On an icy cold Saturday on January 10 in Philadelphia, seven home care workers from Home Care Associates attended an all-day workshop to kick off a Photovoice project.
Photovoice is a form of “action research” in which participants express their point of view through photography, explained Amy Russo, a Sarah Lawrence College graduate student who is facilitating the group project at HCA.
The home care workers will use photography as a vehicle to “think about, identify, and discuss the rewards and the challenges they face in doing their jobs,” said Russo. They will share their personal stories with one another by sharing photographs, ultimately working as a group to form a “cohesive point of view” on what issues are relevant to their jobs as home care aides.
Participation in the four-month project is voluntary and everyone seemed eager to talk with one another about their work.
“People need to look at home care jobs differently” because they have negative attitudes about what we do, one home care aide said and the others echoed.
“We help people to live better – the way they want,” said one worker. “We put ourselves in their shoes; we will be old one day, too,” said another.
Russo provided cameras and instruction, including information on the ethics of picture taking, to the project participants.
The aides will have the opportunity to show their work after the project is completed in April and they agree on target audiences – which may include decision-makers who can positively change policies that affect the home care workforce.
“Politicians should see this project,” said one home care worker. “We need to educate people about what we really do,” said another and everyone agreed.
HCA President Karen Kulp has offered to have the home care workers present their project at HCA’s annual meeting and is working with Russo and PHI to find additional venues to showcase the work.
“When I was first approached about this project, I immediately wanted HCA aides to be a part of it,” said Kulp. “Home care workers do very emotionally and physically challenging work yet they have very few opportunities to express their thoughts about their occupation. Photovoice gives those participating a chance to be heard.”
The project participants identified several issues connected with being a home care aide: low wages; loss of work when clients are hospitalized; aides on the following shift showing up late; clients’ family members can be demanding; the need to set professional boundaries when working so closely with consumers who have many problems, including poverty; need to work more than one job to make ends meet; difficultly of both working and attending school; difficulty in balancing home life and work.
“We make sacrifices to do this job,” said one home care worker, who starts his day at 5:30 a.m. to make sure he gets to his job on time. He said he “feels bad” for his family because he just wants to sleep by the time he gets home at the end of the day.
“It is a privilege to be able to work with the HCA aides who generously shared their thoughts about the good and the bad aspects of being a home care aide,” said Russo. “I look forward to seeing them reach a consensus on the issues they want to communicate about being a home care worker and how they express their point of view through photography.”