Abuse and violence against Social Workers in Northern Ireland has become a big problem, with 86% of Social Workers having experienced intimidation according to new research by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW NI). Three quarters of social workers have received threats and half have actually been subjected to violence. Physical attacks include being attacked with knives, being kicked in the head or even attacked with items like fire extinguishers. Several people have been reported as having to receive hospital treatment following attacks.
To try and combat these terrible statistics, there has been a new taskforce set up by the Department of Health to protect the social workers in Northern Ireland. It’s being made up of representatives from Trade Unions, Directors of HR, Trusts and Senior Leaders in social work. They are being headed up by Chief Social Worker NI, Sean Holland.
After the first meeting of the taskforce, Sean Holland said “social workers are people trying to make the lives of children and adults who may be vulnerable, better and safer and it is not tolerable that during the course of their daily jobs that they face such abuse.”
Following this, Carolyn Ewart, National Director of BASW NI said “The Department of Health’s response to our research findings has demonstrated leadership. Establishing the task force will help ensure social workers are kept safe as they support some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
This taskforce has been tasked with improving the safety and wellbeing of social workers by developing guide practice for employers. This will include steps they need to take to adequately discharge their duty of care (including appropriate training for potential threats), how to keep comprehensive records on any acts of threats, intimidation and/or violence, support for employees when reporting abuse to the police and ensuring that working environments are safe – physically and emotionally. Sean Holland explained that “when it comes to intimidation, threats and violence, employers need to understand how to meet their responsibilities to employees to fulfil their duty of care and to do that they have to understand particular issues associated with social work.”
The taskforce is also concerned with addressing how to deal with and safeguard against threats through social media.
Sean Holland called these threats through social media a ‘rising problem’ within Northern Ireland. He went on to say “these experiences have a hugely negative impact on their job performance, physical and mental health, and their personal and family relationships. Often social workers express an understanding as to why some people they work with may behave in certain ways but that does not make unacceptable behaviour any more acceptable.”
“I often talk with pride about the state of social work in Northern Ireland. I am not proud of these statistics on threats and violence and quite simply they are not acceptable. The culture that nothing can be done and abuse goes with the territory for social workers doing their jobs has been challenged. It is not okay and something can and will be done.”
To conclude, Carolyn Ewart said “The challenges facing social workers are many and severe, yet we as a profession are committed to supporting our service users and improving their well-being. I look forward to working in partnership with all organisations that have a stake in the delivery of social work services, to ensure social workers are empowered and protected. They deserve nothing less as they deliver vital services in what are often demanding and potentially dangerous situations.”
Whilst these statistics are concerning, it is great to see senior leaders across Northern Ireland taking positive steps to help protect and support their Social Workers, valuing the fantastic work they do every day.
By Rebecca Dawrant, One Stop Social Team.