What support workers do
Support workers can work in all kinds of services and clinical areas. Find out more about what it’s like to work in various roles from support workers below.
- Support worker cameos (PDF) – read about the different roles, job titles and career paths of 16 support workers.
Spotlight on specific services
Find out more about what it’s like working for a specialist service by reading the testimonies below
1) Highly specialist role in a learning disabilities service – band 5
I work as the development lead total communication for Salford Learning Disability team. It’s a fancy sounding job title for what my team describe as a ‘super powered SLT assistant’. I’m part of a multidisciplinary team (MDT) working with adults who have a learning disability. In brief my work is split between individual case work, training and wider service development.
In the past I worked as band 3 SLTA for another service and the main difference in this role is in the autonomy. As the total communication lead, I manage my own case load, referrals and waiting list, which is held separately to the SLT communication case load. I work with individuals who need communication support, but I do not assess an individual’s communication skills, which offers distinction and protection for both roles within our service.
I sit within the SLT team and receive monthly supervision from our lead SLT. I have received excellent support to meet the challenges and develop the skills needed to complete my work.
We use a total communication approach to supporting individuals and my client work includes helping the person and their support network to meet the recommendations made by the SLT. This might include:
- Helping to produce and implement communication tools such as timelines, objects of reference systems.
- Helping to learn new approaches such as Intensive Interaction or Individualised Sensory Environments.
- Training for support networks on using these strategies.
- Providing feedback, involvement in planning, support around reasonable adjustments as part of the Mental Capacity Act, attendance at MDTs, safeguarding meetings etc.
Producing and facilitating training courses is another area of my work. As a band 3 I was not involved in delivering training, so this has been a new area for me. I co-facilitate total communication introduction and advanced courses with our SLT. I am a Signalong Foundation Tutor and run a mix of workshops and foundation course throughout the year.
I also provide training workshops on writing easy read information and work with our palliative care team to share information as part of their enhanced communication skills course.
Helping services develop
The third main area of my work is in service development or promotion of total communication. I audit our commissioned service against the RCSLT 5 Good Communication Standards giving feedback and offering support to meet each of the standards.
We have a developed a communication environment audit to support mainstream services to make reasonable adjustments, for example, improving signage and use of visual resources in our GP surgeries and hospital. I have worked with other services to improve their engagement with people who have a learning disability and health outcomes. For example, supporting the Sleep Service to develop a ‘reasonable adjustment’ pathway and developing easy read information with the Greater Manchester Mayor’s team.
I still consider myself to be an SLTA regardless of my job title or banding. I support the work of the speech and language therapy service and in return have been supported to develop my skills over the last 11 years. I recognise the uniqueness of my banding and the opportunities it has given me; I hope it highlights the possibilities for the SLTA workforce and I’m always happy to share my experiences with others.
2) Adult speech and language therapy clinical assistant (SLTA) – band 4
I work as an SLTA with adults in the community and work with a varied client group with communication and/or swallowing difficulties. My role covers the following areas:
- Progressive neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease and motor neuron disease (MND)
- Acquired neurological disorders, such as stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
- Voice banking
My focus is on building an effective patient-centred relationship and providing a holistic approach to care. This is achieved through discussion with the patient, family, carers, and the multidisciplinary team (MDT) support.
The counselling part of the role is very important. I often see clients when they are feeling vulnerable and anxious about their future, and it is vital that I can support them with their distress while managing my own feelings/reactions to their situation.
Key skills needed for my role include being organised, having good time management skills, being patient-centred, being a team player, flexibility, creativity, being good at problem-solving, having good communication skills, and being patient.
A substantive part of my role is working with people with aphasia. Working with the SLT we talk through therapy goals, produce personalised communication resources, and use apps and other impairment therapy materials. We also provide communication partner training and support strategies as needed.
During the pandemic, my team and I have investigated the use of telehealth as an alternative resource approach. My role has been to contribute to our team’s research on how to assess patients and provide advice remotely and to assist in running virtual communication strategy groups with clients who have had a stroke.
Before the pandemic, I helped to coordinate and run monthly voice education groups. Since March 2020, the pathway for voice referrals has changed as we are unable to run the monthly face to face groups. To ensure that we could still help patients referred to the department with dysphonia, the voice therapy team produced four voice education information videos which cover general voice care, silent reflux, and strategies to help manage symptoms, as well as relaxation videos. Since this change, I have been responsible for telephone triaging voice referrals to ascertain what speech and language therapy input is required and to provide initial advice re: voice care and silent reflux as needed.
I have completed Band 4 dysphagia competencies and have a basic understanding of a normal and abnormal swallow. Before the pandemic, I assisted at a weekly videofluroscopy clinic where I was normally out front supporting the patient and making different textures/thicknesses of food and fluid to use during the appointment. I also used to visit patients before the pandemic to observe them at mealtimes and/or offer advice if they had been recommended a modified diet and/or thickened fluids to ensure they ate and drank as safely as possible.
I am still involved in telephone triaging dysphagia referrals (mainly care home referrals). During these calls, I take a case history and provide advice as needed to ensure that the patient is eating and drinking as safely as possible.
Progressive neurological caseload
I have provided individual sessions for patients undertaking the intensive Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) programme and have run monthly Parkinson’s Disease LSVT groups for those patients who have completed the intensive LSVT LOUD therapy.
