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The need for flexibility when negotiating professional boundaries in the context of home care, dementia and end of life


Professional boundaries may help care staff to clarify their role, manage risk and safeguard vulnerable clients. Yet there is a scarcity of evidence on how professional boundaries are negotiated in a non-clinical environment (e.g. the home) by the home-care workforce in the context of complex care needs (e.g. dementia, end-of-life care). Through analysis of semi-structured interviews, we investigated the experiences of home-care workers (N = 30) and their managers (N = 13) working for a range of home-care services in the South-East and London regions of England in 2016–17. Findings from this study indicate that home-care workers and their managers have clear perceptions of job role boundaries, yet these are modified in dementia care, particularly at end of life which routinely requires adaptability and flexibility. As a lone worker in a client's home, there may be challenges relating to safeguarding and risk to both clients and workers. The working environment exacerbates this, particularly during end-of-life care where emotional attachments to both clients and their family may affect the maintenance of professional boundaries. There is a need to adopt context-specific, flexible and inclusive attitudes to professional boundaries, which reconceptualise these to include relational care and atypical workplace conventions. Pre-set boundaries which safeguard clients and workers through psychological contracts may help to alleviate to some extent the pressure of the emotional labour undertaken by home-care workers.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Ruth Abrams, School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames KT1 2EE, UK E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
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