Kingsway Care’s inspiring MD, Vicky Haines, takes to the stage at the Brighton Chamber Breakfast. Sharing her career journey from Probation Officer to passionate advocate for the social care sector.
From Probation Officer to Kingsway Care’s Inspiring MD
So….here we are…standing in front of the Brighton Chamber Members…..it’s much more nerve-wracking than I’d anticipated! Well, that’s not actually true! I had expected it to be terrifying but felt that I should step outside of my comfort zone. Now I might be regretting my choices! Imposter Syndrome at its finest!
When I was asked to be a Breakfast Speaker my first reaction was to question what on earth I could possibly say that might be remotely interesting. They assured me that my career journey would be interesting to others. Still not convinced, but here goes……but I won’t be sharing my entire life history with you as we could be here for a while longer than breakfast!
Childhood Dreams to Adult Reality
One of my earliest memories about which career I might be interested in was when I was around 5 years old and it was to join the police force. I’ve no idea why but I think it might have been when the police came to our primary school and took us around the playground on a police bike, which clearly piqued my interest. I then chose to complete my two-week work experience at Oxford Police Station.
Those of you with school-age children will know that the work experience options are quite tame today – there is no way children would be allowed to actually go out with officers in the police car, blue lighting to incidents, walking the beat, and chasing shoplifters! Can you even imagine that being allowed today?
But I was discouraged by my mother, who was terrified that I would be posted to some inner city as part of an ethnic minority quota. To be honest, it didn’t take much dissuasion as I couldn’t quite get my head around how I would fit the helmet over my hair! That went out of the window but my interest in criminal justice remained.
But I also knew that I was interested in supporting people, although not sure in what capacity. My own history had given me an interest in how early circumstances impacted personality and so I developed an interest in behaviours – why people did what they did and what caused certain people to behave in certain ways.
Applied Psychology & Criminology – and Parenthood!
A couple of decades passed travelling abroad, working in London as a PA – no interesting behaviours to observe there – having three children, living in France. When I returned to the UK as a single parent, this was the moment to reassess and make some decisions for my future employment, I tried to work out what did I want, and what did my children need.
So, I applied to Universities in Brighton and Guilford and was accepted onto an undergraduate degree course for Applied Psychology and Criminology. My children were aged 7, 7, and 8, so this was a little bit of a challenge, to say the least – uni, home, kids, their homework…..being told I need to make 3 x fancy dress outfits in a Tudor theme with 12 hours notice never went down too well.
The Path to Criminal Justice
But somehow those three years passed and I graduated with a 1st and in a moment of madness I embarked on another year to complete an MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Can you see how my original career interest is now coming back and appearing centre stage?
When I look back, regretting my choices seem to be a recurring feature! At this stage of my life, I was managing three children, who were then aged 11, 11, and 12, I was writing my 20,000-word masters dissertation and I had also started a new job as a Trainee Probation Officer, which required beginning another Uni Foundation Degree in Community Justice. All this almost tipped me over the edge! I was teetering!
The Transformative Power of Probation
So, undergrad degree and MA Foundation Degree in hand, I embarked on 8 years as a Probation Officer in Brighton, working between the magistrate’s court and the Offender Management Team, managing high-risk offenders in prison and in the community.
I had come full circle from my childhood interest in criminal justice, through a raft of other experiences into prisons and probation. I suppose this has taught me that real passion doesn’t ever die and also that the experiences you may have throughout your life and the skills you learn will be useful at some point, even if you can’t see it at the time. Everything I had done gave me the life experience to be a better probation officer.
Shaping Lives: Working with Young Offenders
What an experience probation was! You’d expect that standing up in Court, delivering pre-sentence reports, and suggesting sentences to a magistrate’s bench would have prepared me for being here today, but no!
Vicky channels her courtroom skills as the guest speaker at the Brighton Chamber Breakfast
This was a job that I absolutely loved from start to finish and I have so many stories, funny and terrifying, that I could probably fill an all-day breakfast meeting! I loved working in Court, I loved working in the prisons (no idea why?) but mostly I loved working with the people. This role gave me such an insight into life. When someone in your family or friendship group says that ‘they’re skint’, they usually mean that they can’t afford a gym membership or that they can’t afford a daily cappuccino, (there are exceptions of course, especially in the current climate) but in my personal experience, it’s rare that they mean they literally have nothing. Not 50p, not a drink of water, not a change of clothes, and nowhere to go to achieve any of these things. No resources, no support.
