July Employee Tip - Conflicts with Guardians
As a Direct Support Professional, your responsibility is to the members with whom you work. This seems pretty straightforward, but most people who have worked in this field realize that helping one person means interactions with others who serve as support systems, especially guardians. It’s not uncommon for guardians to express great appreciation for the care we provide, and the opportunities we make available to those we serve. However, a situation may arise in which a guardian thinks you are doing something the wrong way. On the other hand, you may believe that a guardian is not treating their child or ward appropriately. Below are some tips on how to navigate this sometimes awkward situation.
1. Recognize the difference between being a staff person, and being a guardian.
In your role as a staff person, you want to see members flourish in the community, do things on their own, meet new people, set their sights on big goals, and become a mature, responsible adult. Having met someone in their adult life, this seems perfectly reasonable. But there are many equally reasonable explanations for why a guardian may push back in one of these areas.
For the most part, a guardian has known this person since he or she was a child, and has seen them in various states of vulnerability. A guardian may want to protect someone from forces that have been harmful in the past, or failures that were due barriers that a member has since overcome. For instance, a guardian may object to you bringing a member into social situations, because they pushed their child in high school to get more involved socially with other teenagers, and this led to him or her being bullied or mistreated. A guardian may object to you encouraging a member to find a job, because maybe the guardian helped this member find a job in the past, and it was a failure that greatly upset and discouraged the member. Assessing a situation from a guardian’s perspective can help you to approach the situation in a more productive way. If you have this understanding, a guardian more be apt to try and see things from your perspective as well.
2. Give genuine consideration to what the guardian wants.
It is easy to believe that you know what is best for a member to succeed. After all, you have been trained to be an advocate for people with disabilities, and you may have helped many people to succeed in the past where others thought they would fail. You likely have strong convictions when it comes to treatment of a member. But a guardian’s convictions are likely just as strong. After all, a guardian has likely known the member much longer and has practical experience with what works (or at least what has worked in the past). There are two good reasons to listen to what a guardian has to say. First, you may gain information that you did not have before. Second, even if you are not swayed by a guardian’s ideas, it will show them that you value their thoughts and input, which may make them more receptive to yours.
3. Make it a discussion, not an argument
Some guardians may hold beliefs that people with disabilities do not have a lot of abilities, or should be sheltered from the rest of society. Most staff at Mainstream would disagree with these attitudes, however, informing a guardian that he or she is wrong or misguided will do little to change their attitudes. Most people will become defensive when told their opinion is wrong, which may even lead to them having stronger convictions. A better approach is to find common ground. The easiest place to start is acknowledging that you are both coming from a place where you care deeply about the member. Try using this as a jumping-off point for coming to some compromise about a member’s care.
4. Bring it up with your supervisor
Apart from the member, the one person who will likely be affected the most by your conflict with a guardian is your supervisor. In this field, supervisors are generally caught between people with conflicting interests, which makes them particularly skilled in dealing with this sort of a situation. Even if you feel like you have a successful solution, it is still a good idea to communicate with your supervisor. They may have a unique perspective that neither you nor the guardian had thought of. A supervisor should be aware if there is a disagreement between a staff member and guardian, because this can often blow up into something bigger if not addressed.
5. Recognize when it is a larger problem
There are rare instances when when a guardian’s treatment of a member stems not just from philosophical differences, but could indicate an abusive relationship. If a member is regularly returning from time spend with guardians with unexplained injuries, signs of confinement, or comments of sexual contact with guardians, make sure to let a supervisor know. It is important not to jump to dependent adult abuse, and to always get a second opinion. Sometimes having a strained relationship with a guardian can cloud your judgement. On the other hand, it is always a good idea to discuss with your supervisor and other members of the team when you have a reasonable suspicion of abuse.