Chief Social Work Officer Sean Holland responds to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) Northern Ireland report detailing social workers’ experiences of intimidation, threats and violence.
“Quite rightly in recent years there has been growing awareness that healthcare workers providing vital public services can be subject to appalling verbal and physical abuse.
“Incidents involving for example, ambulance and Emergency Department staff being attacked by the very people they are trying to help are met by most people with incredulity and outrage.
“Less well known are the challenges faced by social workers. Most people who use the services of social workers value them and have a positive relationship with them.
“However, it’s also the case that social workers often have to work with people in situations where their interventions are not always welcome.
“Trying to explain why a parent may not be able to continue to care for their child or why someone may need to be deprived of their liberty while they receive treatment are difficult situations. In most cases, even these conversations are managed without threats or violence.
“Unfortunately sometimes, as this study has revealed, social workers can be subject to threats, intimidation and physical violence. Half of all social workers report that they have been attacked and over three quarters have experienced some form of threat or intimidation.
“Those are shocking figures and its worth remembering that social workers do most of their work on their own, in people’s homes where there may be limited or no opportunity to call for help or even easily get away.
“For some, the threat extends beyond the working day and can extend to the social worker’s own home and family. Today there are social workers in the Probation Service living under credible paramilitary threat.
“This makes it all the more important that employers take their duty of care towards this group of staff seriously. Interestingly the study reveals that, when social workers have reported a threat, 54% have been satisfied with their employers’ response. That shows there are things that can be done to reduce risks and manage threats but it also means more needs to be done.
“Social workers in every setting really work on behalf of all of us dealing with some of the most difficult challenges that human beings experience. They understand this is not easy work and they accepted that when they became social workers.
But they have a right to be protected and supported in their vitally important work.
“Government, employers, staff and the general public all need to do their part to back our social workers and ensure that they can go about their work safely.”
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