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Case study: Sam – Lead Support, residential accommodation

Sam got into disability support work after finishing school, as a temporary job until he decided what to do next. Nine years later he’s built a career that gives him the right work-life balance.

Sam got into disability support work after finishing school, as a temporary job until he decided what to do next. Nine years later he’s built a career that gives him security, flexibility and the right work-life balance.

Sam describes his work as supporting people with disability with the activities of everyday life: personal care, nutrition, wellbeing; the essential things that set someone up for the day so they’re ready to go out into the world.

As a lead support worker, Sam works a mix of day, evening and Sunday shifts leading a team who support six residents. This flexibility provides a work-life balance that suits him.

“What I do now is right for me. It’s flexible – I can play rugby at the weekend and shape my roster around what I want to do in my life. It’s also a secure job and there’s always more work if I want it,” Sam says.

Sam’s day shifts start at 7am when his team meet night staff to get a briefing before they set the morning routine in motion. 

“After we talk to the night staff we plan the day and assign duties until 7.30am. Then we’re out on the floor helping people out of bed, supporting them to shower and have breakfast, administering medications.

“By 10.30am most of the people we support are ready to meet their Individual Support Program (ISP) worker to discuss what they want to do for the day. That might be going to the gym or swimming, or to the park or music therapy.

Those who are not seeing their ISP worker that day will stay home; Sam and his team will continue to support them while tackling household chores, such as washing clothes and catching up on administration.

“We try to make everyday activities more fun for everyone. For example, I’ll find out what a person’s favourite music is and play some while we do routine tasks together.”

When he tells people about his job, Sam says that reactions usually fall somewhere between admiration and apprehension.

“Most people say ‘I couldn’t do that.’ But I don’t think of my job as hard. Everybody needs to eat, stay clean and be a part of their community. It’s all part of living,” he says.

He believes job satisfaction, security and salary as other aspects of disability support work that often confound peoples’ expectations.

“People sometimes assume I do this work out of the goodness of my heart, but I get paid pretty well for it. People stay in the disability sector because it’s rewarding and because it offers a good lifestyle.” 

Sam got his start in disability support nine years ago after a family member recommended it as something to try until he decided where to go in his career. He is happy to continue along his current career path, indeed, it’s a path he thinks more people would find rewarding if they tried it.

“You need to be willing to work hard and keep on learning. Aside from that, I don’t think you need any particular personality type to be a good support worker because each person with disability has different needs.

“I’ve worked in day programs, individual support services, palliative care, behaviour support in residential services, and I’ve done complex medical support in residential services, and there are still a dozen other kinds of support models that I haven’t tried yet. There’s a different support worker role to suit everyone, you just need to find the one that suits you.”

Sam’s story is one example from the many organisations and individuals dedicated to supporting people with disability in Victoria. Organisations may offer services and work opportunities that differ from those described here.