#049 How to hire a supporter that is a good “fit” with Ben Drew from Open Future Learning

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Want to make 2020 the year that you help your son or daughter make friends and have a good school experience?

It won’t just happen…

You have to start by creating a clear vision of what that life looks like so that you can start making steps in that direction.

Making The Most Of 2020 is a quick guide to get you started. Download it now.


You can listen to this podcast episode on iTunes or Spotify.

You are hiring a support worker for your son or daughter with a disability.

It is most important that:

A) The person knows all about the disability.

B) The person has a diploma in the field of human services (or related).

C) The person has exactly the same interests and personality as the person they will be supporting.

D) The person has a health background.

E) All of the above.

F) None of the above.

G) It depends.

Honestly, why can’t this be easy? ?

This week’s podcast episode is part two of a conversation with Ben Drew from Open Future Learning.

This week we are talking about how to hire a supporter that is a good “fit” for the person being supported.

It isn’t straight forward. There isn’t an equation or an assessment for this. And unfortunately, trial (and error) are baked into the process.

There are some things that we can do to make sure that we maximize the impact of our efforts.

Here is step number one.

Be clear about the life your son or daughter with a disability wants. Be clear about what would make this next year a success.

I don’t mean successfully acquiring a new skill. Though that might be part of it.

But what would make your son or daughter look back fondly on 2020 as an important year in their life?

Opportunities for friendship? Making a contribution? Achieving a goal?

As you listen to this week’s podcast episode, think about how you have previously approached finding a supporter who is a good fit. And how you might move forward in the future.


Genia:            Welcome, welcome, welcome to the Good Things in Life Podcast. I’m your host Genia Stephen. Today is the second half of an interview with Ben Drew from Open Future Learning. Open Future Learning is an online education platform for support workers for people with disabilities. Now if you haven’t heard the first half of the interview, go back into listen to that first. You’ll find it at goodthingsinlife.org/048 and then come on back. I mean you can listen to this one first. This episode specifically, um, or this half of the interview, um, episode 49 is specifically about how to find a support worker who is a really good fit for the person that you’re thinking about. And the previous episode covers all kinds of issues related to what makes a good support worker. Okay, so let’s dive right in.

Genia:            So I wonder if you could talk a bit about how perhaps through options or, um, perhaps the content that’s available, um, in, um, Open Future Learning about how families, um, might go about thinking about finding people who are a good fit.

Ben:               Yeah. Um, it’s, it’s kind of easy to think, I think at least, that you’re, you’re good at this and you can easily identify the right people. I, to a certain extent for sure, if you’re supporting a son or daughter, I think you can, there is certain people that you, you got to know this just isn’t going to be, “Oh wow, cool”. There’s a better chance person, this person and that person. But I think we have to be really open minded when we’re making connections and meeting people and kind of helping your son or daughter to search and find that right person in the community because it’s a little bit like dating. I think sometimes you, you get along with somebody and you connect and engage with somebody who shares all the same interests that you do and they seem just like you.

Ben:               And then other times you meet somebody and it’s like you look, you look at your friend group for people who are your friends. I’ve got friends, I’ve got, I’ve seen nothing in common with them. Nothing at all. I completely decks from people to who I am. They don’t, they don’t share the same interests, but for whatever reason we connect when we get on a nose. And sometimes those are the people you call when you need somebody to talk to. Um, so I think it’s the same when we think about support style or supporters. And I definitely saw this through Options. Um, when we tried to think really creatively about how we, how people would define people to be in their lives. I know, sometimes it would happen.

Ben:               Just give you an example. There was this one, um, there’s a guy who worked for us and he used to be a burglar. But he was an incredible supporter. I mean it hurt his back and he can continue being a burglar in the UK. He was an incredible supporter for this man. And we were looking, we were helping somebody with support it to find a worker and he said, “Oh, you should, I’ve got a friend who would be great at this job”. Um, you know, a recommendation is always a good start. So I reached out to this person and he didn’t even know it was going to be cooling him and he worked in the construction industry as well. He was a laborer and I kind of chatted to him for a while about the job and I, this is really wasn’t sure. It didn’t really sound like he was in it.

