Social Worker Safety

Every day social workers across this country provide a wide range of services in increasingly complex environments including child welfare agencies, schools, mental health centers and hospitals. Safety can be a concern in many of these settings. Social workers are often engaging in risky situations without proper safety training, a partner or limited safety equipment. Unfortunately, too many social workers have been the targets of verbal and physical assaults and some have even tragically lost their lives while performing their job responsibilities.

Concerns related to the safety of social workers are brought to the attention of the public each time social worker is killed “in the line of duty.” This is a critical issue to the National Association of Social Workers and its 55 chapters.  Recently, NASW CEO Angelo McClain spoke about approaches to improve social worker safety in NASW's Social Workers Speak Blog.   

Part of NASW's mission is to promote, develop, and protect the practice of social work and social workers. In alignment with this mission, NASW establishes professional standards, guidelines and resources to support quality social work practice.

Below you will find NASW resources and other relevant links to Social Worker Safety.

NASW Resources

Guidelines for Social Worker Safety in the Workplace
These guidelines address safety and risk factors associated with social work practice.  

NASW Standards for Social Work Practice in Child Welfare
These standards can be regarded as a basic tool for social work practice in child welfare, which may include prevention, parenting programs, family support programs, family-based services, family foster care, kinship care, residential group homes, adoption, and independent living.

Supervision: The Safety Net for Front-Line Child Welfare Practice
This report can serve as a resource to administrators seeking to identify information and resources for improving supervisory practices and staff retention; to trainers and technical advisors who are working to improve child welfare agency performance and child and family outcomes; to social work educators who are teaching child welfare practice, administration, policy and research or management and supervision; to researchers studying child welfare organizational and workforce issues or supervisory functions; to policy-makers who are seeking to better understand the workforce issues that affect service delivery and outcomes; and to current child welfare workers and supervisors wanting to better understand roles and functions, and to students who are planning to pursue a child welfare career.

Organizing for Office Safety, NASW's Leadership Ladder article, offers several tips for safety in the social worker's own office.

Client Violence and Social Worker Safety, offered through NASW's Professional Education and Training Center (PETC), addresses the problem of client violence toward social workers across practice settings, with the goal of raising participants' awareness about their risk for encountering violence, learning about the risk and protective factors for such violence and addressing strategies to prevent client violence in office and field settings. One Social Work CE will be offered.

Social Workers and Safety Study
NASW partnered with the Center for Health Workforce Studies, University at Albany, to conduct a benchmark national study of 10,000 licensed social workers. The study achieved a response rate of nearly 50 percent. The information presented in this fact sheet is based on that study and its findings.

NASW Specialty Practice Section

VIOLENCE in Social Work Practice 
Private Practice Section Connection | Summer 2013
Christina E. Newhill, PhD, LCSW & Lynn Purnell Hagan, PsyD, LCSW 

AT RISK: Violent Crime and Social Worker Safety
Social and Economic Justice & Peace Section Connection | Special Edition 2011
Sherry Saturno, LCSW, DCSW, ACSW

NASW Chapter Highlights

NASW Massachusetts Chapter has developed an extensive Workplace Safety page.

NASW New York City Chapter has posted 20 Safety Tips for Social Workers Conducting Home Visits.

NASW West Virginia Chapter  features information related to their work on Social Worker Safety on their home page.

NASW Ohio Chapter features Workplace Safety resources.

Articles in the NASW News

Social Workers Learn to Protect Themselves: Training Important for Safety on the Job

Massachusetts Governor Signs Legislation on Social Work Safety in the Workplace NASW chapter, BU lead efforts for bill's passage  

The Urgency of Social Worker Safety (Statement by the former NASW President, Jim Kelly)

State-wide Models of Social Worker Safety Programs and Legislation Highlights

On and after January 1, 2011, an applicant for first time licensure renewal as a baccalaureate social worker, master social worker or a specialist clinical social worker, as part of such continuing education, shall complete six hours of social worker safety awareness training at a minimum.  The social work safety awareness training class will cover areas such as learning to assess the environment, understanding reciprocal communication, studying safety protocols, identification and de-escalation of tense situations, responses to potentially dangerous circumstances, identifying the need for obtaining assistance, debriefing, administrative and peer support, and supervision.

The Boni Frederick Memorial Bill was enacted on April 5, 2007. This bill provides $2.5 million to hire additional front-line staff and $3.5 million to fund security improvements at state child welfare offices. The law also calls for the implementation of several safety elements, including giving staff emergency alert technology.

On February 15, 2013, Massachusetts Governor Patrick signed a law as part of their FY13 supplemental budget that requires that all programs providing direct services to clients who are operated by, licensed, certified, or funded by a department or division of the Executive Office of Massachusetts Health and Human Services have a workplace violence prevention and crisis response plan. Plans must be updated annually for social workers, human services workers, volunteers, and all other employees. In addition, programs that do not have safety training in place shall require their employees to enroll in safety training which will be developed and offered by the Executive Office of Massachusetts Health and Human Services.

West Virginia
On April 11, 2009 West Virginia passed H.B. 2566, which updated the felonious assault laws to include representatives of state government (i.e., social workers employed or under contract to proceed child protective services, social services, case management, therapy, etc.) and health care workers (including contracted home care/hospice social workers, etc.).

Other Resources

Child Welfare Gateway - Worker Safety - Supporting Staff in the Delivery of Services

National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (a range of resources on worker safety, self-care and secondary trauma).

VPR, Vermont's NPR News Service (NASW CEO Angelo McClain part of interview)
Debriefing and Processing the Four Deaths in Central Vermont
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