“We’re here to make a difference and if we can help change lives for the better, then we’re doing our jobs properly. In fact, you could say changing lives is our day job.”

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Doreen McElhinney has been working in the social care sector for 25 years caring for people with physical and learning disabilities, autism, Down’s syndrome – some of society’s most vulnerable.

The 63-year-old is a registered manager for United Response’s East Devon Supported Living service, and is now celebrating her 15th year providing person-centred care to adults and young people in need.

“I absolutely love my job and that includes all the challenges, the stress and the tears I’ve shed. The people we support make it all worth it,” said Doreen.

“If we were not there for these very vulnerable people, then the positive changes in their lives may not have happened.”

Doreen is one of 4,000 United Response staff – many of whom are carers and support workers providing bespoke support, from 24-hour care and night shifts to a few hours a week, at around 400 locations across England and Wales. They provide person-centred care to around 3,000 adults and young people with learning disabilities, mental health needs or physical disabilities.

“I just care about people, I like people,” said Doreen.

“It‘s important to talk to see how you can meet someone’s needs. Enabling people to have a voice is important.

“To communicate, learn and understand their dreams and aspirations is the beginning. Once we know what they want for themselves, we can then help them to achieve their goals.”

One person she and her team supports is a teenage boy who is deaf and autistic and who was struggling at his college in Exeter.

Doreen said: “His behaviour at home wasn’t the same as it was at college so we knew something wasn’t right.

“In the mornings, he would get quite cross and be reluctant to go to college.

So she contacted the local authority and helped to set up a new support package which included an education programme tailored for him and delivered by the ROC College in Devon.

”I am passionate about individuals’ rights and I will defend their rights to make positive changes to their lives,” she said.

“You have to be an advocate for people. Benjamin’s* behaviour completely changed. We saw him transform into a much happier person.

“He even came in and he hugged and thanked the staff who helped him. He realised we were the ones who supported his choices.

“Sometimes because of autism, people you support don’t always recognise that you’ve helped. So it was such a joy that he appreciated what we had done and to see him happy.”

Benjamin will be starting a new further education course with an internship in cooking and catering.

Doreen said: “The rewards you get from this line of work are incredible and are so fulfilling. Seeing the positive changes in people makes me happy and I’m also thankful to be a part of that transformation.

“I do none of this alone. It takes a team of good staff. My role as a manager is to also support and develop staff. Good support work is golden. To nurture and watch a new member of staff learn, develop and grow in social care is also very rewarding. It is priceless.”

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