Ben:               It’s not a good place to start if you’re not actually interested in it. Somebody recommended you and you know nothing about it and you’re not even looking to change your career [inaudible]. And ultimately I ended up meeting with this guy, um, not impressive at all. Like he just, it wasn’t intuitive, it didn’t really seem to want to be there. Um, and then ultimately he actually ended up completing self service providers. So we had like an application form and it completed this and it sent it in. And he’d completed it in pencil and the bit that was like about me, that was, we had a whole page of space for this. He’d written, I think one line. Have you looked into certification? I mean if it just come in through the door without any recommendation, it would just go straight into bin.

Ben:               [inaudible] any service provider, would you sign it away? Ultimately, long story short, he ended up supporting this guy and he was one of the best supporters I’ve ever seen. You know, incredible like how he engaged with this guy and was just the right fit. And you know, he was incredible. Um, so you just never know. It’s easy to kind of lower yourself into thinking, well I know, you know, I’m good at this. I can read people. I’m a good judge of what will work and what won’t work. Sometimes you just don’t know. And then sometimes you think you know and it doesn’t work out. So it is, it’s a little bit of a lottery, but I think we can still, having said that, it makes sense to be doing all the things that we would think we should be doing.

Ben:               So really listening to the person, to going out what they want and need, spending an immense amount of time learning who they are as a family member. You’re gonna know your son or daughter is [inaudible]. Um, spending and being really kind of pleasant and conscious with all of that information and then using that to try and, yeah, in the best way possible to try and find somebody who’s going to match and assimilate with that. Because yeah, it makes sense to do that. But I think we still have to be, just remember that story and be open minded when we go into this. And I think be, be willing to try things and be and be really open when we’re communicating with people about, yeah.

Ben:               But what we used to do Options if we would start the, you know, we interview people, but it’s kind of wasted and people say, “I’m a patient person and [inaudible] stuff”, you know what to say when you’re in interview. But then we would, after that subs, after that, we would then spend a whole day with somebody. Um, and then following that, um, assuming we felt like, and the person felt like they were good match and we would have the people who will going to be [inaudible] or the support involved in this whole process in interviewing and things, then we start them. It would be very clear about the [inaudible]. This isn’t, we’re not giving you a contract of employment in the sense of your, this is now your job.

Ben:               And of um, we would stop them and say, “Let’s see how it goes. Let’s chat in a week’s time.” And we would shadow and train and induct them and spend time with them and the person who is going to be receiving support. And you have to be willing and open to the fact that you, maybe you need, there’s going to need, be a need for conversations throughout that process. And if this isn’t the right fit for that person, the person has got to be able to know that they can say that or somebody has to be able to say like, “It’s still, you know, it doesn’t seem like quite the right match.” Um, it’s not a bad thing. So I think that, that’s important. Um, and I forgot. I’ll let you kind of talk this. I forgot. But there was something else I was going to say, it’ll come to me in a second.

Genia:            So when you are, you’re saying there may be conversations that need to be had and there’s ongoing training. Are there some core, core ideas, I mean obviously it’s going to be different depending on the situation and the people involved, but are there some kind of core ribbons or threads that are commonly, um, beneficial to be thinking about?

Ben:               Yeah, I’ll come back to this since I remember the other thing I was going to say.

Genia:            Okay, great.

Ben:               So, just as another example. So we were supporting this one guy who, uh, have like complex disabilities. Um, and, but the one thing he loved more than anything else was being in the ocean. He did, like it’s a sensory thing or just something about that he loved. And he lived close to the sea and he loved to get down into the water beyond the beach all times of the year. So as often as you could, which actually wasn’t that often [inaudible] we’re involved in his life. Um, so when we recruited for, we’re working out how we were going to recruit for him, we actually, this is back years ago, so this is back in the time with newspapers and [inaudible]. We put an ad in the paper and we put Surfer Wanted. And that’s, and there was other information about who this person was and what they were looking for in a supporter, but, of what the job was.

Ben:               But we ended up getting somebody who was a surfer to support this guy who loves being in the water just as much as this guy. And that is what he, they would do several times a week [inaudible]. He ended up getting on the board for this guy, getting his own board, you know, he became a surfer himself [inaudible]. Um, it completely changed how he was identified by this other people and how he identified himself. So that’s just, I think that goes back to just being really conscious of who this person is and what makes sense for them. And that person ended up like that guy who supported them. They just jelled, they shared that interest and that passion. And that means a lot sometimes. But then having said that, I remember somebody else who we’d support it and he was really into soccer and the person who ended up supporting him was this woman.

