Social Workers deserve to feel safe when doing our jobs
Alexandra Mezher: A 22-year old Social Worker from Sweden. Stabbed in the back and thigh when she tried to break up a knife fight whilst working with migrant children aged between 14-17. She was rushed to hospital but died of her injuries shortly after arrival.
Michaela Louise Creevy: Found guilty of three charges of assault after attacking two Social Workers in a family court. Her local newspaper reported that she punched one professional in the head before dragging her to the floor by her hair. When a colleague attempted to intervene, she was also thrown to the ground before having her head smashed into the floor.
Claire Selwood: A Social Worker for Durham County Council in Northern England; stabbed in the back with a kitchen knife and left critically injured. Despite her attacker having previously stated he wanted to kill her, this information was not shared with Claire who was left at the mercy of her attempted murderer.
Frances Mortenson: Attacked at work by a client of hers whilst working as a Social Worker in New York. Frances suffered multiple stab wounds to her face, neck and abdomen. Police found her bleeding out on the bedroom floor when they arrived at the scene. Her attacker received a 15-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree attempted murder.
Four examples of Social Workers attacked in the line of duty; one losing her life, another two also close to being murdered, whilst simply doing their job.
I wish I could tell you that attacks against Social Workers are unusual but, whilst extreme incidents that make the news like these are rare, 85% of Social Workers reported being harassed, assaulted or verbally abused over the course of a year.
In Britain, a freedom of information request found that Social Workers and social care staff faced more than 20,000 incidents of abuse or violence over the course of a year.
Out of all of these attacks, only 30% were investigated.
As caring professionals, we can tend to be self-critical and introverted when faced with attacks against ourselves. Not only does our training teach us to be reflective, constantly asking what we could do differently to improve our practice, but we are empathetic by nature. This empathy can see us looking for reasons why our attackers are subjecting us to abuse when we are ‘just doing our job’ and trying out best to help.
Although our empathetic natures are a cornerstone to our professional standards, we can risk excusing the abuse we face in our roles and leaving it unchallenged
Worse still, some workplace cultures can downplay attacks against caring professionals to the point where it is accepted as part and parcel of the role; leaving workers at risk of escalating violence as perceived ‘minor’ incidents are left unchallenged.
This minimising of the dangers we face at work is perilous.
Being expected to ‘laugh off’ threats as baseless or ‘get on with it’ puts you at risk.
You deserve to feel safe and protected in your employment
As Social Workers, we are often expected to go alone to places where Police officers will only go armed or in pairs. When we go out there all alone, we are protected by nothing more than our diaries, a mobile phone, and our names written on a whiteboard back in the office.
Even the most robust of lone-working policies tend to rely on workers’ visits being thoroughly logged prior to leaving the office, a ‘safe word’ to call back with if in danger and basic half-day courses in deescalating violence.
Panic alarms, thorough self-defence training and guaranteed co-working are all too rare.
Sadly, as the Social Worker Claire Selwood found out when she was stabbed in the back by a man who had told health professionals of his murderous intentions beforehand, effective sharing of information about the risks people may pose can also be uncommon.
Sometimes, when Social Workers have tried to speak out about the dangers of our work or share their unease about what is expected of us, they have been told that this risks ‘othering’ the people we work for; that bringing attention to our fears is not befitting of our profession.
I have even seen fellow professionals engage in victim blaming online, telling sufferers of abuse that they don’t believe attacks are so common and if they showed greater respect for service users then they wouldn’t be at risk.
Let’s put this straight… there is never an excuse to hurt another human being.
If you are attacked at work, it is not your fault.
It is normal to feel scared when asked to work with people who are known to be violent and aggressive.
You should not have to live in fear of your safety for simply doing your job.
Our employers need to wake up to the fact that Social Work can be dangerous and we need better protection. We are doing a damned hard job, in difficult circumstances and under intense pressures; the least we can expect is not to have to fear for our physical safety.
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