I provide support and advice for patients who decide to bank their voice for future use within high-tech AAC systems.
As explained above, I also work with patients with progressive neurological disorders and offer support as needed when they have been recommended a modified diet and/or thickened fluids, for example visiting a patient and their support network to demonstrate how to make thickened fluids correctly.
I support patients to use both low- and high-tech AAC, liaising with the Communication Aids Service for the East of England (CASEE) as necessary.
In terms of competencies, I had to complete general communication and dysphagia competencies within six months of starting my role. I have not completed any formal competencies relating to voice and was given in-house training to help when working alongside this client group. I do not have any further formal competencies that I have to sign-off as part of my annual appraisal or continued professional development.
I worked in academic publishing as a publisher for Routledge prior to becoming an SLTA. I changed careers as my youngest son had speech and language therapy and the therapists that supported him sparked my interest and they encouraged me to change professions.
A day in the life
Read on to find out some of the typical daily tasks in the life of support workers working in a range of services, or download the role outlines as a PDF.
Communication and language specialist (CAL)
- Making resources for their own caseload.
- Feeding back to parents/carers/staff.
- Gathering case history from parents/carers.
- Assessing supervision 1:1 or as a group.
- Group therapy (max 6 children).
- Asking specific questions to teaching staff.
- Modelling therapy programmes.
- Observation in setting/home.
- One-to-one therapy (speech, language, and communication).
- Booking their own face-to-face to telehealth sessions in for the block.
Communication support worker
A band 4 support worker working with children in the community:
- Home visits to model and coach interaction strategies for parents of young children.
- Work with other professionals to safeguard children.
- Organise and implement early language and communication intervention groups for young children and their families.
- Frontline staff on the service helpline.
- Give support in creating environments that promote communication.
Support worker – adult
A band 4 support worker working with adults in the community:
- Make communication aids (ABC charts, communication books, etc).
- Meal observations to review patients on modified diet and fluid recommendations.
- Offer peer support/leadership for support workers within the team.
- Attend and assist at weekly videofluroscopy clinic at hospital.
- Telephone triage, voice referrals, care home referrals re: communication and/or dysphagia.
- Help to run weekly conversation support groups for people who have had a stroke.
- Update voice outcomes information.
- Offer support with voice banking.
- Admin support to help with voice caseload.
- Video/face-to-face therapy sessions for communication and swallowing.
An SLT support worker in a school’s team:
- Making resources for the team.
- Feeding back to school staff.
- Classroom observations and checklists.
- Supporting new support workers.
- Adapting programmes to child’s environment.
- Assisting and presenting in training courses.
- Demonstrating programmes.
- Liaising and involving parents in decisions.
- Demonstrating how to run a group in school.
- Sharing casework with therapist.
SLT support worker – bilingual skills
An SLT support worker with bilingual skills in a children’s team:
- Making resources for the team.
- Feeding back to nursery staff.
- Home visits and observations.
- Demonstrating early language strategies in home language.
- Advice about linguistic community to inform care.
- Supporting assessment and evaluation.
- Supporting parents.
- Network with dietetics and occupational therapy.
- Sharing casework with therapist.
Adults with learning disabilities
A support worker supporting adults with learning disabilities in the community:
- Attend and contribute to multidisciplinary team (MDT) meetings for regular updates around caseloads, and liaison with MDT around the next steps.
- Prepare and carry out training sessions for staff or supporters of service users around communication support strategies.
- Produce guidelines around the use of resources for those supporting service users.
- Gather feedback from staff, family members or carers supporting service users around the wellbeing, presentation and implementation of therapy interventions.
- Produce accessible, personalised information around changes or difficult topics.
- Welfare visits to service users (at home, college or other community settings) to establish how the service user is doing, any issues, improvements, further support.
- Create resources for service users, e.g. timetables, communication boards.
- Observe dysphagia visits with the SLT with notes on observations and feedback to discuss with SLT.
As a support worker you may also want to contribute to speech and language therapy research.
Here is an example of a support worker’s work on a research project.
Sarah is a senior support worker and works predominantly within the speech and language therapy stroke team to deliver communication therapy to adults with acquired communication difficulties.
She designed and created a low-tech augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) supported communication tool for people with aphasia, inspired by work with patients who had struggled to access a reliable means of receptive and expressive communication.
She successfully applied for funding from the British Aphasiology Society ‘Initiatives in Aphasia’ seed fund to run a research project exploring application of the tool in active speech and language therapy services.
Following ethical approval, nine people with aphasia were recruited across six sites in England. The results of the research were presented as a research poster and in an aphasia-friendly format to feedback to participants. A draft journal article is in submission and the symbols are available to download free of charge from the CAS AAC website.
- National SLTA CEN
- London and South East Speech and Language Therapy
- Scotland SLTA CEN
The RCSLT has also established an online forum for support workers to discuss their roles and share resources. The purpose of this group is currently under review and any outcomes will be shared with members.
Becoming an SLT
Many support workers stay in this role and build skills and expertise, moving in their career to become a senior support worker, assistant practitioner, or experienced assistant practitioner.
Others may move on to train as a registered SLT, e.g., as an apprentice. For more information on becoming an SLT, visit our pages on:
- The different routes support workers are taking to become SLTs
- Becoming a qualified SLT
- Speech and language therapy apprenticeships