Observing and monitoring behaviour can be required of community workers in a range of situations and for a number of purposes. Behaviour can provide useful information about clients for the purpose of:
- Monitoring a client’s changing coping skills (e.g. with the onset of dementia in an aged care client, or for a client recovering after acquired brain injury)
- Behaviour modification (e.g. supporting someone to change their behaviour)
- Reporting to a psychologist or other clinician (e.g. carer or human service worker ticking off a daily checklist for a formal diagnostic report).
Observation and monitoring can be undertaken by:
- The client themselves (self-check)
- A carer/parent
- A support worker
- A psychologist or other clinician.
As a support worker, you may be asked to monitor a client’s behaviour over time, and this can be achieved through both formal methods and informal methods that could range from:
- Interviewing clients and significant others
- Supporting someone to self-monitor
- Using a formal monitoring tool
- Checking in with colleagues and other service providers
- Researching case notes and client service plans/action plans.
All community services or agencies will have their own formal processes for observing or monitoring client behaviour, depending on the type of service provided. Observation is a very valuable technique for collecting data. Examples of formal observation include:
- Behavioural observation charts to observe and monitor the client’s behaviour for a certain period of time, for the purpose of establishing the reason behind the behaviour.
- Checklists and inventories
- Case notes.
Observation over time provides opportunities to gain perspective about many aspects of a client’s functioning, behaviour, and their presenting issues. It can identify the frequency of certain behaviours and help to determine treatment or special needs.
The following guidelines should be followed when documenting your observations:
- Record only what you see and hear
- Don’t make judgements
- Record the date, time and activity the client was participating in during the observation session
- Document who the observer was
- Follow your organisation’s policies and procedures closely to ensure the correct protocols are being adhered to (e.g. confidentiality)
- Maintain clear and precise records, and where possible keep a typewritten account of what happens
- Remain objective (i.e. no subjective interpretations of events)
- When documenting the observation session, place the information in context.
Informal methods of observing and monitoring client behaviour can assist workers to get to know their clients better and to understand a client’s particular issues and concerns. It is also very effective in the early identification of challenging behaviour, and recognising when it is appropriate to monitor behaviour and record observations on a formal basis.
The key is to understand what is going on with the client, and being aware of the environment (e.g. noise, light, heat), and its effect on the client. The worker should also consider his or her personal response to the behaviour.
Some behavioural signs to watch out for include:
- Agitation or fidgeting
- Raised voices
- Certain tone of voice
- Sighing or rolling of the eyes
- Defensive posture – arms crossed
- Clenched fists
- Withdrawn or unusually quiet or distracted
- Staring in a confronting manner.
Tip: Remember that the client, your colleagues and other stakeholders may have access to your case notes, so it is essential that you always keep your observations judgement-free and stick to the facts.