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Accepted Paper:

Transgressing professional boundaries in learning disability social care support  
Carys Banks (University of Surrey)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how staff in UK learning disability support settings transgress rules, or not, around professional boundaries to engage emotionally with the people they support; individuals whose lives can be emotionally impoverished and for whom staff are often their main human contact.

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses findings from an ethnographic study of care giving in UK learning disability support settings. Specifically, it focuses on professional boundaries and how these were enacted both organisationally and by individuals. This paper presents ethnographic vignettes describing occasions when support staff were confronted with the decision of whether to transgress rules around professional boundaries to engage emotionally with the people they support; for example, whether to accept invitations to be hugged or whether they would quickly move away their hand when someone with a learning disability would try to hold it. Professional boundaries are put in place in support settings to safeguard both people with learning disabilities and their staff from harm. However, my research has shown that these boundaries can also have the unintended consequence of depriving people receiving support from meaningful emotional connections with others around them (Banks, 2020). This is because for many people with learning disabilities in full time support settings, staff can often be their primary – if not only – source of daily human contact. Approaches aimed at protecting people from harm are both understandable and important, but feeling emotionally connected to others is a vital aspect of the human experience and so to deny people of this is to deny them experiences and interactions that make up so much of the lives of many people without learning disabilities. Yet, is it possible to safely and transparently incorporate these important emotional connections into the everyday practice of learning disability support?

Panel Heal01a
Care as act of transgression I
  Session 1