Some of you may feel, well they’ve put themselves in this position, so the level of sympathy is low. I totally get that. Some of you, or people you know, may have been victims of crime, so I do understand that view. And this is not me making excuses for them, but one of the biggest lessons for me was that nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing is simply ‘an event or incident’. There is always a reason for the behaviour, for the violence, for the crime. There is a history, which is usually a background peppered with deprivation of varying levels, poverty, lack of support, no encouragement towards education, history of abuse, and no family cohesion. Or often, a combination of all of the above.
And no, a difficult start in life does not equate to criminal behaviour. There are plenty of us who have had early life challenges that did not go on to commit crimes, but in my experience, we are the lucky ones. We somehow found a level of resilience that pulled us through life until we were able to dictate and navigate our own direction. However, most of the people I came in contact with followed a different path. They lacked whatever it was that got us through and sadly they became a victim of their own circumstance. A self-fulfilling prophecy.
But amongst the violence and aggression and sadness and hopelessness I met some fabulous people, wonderful artists, brilliant musicians, some absolute comedians, young men and women who were desperately fighting their way out of situations they felt had been inevitable. But they persevered and struggled and some of them achieved brilliant things.
That job taught me never to judge or make assumptions about someone’s ability or their internal desire to change. It taught me to:
- trust my judgment, if I feel sure about something, then go with it.
- be understanding of someone’s circumstances and history and how those experiences would have changed their trajectory to where they are now.
- that violence is rarely innate but acquired from life’s experiences.
- that change is possible in most people. And that most people desire change.
- that we should not be defined by our previous actions (which is a relief!)
- that acts of kindness and giving people respect do have a positive impact, even if we are not around to see the result.
Meeting many of these people made me feel grateful every single day for whatever it was that got me here and for what I have and what I’ve been able to achieve. Gratitude is so important and often brings us back to earth when we’re stressing over the small stuff! Even when I’ve been worried about not having enough money, I felt grateful for my children, my home, my family, my health, and my freedom.
From Probation Officer to Social Care
So, next stage…..In 2021 I left Probation. Not because of the people. I left because of political incompetence, the refusal to acknowledge that the system was broken beyond repair and that it needed a complete overhaul, and a lack of insight into how we should redesign the system. So I felt I needed to move to a different sector that was more organised, more appreciated, better funded, insightful…..so here I am….in Social care!
Luckily, I’m not an over-thinker, I don’t tend to ruminate on issues or what-ifs, but I do often experience moments of imposter syndrome, questioning whether I’m the right person for the job. These thoughts come from the fact that I’m not a long-standing care professional, partly because I’m a relatively new MD. But my resilience allows me to push on through, moving past the dramas or issues (which in care, there are many!) I feel gratitude for every small win and I keep on showing up!
Recognising the Value of Social Care
Social Care is the glue that holds communities together. We’re all getting older and a large proportion of us will need care at some point for ourselves or a relative.
My move into the care sector was purely accidental and definitely not an area that I had ever considered before. This is interesting, because my general apathy towards the care sector and lack of interest in the reality of caring for someone else, is what I actually wanted to speak about today.
Kingsway Care’s founder, Olly, who I have known for many years, decided to start a domiciliary care service during the pandemic. It wasn’t a random act of madness, but a decision borne out of personal experience and frustration at the quality of care that he had experienced with a family member. I think that it’s safe to say that if he’d known then what we know now, he might have chosen a dog grooming business or an ice cream stall. It’s been an experience, the steepest learning curve I’ve ever been on. But at the same time, we know that we’ve made such a significant difference in the 2.5 years we’ve been providing first-class home care.
Championing the Social Care Sector
But as well as a desire to provide high-quality care, I am also very passionate about having a voice in this sector. Not just accepting the status quo and the negative narrative around the care sector. Kingsway Care work hard every day to elevate our voices and be part of the conversation about the sector and how we can improve it.
Myths About Care and Carers
• Care is something that you might need if you’re unlucky and only at the end of life
• Care is something that happens when you’ve lost the ability to be independent
• Carers only do this job because they can’t do anything else
• Providing care is easy!
• Anyone can do it!
• Carers are not the type of people you could have a valuable relationship with.
I could think of many more and all of them are untrue. If I’m honest, at the start of this journey in the care sector, I felt a little ignorant and annoyed with myself that I’d never even considered the intricacies of care. Why would I? It hadn’t ever affected my family’s life. But it is one of the glues that hold our communities together. Without having a system that looks after various groups within our society, where would we be?
