In autumn 2022, Carmela spoke to us about her love for her career and what her plans are for the future.
Hey Carmela! Please could you introduce yourself for us.
My name’s Carmela Howe. I work in Harwood House School, which is a residential unit. We’ve got two young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties. I’m part of the night staff so we take care of them through the night.
How long have you been doing that for?
About three years now. I was in a special needs school in Cardiff before I did this and that was interesting too. I’m enjoying it, it’s a lovely team, and a good workplace. It’s been hard over the last three years with COVID, but we’ve all got there in the end.
And what apprenticeship have you been taking with us?
The NVQ Level 3 in Children and Young People. I’ve been really enjoying it. I’ve had two assessors. My first was Sian and my second has been Stephanie – they’ve both been really lovely, so I’ve enjoyed the process.
We heard really good feedback from Steph about you. She was telling us about something you did involving a treasure hunt…?
Yes, so he’s autistic and he loves sensory things – anything that he can get his hands in. He’s got pica as well, which means he tends to eat everything.
I got the idea from TikTok or Instagram or something.
I made a big jelly mould and ground up some Cheerios for sand. Then I buried some stuff in there so he could try and find the things inside and he really engaged with that. You never know which way it’s going to go with our kids – they either will not be interested in at all or love it, and luckily, he loved it. It was nice to see. As I work nights, I don’t really get to have that time with him in the day so much. It was really good, and he enjoyed it.
Steph said she couldn’t stop smiling when she came away from seeing you both. It was really lovely to read about. And do you think the apprenticeship has improved how you do your job? Can you see the parallels between what you’re learning and your day-to-day work?
Yeah, definitely! Especially with certain things we’ve touched on such as attachment theory. I mean, our kids are with us all year round. They don’t see their families much so essentially, we are their family and you never really put it into perspective. When you understand how the attachment works with what we’re doing with them and how its person-centred, it does really help.
It makes you think twice about how the children act and what’s behind it all. You are thinking more about it, and it does link with your practice. I think it is really useful.
It’s always in the front of your mind when you’re learning about something, isn’t it?
Yes, stuff that you wouldn’t maybe pick up on. The assessors will say to me, “you probably don’t realise this but when you’re getting down on his level, that’s all child centred.” You just forget those things because they come natural to you, I suppose, but when it’s pointed out you’re like, “Oh yeah, it is actually.”
Tell us what it’s been like working with Steph.
Yeah, she’s been great – really positive. It’s always nerve wracking having someone come into your work and watch you, but she’s always made me feel really at ease. She’s very complimentary about the things we do, and it’s almost like she’s not there when she’s watching you. She just takes a step back, lets you do your thing and she’s given me some great feedback. It’s been really good working with her. She’s been amazing.
How does your employer support you?
I’m lucky. All staff are accommodating and I can come in anytime in the day. With my observations, for example, I come in during the morning shift or the afternoon, and they always make sure there’s leeway for me and support me through that. It’s been handy to have the support of the overall manager of the home as well. She’s been talking to staff about anything she can help with as well. So yeah, it’s been good.
What motivates you to learn?
I haven’t done a lot of structured learning since my degree, and I loved doing that. I studied psychology and that’s why I’ve chosen my career. I suppose it’s just learning more about the things I’m interested in. I love the attachment theory side of it. I love all the different approaches – I think it’s interesting, especially when you’re working with these kids every day. It’s nice to learn a bit more and see if your practice can link in with that.
That’s what motivates me really – learning more about the kids and finding out what makes them tick.
And do you think taking the apprenticeship has changed the way you work or improved your confidence at all?
I think it does change the way you work because you’re more aware of how your practice affects the kids and all the theory behind it. Every little thing you learn, you can add to your practice. You think, “Maybe he’s acting like this for this reason.” It does have a positive effect on what we do, and it’s really useful.
And what advice would you give to people thinking of taking up an apprenticeship?
Absolutely go for it. Like I said, it gives you more practical tools to use when you’re working with the kids, and a bit more knowledge. I think it improves your confidence as well because you know you’ve got all this stuff behind you to support what you do with them. I think it just makes for good practice with them.
We did the treasure hunt and the sensory story – I wouldn’t have done all that if I hadn’t had all the learning behind it. I’d encourage anyone to go for it. It can only help your career in the long run, and I’ll probably go on to do Level 4 eventually.
What are your career aspirations? Will we see you in 10 years’ time?
I love where I am now. I started working nights because it fits into childcare with my little one and now, she’s off to school, I would like to maybe dip my toes back in to day shifts. I know that our school is changing, and we might move services soon so maybe I’ll work days back in the school environment.
I’ve missed that hands-on interaction with the kids. I want to stay where I am in autism and learning difficulties. I love it. I love the kids.
Any final comments before we end the call?
The company’s been great, and Steph has been amazing. I’d recommend her to anyone. She’s been really reassuring and helped me all through the little things I’m stuck on. She’s really worked to bring that knowledge out. If I do a piece of work, she’ll say, “can you expand on this bit?” and it helps you really look into things. I want to thank her for being so good in this process.
She’ll be chuffed to hear it. Thank you, Carmela!