Thames Reach
Monday 23 October 2017
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Managing the issues

Thames Reach recognised that current service users may face additional pressures such as higher rents, needing time off for appointments, the added stress of being re-housed during their traineeship, management of potential conflicts of interests and other issues that arise due to being both a service user and an employee.

Photo of a former trainee
Mark Whiteford, a former service user trainee, is now a project worker at Thames Reach's Robertson Street hostel

Money, stress, time off for appointments and support

Thames Reach’s approach was to openly discuss these concerns and ways to help manage them with candidates at interview. We used the benefits calculator to help candidates ensure they have enough money to manage, and provided financial advice if it was needed.

We encouraged people to continue with their existing support services and agree to time off. We would also explain that re-housing during the traineeship can be an unexpectedly stressful time and that we would support trainees to take annual leave to alleviate this stress.

Risks around confidential information and professional boundaries

We asked candidates to address this issue on their application form and discussed their response with them at interview. We explained that the organisation had an expectation that trainees would have a certain level of understanding and knowledge of these issues. Understanding of confidentiality and boundaries therefore formed part of our vetting process.

Over and over again we have been impressed with candidates astuteness and depth of awareness of the need to respect others’ right to confidentiality. For many people, the direct, personal experience of using services – understanding how it feels to have their own information held by others – has given them a greater appreciation of the importance of confidentiality and discretion.

 

"Some of the real positive things that happened very quickly were around getting to grips with this issue of client confidentiality and actually finding that the service users whom we had recruited as trainees had a much, much more acute sense of the importance of confidentiality, because they had been on the receiving end of services and they know what its like when confidentiality is breached."

John Crowther, Director of Operations

All candidates that were employed understood that conflicts of interest could arise when working with friends and that professional boundaries were essential. All were committed to disclosing the names of those they were close to or knew within the organisation.

Professional boundaries along with the Code of Conduct and confidentiality and professional standards were further reinforced at training sessions and were part of the normal induction process into their placement teams and projects.

During the three years of traineeships, very few problems with professional boundaries were encountered and there were no significant issues around confidentiality. The case study below is the rare exception to our general experience. We have included this example to help illustrate how we managed the issue and what we have learned from the experience.  

Case study

"Roger joined our team as a support worker and fitted well into the team. He took on a patch of clients and demonstrated enthusiasm and commitment to the role. In the past, Roger had been a recipient of support provided by another agency and he was open about his motivation being to offer support to individuals experiencing similar difficulties to those he had encountered. 

"However, after completing the GROW traineeship and being in his current position for approximately one year, I received three consecutive complaints from clients regarding Roger. While investigating these complaints it became apparent that Roger was struggling to maintain professional boundaries with his clients and this has led him to act in an unprofessional manner.

"Roger had tried to befriend a number of his clients. He wanted them to trust him and open up to him. This desire to ‘bond’ with his clients led to the following problems:

  • Roger had disclosed to some clients issues from his own personal life which he felt would be helpful. He did this without being aware of how inappropriate or unhelpful some of these disclosures may be when trying to develop a professional working relationship with certain clients.
  • Roger had experience of attending AA meetings and had replicated some of the methods used during meetings with his clients.  Again, this led him to disclose too much of his experience and also led to inappropriate bodily contact.
  • Roger described how he felt that his own personal experiences had led him to have something of an ‘us and them’ mentality. Roger described how he was used to ‘blagging’ his way through life and had advised his clients how to circumvent rules and regulations.
  • Roger was extremely motivated to get results for his clients and where he felt other agencies were being unresponsive he became frustrated, again leading to unprofessional behaviour.

"In general, Roger had not fully understood the need to deliver a service as a Thames Reach employee in a consistent professional and boundaried manner.

"As a result of the investigation into his performance, Roger received a written warning and a follow up improvement plan was created.  Roger engaged well in this process and was clear that he wanted to learn from the experience.

"Some of the key lessons from the above are:

  • Ensure support workers receive regular and robust supervision. I feel there is a tendency to ask team members who may be inexperienced to supervise new entry level staff, i.e. support workers. When individuals join the team with little experience of the role or, indeed, any sort of support work, I feel it is sensible for the team manager to supervise them, to ensure that they are being managed effectively.
  • Professional working practice and professional boundaries should explicitly be discussed during supervision, prompting the worker to talk about scenarios they have come across and how they responded. Roger did not feel confident discussing some of his practice as he was unsure of how he would be supported. Sometimes, if people have had negative and punitive experiences in employment in the past, this can lead to apprehension when engaging with management.
  • One factor that compromised Roger’s professionalism was when he was asked to provide support to two clients who he had been acquainted with prior to becoming an employee. I feel this did not help Roger to understand issues around professional boundaries and consequently we have changed our practice to ensure that former service users do not work with clients who are also their friends."

Team manager