We Are All Getting Older
At Kingsway Care, we focus on elderly care (although we do have a few clients between 23 and 40). Most of us have parents or older relatives who are likely to require support. And what about us? We are all getting older and it is highly likely that a large proportion of people in this room will require care at some point. That’s not to say that something dramatic will happen, although it might. That’s not to say that we will lose our independence overnight. But our bodies will begin to change and we might need some additional support, simply around our mobility.
Care shouldn’t be thought of as ‘giving up’, but more about ‘having more’…..More independence, more fun, more quality of life, more relationships, more activities, more opportunities!
Challenging Negative Care Stereotypes
Our clients love their carers. They look forward to their visits every day. They have great conversations, they go out on trips, we can notice if they are not themselves, we help them manage their GP, we visit them in hospital. We become an important part of their lives and of their family’s lives. So many people live away from their parents and are hugely grateful that their family members are being taken care of.
A few things I’ve learned along the way….Many people can acknowledge stories or programmes about shocking care provision, but fewer people understand the fabulous care and carers that are out there.
The under-skilled, low-education narrative is only really perpetuated by the media to the public who has no other means of understanding the truth. Despite the public negative narrative about care and what it means to be a carer, most people I speak to have huge admiration for carers. Unless you’ve had a personal experience with the care sector, most people have no idea about the complexity and responsibility involved when it comes to providing care. Most families have no idea how to go about securing care for their loved ones. No one really speaks about or elevates the role of care in our societies.
The questions we need to ask? Would we be more impressed if our children or friends choose a career in law rather than care? If so, why? Why do we hold that bias? Why do we think of care and carers as a sector/career that we would not choose for ourselves/our children? Despite nursing or medicine being a highly valued choice of career.
Preparing for Care Needs
Why do we plan for births, schooling, university, marriages, grandchildren, holidays, death, and funerals……but rarely care? We are ignoring an entire stage of life that we will all go through. It shouldn’t be a surprise that at some point, help will be needed, but for some reason, everyone seems to be shocked when it happens. Whether the need for care is a gradual progression or an immediate event, people are surprised.
Strokes, Heart Attacks, Broken Hips
I take calls every week from families who ‘need care now’. Strokes, heart attacks, broken hips – those events can’t be planned for, can’t be helped, but we need to understand what it takes to secure care. Someone can’t just come today (as we’re often asked!) – the care requirement must be understood, risk assessed, planned for, scheduled, regulated etc.
However, if care was something that we better understood, was spoken about, respected, and appreciated, care might be slightly easier to achieve. There would be more carers, more funding, more appreciation, more understanding. And we would be ready. We might have half an idea about what might be needed.
End of Life Care at Home
Carers provide absolute dignity to each person, ensuring that every wish is taken care of and every moment of their last days and hours are filled with joy and kindness, respect, and love.
And at the very end of life, this sector absolutely comes into its own. We have looked after clients and their families in the last weeks, days, and hours. Carers provide absolute dignity to each person, ensuring that every wish is taken care of and every moment of their last days and hours are filled with joy and kindness, respect, and love. We support the families at these difficult times, making sure that they know their loved one is being cared for in a way that we would care for our own relatives.
Compassionate & Dedicated Care Professionals
At the start of this journey, I didn’t understand the passion our team had for this stage of care. I have since been present at the actual moment someone passes and I can now understand the importance of our presence and the rewards that every carer receives from being part of this natural process.
I have watched as these carers, these fabulous humans, come together when required, to provide a team of people who offer a quality of care that is the next level.
They never stop to consider themselves. They never complain about the impact that end-of-life care has on them. They throw themselves into ensuring that every visit is covered, and every task completed. They put their lives on hold for those moments, with their highest priority being that this client and their family can feel safe and cared for, and loved in those last days. It is one of the most sobering experiences that I have ever had. Not only to be part of someone’s last moments but to be continually overwhelmed, every time by the responsibility, compassion, grace, and humanity of my team.
Shaping a Better Care Sector Together
Kingsway Care Award Wins
• Business of the Year
• Leaders in Care
• Home Care Provider of the Year
• Best Recruitment & Retention
• Entrepreneur of the Year
• Best New Home Care Provider
So if I can leave you with anything from this morning:
- Life experiences are so valuable when you least expect them to be
- Humans will often surprise you
- Needing care will be part of all of our lives, one way or another
- The care sector needs you all to learn about and understand the complexity of providing care
- The care sector and carers need you all to acknowledge and appreciate their value
- Take some time to explore the sector, learn about what we do, and speak to your families and children about the importance of the care sector
- Speak about the care sector as an option for a professional, highly skilled career
- And finally, never regret your choices.
Thank you for reading!