Ben:               And we had gone down the same line of like, “Whoa, we find a soccer player. This would be like a really cool match”, you know. But we’re done. This woman, she had no interest in it, whatever. But that didn’t mean she can be, she was an absolutely incredible support to this guy. Had an incredible engaging relationship with him and could listen to him talk about soccer and help him pursue his passion and interest and become member of the soccer club and facilitate him in the running of that club and be all about that. Which she wasn’t, couldn’t care less about soccer in her own life. She was still an incredible supporter to him. So it’s not always, you know, I think we don’t need to get too hung up on and be open to a possibility. So, and then the other question, so you’re talking about like the ribbons and threads that we want to kind of help people to be thinking about.

Ben:               And I think it’s, it’s back to those, it’s the same things that so many of the people you’ve spoken to say I think it’s an, I don’t want to go on and on about this cause it’s, I guess it gets a little bit monotonous. But it’s the thing about just listening to people again, being an, we’re communicating these same, same things. You want people to be able to listen, to be present and be thinking about how they can be present in their work. And not distracted by other things that are going on in their life at that moment and being focused on the person in about to deceive their capacities, the gifts. Um, and again, like how can people who are going to be talked about balance a few times in this. And I think we can help people to think about that because when we, uh, doing that thing of kind of educating support staff, I think our work can sometimes seem a bit contradictory [inaudible] via some response rights.

Ben:               And then we’ve got to talk about responsibilities and it’s very easy if we only ever talk about, uh, the people we support have the right to do whatever they want. This is our lives. They’ve been, uh, denied for so long and now they can do whatever they want out on [inaudible] responsibilities.

Genia:            Right. Absolutely. Yeah.

Ben:               People can, and then people get hung up on this choice thing cause I like choice, choice, choice, you know. We’re going to help people to make their own choices and they, this guy has been denied choice his whole life. And your job is to help him to make some choices. Well, how balance, like,

Genia:            Right. Yeah. Those two things are like such great examples of people forgetting the point. Like, because people have denied their rights and people have had their rights violated and people have been denied choice. And so the pendulum just, you know, swings violently to the other end. And, you know, I, it’s, it’s very funny. Those two examples, particularly the choice, I always, um, they give this story when I was in my very early twenties, I experienced about, of um, depression and all I wanted to do essentially was hide under my covers. Um, but I have people in my life that love me and so my sister would haul my butt out of bed every day at five o’clock in the morning and make me go for a walk or a swim because that’s what was good for me. That was not my choice. Um, and so I always kind of feel like when we do that, it’s like people, people who are truly loved and valued, don’t get to have like, unbridled choice because the people in their lives who care about them are going to come in and say, “That’s a terrible choice. No, I’m going to stand in your way.” Um, so anyway, I totally hear you on the balance. I agree.

Ben:               Yeah. I mean, you think about, um, and I’m not suggesting that all people with disabilities [inaudible], but you think about, yeah, I very often think about my kids and, um, you know, if I was just continuing, and you do see this with some parents and any other parent will be familiar with this. As some parents say like combat that thought thing anything other than, um, just saying yes to the kids and whatever they want to do, they can do. And it doesn’t makes our life very difficult for quite a number of years. So you’re not always going to be that kind of favorite person necessarily. But interestingly, the people we support, they see through that.

Genia:            Yeah.

Ben:               I mean, I’ve seen that in, um, you know, years ago, I remember there was this somebody I worked with and she would bring in gifts for people that she supported and let them both have videos and do all these kinds of things that are outside of what other staff were doing. And initially the people were like, “Oh, I really love Lisa. She’s so great”, you know. But they’re not the wallet. So they, they see through it and they start to think, hold on this pessimism, nothing really got my best interest at heart.

Genia:            Yeah. Yeah.

Ben:               There’s being that person who’s going to be, you know, like you said, that come up on unconditional love, but then his best interests as well.

Genia:            Yup. Well they’re not, best interests and unconditional love, uh, go hand-in-hand as opposed to being mutually exclusive. Not that I want to imply that I think that good supporters need to love the people that they support or that, that the role of, like I was giving the example of my sister and you were talking about parents and nor do we want to pretend I, um, that supporters are freely, you know, the same as a freely given relationship because that’s not not healthy.

Ben:               Yup. So, yeah. So we want to educate people on and help the, um, it’s ensuring that that person, the understanding that the person’s in charge and they’re directing their own lives with good reason.

Genia:            Yeah.

