Why can’t we be friends?

Influential consultancy service Disability Services Consulting (DSC) recently released an article posing the question, “Can support workers be friends with the people they support?”. The article featured the perspective of late advocate Dave Hinsburger and gathered a range of opinions and experiences from people with disability, carers, families and professionals in the sector on this complex topic.

Dave Hingsburger emphasises how friendship in support roles can run the risk of traumatic consequences for people receiving support and the misrepresentation of genuine friendship due to the common occurrence of staff leaving jobs and essentially, cutting off what appeared to be genuine friendships with people receiving support. Hinsburger’s views may ring true to some experiences, but his stance has garnered controversy within the community for representing people with disability as having limited choice and control over the boundaries they establish with those who provide their support.

The relationship between someone providing paid support and a person seeking support is unlike any other work relationship we know. It is a relationship that is extremely unique to the community we support due to the complexity of dynamics that occur in a support relationship. As consultant Todd Winther says in this article, “A worker-client relationship by necessity requires the client, in particular, to be vulnerable. A client trusts the worker to be present in their most intimate moments, so of course a special and unique connection will develop.”  

Working in such a personal capacity with another person, each support relationship is unique just like the people who are a part of it. The responses to the question posed in this article centre around the need for those providing support to first and foremost be that – a professional support worker. However, friendship may arise and become a part of the relationship, but that should always be at the discretion and within the boundaries set by the person receiving support.

Mable brings the opportunity for people seeking support to define and establish their own boundaries by allowing people to directly connect with independent support workers of their choice, receive support on their terms and build mutually beneficial and respectful relationships. The Mable community often share their experience of support that places the client at the end of the decision-making process, with workers rostered on for clients by the provider and having limited say in who that may be or when they will provide support. Honouring people with disability’s dignity of risk to define their own support relationships is a fundamental part of the Mable platform and something we strive to uphold in everything we do.