Sarah Wakefield wakes up at 2am to the sound of her phone ringing. Checking her screen, she saw a familiar man’s name and she went to bed.
Another call came at 3am, then another at 4am. She had to start her business right away with limited sleep, but this wasn’t the first time he’d tried to call her throughout her night.
Wakefield, a disability support worker on the Gold Coast, was frustratingly accustomed to a constant cycle of calls from young male clients.
“He has my private cell phone number and has been calling me all morning for non-work related matters,” she told 9Honey.
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“I had already worked 48 hours with him that week, and it took me six hours to get home, take a shower, and get back to him in the morning. Five times a night, he was either not coping or just needed. I received a call because I was trying to… someone who can speak.”
With his own limited support network, Wakefield was his client’s closest personal link, seeing her as a confidante and lifeblood, blurring the lines of their professional relationship. bottom.
She knew his actions were innocent, but they escalated at an alarming rate and put a strain on her personal life.
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“If I don’t answer the phone or I don’t have a phone, can he go find out who I’m friends with on Facebook and add who can get in touch with me?” ” she said.
Such familiarity leads to a difficult situation for support workers across the country. The close bonds they form with their clients can lead them to cross the line in many ways.
While Wakefield is honored to be a big part of her clients’ lives, she has seen how quickly clients can move from seeing her as a professional caregiver to being the sole social connection .
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In addition to trying to contact her outside of work, clients offered her very expensive or sentimental gifts that she had to refuse repeatedly, often upsetting them. I got
“Some of my clients have given me sentimental family heirlooms, such as rings Nana gave for her future wife, and rings meant to be passed down in the family for generations to come,” he said. Another client tried to buy her a car, she explains.
“They can get really hurt when you don’t get a gift or when you have to remind them that we’re friends… after all, I’m a worker and here I get paid to be there.”
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It is often the hardest part of the job, made all the more painful by the knowledge that there are caregivers willing to accept extravagant gifts from clients.
“You don’t want to take advantage of people who are vulnerable… after all, you can’t cross those boundaries,” says Wakefield.
Crossing boundaries can put pressure on support workers, but Wakefield doesn’t blame her clients when many of them are cut off from nurturing other support relationships.
In fact, she says clients like the young man who calls her at 2am are a prime example of the devastating prevalence of loneliness and isolation among Australians with disabilities.
More than 4.4 million people in Australia, or one in five people, have some form of disability, many of whom are unable to participate in social activities and relationships due to physical, financial or accessibility barriers.
“Caregiver guilt can be incredibly high.”
Some are physically unable to go out and meet people, some are limited by mental illness or social stigma, and some struggle to find friends to share their experiences with. increase.
“Anyway, in my experience, many [clients] “Just sitting in their house,” she reveals. “You come to be their caregiver.
With so many of her clients preventing them from forming supportive ties, it’s no wonder she develops such a close relationship with the one person they meet every day. their caretaker.
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“We are honored to see the craziest, most intimate and personal parts of someone’s life, see the highs and lows, and celebrate the victories and defeats,” Wakefield explains.
“I’ve helped some people fill out divorce papers, and I’ve helped clients with their children’s weddings. Getting to know them is really special.
“You become their cleaner, you become their taxi driver, you become their chef, you become their supporter, you become their cheerleader, and you become just their friend.”
But for many of her clients, she’s also their only emotional support, and it’s easy to see the lines blur quickly.
She spends every special day with her clients, from Christmas to birthdays, and many rely on her to be there for them during “family time”.
Most of the time it’s a very rewarding experience. Then the borders will cross and the border will be blurred. Wakefield finds himself awakened again by a 2am phone call.
When she has to reassert her professional boundaries, it not only hurts clients, but the emotional toll on Wakefield and support workers like her is immense.
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“The guilt of caregivers and the burden they carry can be very high at times, because it’s not something you can talk about,” she explains.
Not only are caregivers limited in what they can say due to non-disclosure agreements, but they also need to be careful not to be seen as bad-mouthing the client.
“‘This is why I’m so tired and exhausted, because some people at work today had grand mal seizures, had mental breakdowns, were beaten and scratched,’ or ‘I was beaten.’ ‘With today’s face,’ she says.
“I go home and it’s not the client’s fault, we know they can’t help it, so it doesn’t seem like I’m going home and pissing them off. They doesn’t want to hurt you
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Just as her disabled clients have never tried to physically harm her, Wakefield knows they are harmless when they cross personal boundaries – But letting it slide doesn’t help anyone.
Instead, we want to increase opportunities for Australians with disabilities to develop unique friendships outside of their caregiver relationship.
Support services offered through NDIS can be a big part of that, and Wakefield is also an NDIS advocate. Albya social platform created for people with disabilities to make friends.
In fact, she sees the app as part of the solution to the blurry lines she often has to manage at work.
“A safe social platform created for people with disabilities to make friends and break down the walls of social isolation is game-changing,” she says.
“It puts control back into their hands, which is ultimately very much sought after for people with disabilities, because most of the time they have very little control.”
Not only does it provide the client with a safe way to connect with people who share their experiences, but it also takes some of the pressure off her and other support workers of being her only close friend.
Despite the challenging moments, Wakefield never gave up on her role as a caregiver.
“These people are amazing and the resilience they show is unparalleled. It puts everything in perspective for your own life,” she adds.
“Everybody deserves to have friends.”
Alvie is a social platform created to break down the barriers of social isolation felt by people with disabilities, connect with like-minded people, and foster meaningful friendships.learn more here.
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