Ben:               And now that person has to be in charge of, you know, the education of who they are and that disability. That, it shouldn’t, it’s not like you’re communicating over the person to the support staff person. It’s got to be through him with, again, it’s, you know, with not for, um, it comes back to those same principles applied to not just how we support people, but how we help to educate the people who are supporting the people. It’s just the same principles apply.

Genia:            Right. So if you were, you know, I’m sure this actually does happen to you. I’m sure you’ve had this experience many times, you know. You meet a family, you meet some parents for the first time and uh, they are looking for some general guidance, you know. If you kind of had some overarching, um, overarching guidance or first steps or framework for people to think about the role of supporters in the lives of their sons and daughters. Um, what would you say? And again, the, the, the best answer to that is it’s an ongoing conversation of course, but I’m really looking just for, you’re like, “Hi, nice to meet you at a conference. This is what I say in 30 seconds or less.” So understanding that I’m limiting, limiting you unreasonably on this.

Ben:               Yeah. Um, I mean it’s probably doesn’t answer exactly that, but one other thing I do think about, which I think lends itself to this question a bit, and somebody or stuff we talked about is something I used to say to support staff at Options. And this isn’t something families can be assigned to people. But I think that the philosophy remains the same was um, your job is to do yourself out of a job. My job is to ensure your ways have a job. So we would often help engage people in people’s lives and then they would do themselves out of the job. They would have helped this person connect with other people in the community, the OBS to get themselves to work, get to the point where they’re not needed at that person’s job, develop skills to the point where it doesn’t make sense for them to be there anymore and then they don’t have a job anymore.

Ben:               And our job would be to help them to, to think about maybe there’s somebody else coming along here but also banner from this person. Um, to try and keep those people in a job. But ultimately that’s something families can be thinking about is seeing it as, um, this isn’t just a kind of a linear relationship where we’re need you to complete these tasks and do this, become this person for our son or daughter. And then, it’s just, that’s how it will always be. It’s helping engage our person. And what is the, the ultimate, what’s this person’s goal here? Where does this person see that light in five years time? And where are they heading? And where, what, what did I, why did I want to need the support in their life? And that doesn’t just mean, it’s not just a job. It’s going to be doing forever.

Ben:               in all, in all cases. Having said that, some people might always need a certain kind of support because of that disabilities. That’s understandable. But then there’s other thing that we should always be thinking about. How can we do ourselves out of that job? And so I think there’s ways that families can communicate that and be really open and transparent and honest about why this, why you’re in the life of our son and daughter. And help the person to be able to help our son and daughter hopefully to be able to communicate that as well. I think that’s a really important point.

Genia:            Yeah, I think that’s an excellent answer. And it speaks to what we were discussing by email before when we were setting this, this up, this sort of idea of seeing the supporter as being a means to an end and not the end in of itself.

Ben:               Yeah.

Genia:            Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. Thank you very much. So, um, Ben, if people wanted to learn more about you and Open Future Learning, where would they, where would they go? How would they find out about that?

Ben:               So yeah, if you Google it, there’s this thing called Google, Open Future Learning. Um, so we’re on most of the social media platforms and that as one place. So we try and share just interesting ideas and ways of thinking about things and perhaps busting some myths or um, kind of exposing things a little bit. Um, so you know, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and one place to find a bit about us. And follow staff or, so we have our website openfuturelearning.org. And or all of our materials and you can definitely read and find out more about us though. And you can always reach us by phone or email as well if you have questions.

Ben:               Um, always happy to interact and engage. And how, you know, we definitely try and help families and the families in terms of Open Future Learning. The business is really structured around service providers, but I personally was really excited when we’re able to work with and help and support families and sometimes that needs a little bit of a soulful level of thoughtfulness. And so I always encourage families to just reach out to me by email. So it’s [email protected] and tell me what’s going on and how we can help them be involved in the care of your son or daughter. And always be really happy to have those communications for families.

Genia:            That’s great. And I really appreciate that. I’m, as I was saying to you just before we started, I’m in the process of setting up our own account to get some access to resources around um, training materials for support staff for my son. And I really strongly encourage people to check out Open Future Learning’s social media, um, platforms. They are really great, thought-provoking, a little tongue in cheek sometimes. You know, there’s, there’s definitely, it’s um, one of the things I really appreciate is that it’s both thought-provoking and there’s an element of humor to some of the, some of the content that I think is certainly lacking in a lot of the discussion around supporting people with disabilities. So that is refreshing as well. And I’ll make sure that all of this, um, all of the links are available in the show notes to this episode as well.

