population are increasing and we need more skilled social care workers to meet the demand for these important services.
“Through this new campaign we not only hope to inspire the right people to consider a career in social care, but also help the general public gain a greater appreciation and awareness of the role of social care workers.”
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