Ben:               The one more point on that. Okay. So fun. Really important. Like we’ve got to have fun in life.

Genia:            Absolutely.

Ben:               What would be the point in running Open Future Learning if it wasn’t any fun? I have a lot of fun in what I do. I build that, designed my life so I can have fun and that is such an important point for everybody to be thinking about. Like people need to be having fun. Like that’s what I remember about when I was supporting people about how much fun it was, how much fun I had or the last we used to have. Um, that’s a really critical thing when families are thinking about how they involve people in their lives and the lives of their son or daughter. It’s like, it’s got to be fun. Like then if the person is having fun, it changes everything. And I’m in the staff personal support or whatever you want to call them.

Ben:               That changes everything. And then more importantly than that, like the people we’re supporting, they need to be having fun. If everybody was having more fun, you would see, uh, this is actually David Tanya. I met him saying this to me, if everybody ever talking about difficult behavior and challenging behavior the label, um, you know, if people had more fun, the number of people who had the level of challenging behavior would be [inaudible] the most difficult time in their lives, they’re not having any fun. It just not doing any fun things. So I think that’s a really critical thing. It’s like developing a relationship, the audits core foundation has fun. You know, like we’ve gotta be having fun with people and enjoying what we’re doing and helping them to have fun. And that’s I think if you remember that or not. So we’ll help everybody.

Genia:            Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I, I, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And it’s not about thinking that, you know, every moment of everybody’s day needs to be pleasurable and fun. But, but just that the, like when you talk, you know, when you talk about the good things in life, having a life that includes, um, fun and humor and enjoying the people that you’re with and creating a life that, um, that supports that. Yeah. It’s, it’s so important and it’s often, um, like having people have a nice time is often, um, on the agenda, but just thinking about building a life that, that includes, you know, people who you enjoy being with and um, and a life that includes, uh, could, could be described as a good and fun life is often not on the agenda. So I really appreciate, I really appreciate that.

Genia:            I also really appreciate just in the conversations like this is, this is a much lower level point than what you were making, but I really appreciate, um, the, the humor and the fun that you bring to the work that you do just as a like levity. So often the conversations that we’re having about disability and about supporting people with disabilities are so, um, like they have like, it’s like a wet blanket all the time and it just doesn’t have to be that way. Um, and um, and I think that that wet blanket kind of feeling really feeds into, we were talking earlier about culture and how culture then impacts so much of, um, of how things end up working out and getting, you know. Taking off the wet blanket and having a little bit of levity and tongue and cheek and, and fun with the work that we do, I think is, is really valuable and important. So I really appreciate that. Thank you.

Ben:               Definitely. I mean, it’s just a great way to engage people.

Genia:            Yeah. Yeah. We could talk about that for a long time as well. Um, Ben, thank you again so much for joining me today on the good things in life podcast. I’m really very grateful.

Ben:               Thank you, Genia.

Genia:            Thank you so much for joining. Ben and I for this really interesting conversation about support workers for people with disabilities. Now this episode is going to air in December of 2019. We are just headed to the very end of this year. And you know at this time of year lots of us are thinking about our previous year. What has it been like? Has, have things changed between the beginning of 2019 and the end? Has it been a year where we have started to really see an increase in the good things in life for the person that we care about with a disability? One of the things that can be super helpful and that I do every year is to think really clearly about what the good life means for my son. And I think that it’s super powerful because when you have a very clear vision of what you want that person’s life to look like and what that person of course wants their life to look like as well, then it can help you make really good, solid decisions about how to move in that direction.

Genia:            It can also really help to shape where you spend your energy and making sure that your energy goes into what’s actually going to make the biggest difference in the person’s life. I’ve put together a really quick guide to getting started in creating that vision for 2020. You can find it by going to goodthingsinlife.org/2020 I really hope that you download the guide, fill it out, and then share in the Good Things in Life Podcast group, what you discovered and what you think is going to make the biggest difference in 2020. And share a little bit about your vision of a positive, inclusive life for your son or daughter with a disability. Take care.

Thanks for Listening!

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Genia Stephen
Genia Stephen

Sister, mother, midwife, writer, speaker and perpetually curious. Dedicated to bringing you the voices, ideas and conversations of world class mentors and thought leaders in the field of disability.