NASW chapter, BU lead efforts for bill’s passage

Deval Patrick, seatedMassachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, seated, signs into law the NASW Massachusetts Social Work Safety in the Workplace bill in February. The law puts in place violence prevention and crisis response plans. NASW-Massachusetts and the Boston University School of Social Work led the efforts to get the bill passed.

Massachusetts Governor Signs Legislation on Social Work Safety in the Workplace

Social workers and others in direct care settings in Massachusetts will be better protected from violence, thanks to the efforts led by the NASW Massachusetts Chapter and the Boston University School of Social Work.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law the NASW Massachusetts Social Work Safety in the Workplace bill in February.

It will require all programs that provide direct services to clients who are licensed, certified or funded by a department of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to have a workplace violence prevention and crisis response plan.

The new law is a victory in the campaign to protect the state’s social workers, said Carol Trust, executive director of the NASW Massachusetts Chapter.

“This bill raises awareness about the important and sometimes dangerous work that social workers perform in our communities and helps to reinforce the concept that government has a role to play in helping to ensure the safety of social workers and the advancement of the profession,” Trust said.

The legislation resulted from the work of a statewide Social Work Safety Task Force launched in 2008 by the NASW chapter and the Boston University School of Social Work. Its creation was a reaction to the death of Diruhi Mattian, a 53-year-old social worker who was stabbed by one of her clients during a home visit.

The task force included members of Massachusetts’ schools of social work, employers, union representatives and health departments.

“Passing this bill solidified the important work of the task force and will make social workers and other workers in direct care settings safer anywhere they work across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Trust said.

The law states that safety plans must be updated at least annually for social workers, human services workers, volunteers, and all other employees. Programs that do not have safety training in place will require their employees to enroll in safety training that will be developed and offered by the commonwealth’s Health and Human Services office.

Judith Perlstein, associate director of field education and a clinical assistant professor at the Boston University School of Social Work, is the co-chairwoman of the safety task force.

She noted that the school has been concerned about safety in the field for years, especially for its interns.

“About 20 years ago, following several potentially violent incidents involving a couple of our students at their field placements, we developed a safety policy and safety guidelines for use by our students and for the agencies where they do their internships,” Perlstein explained. “Since then the policy has been adopted by other schools of social work. We have also revised it as the result of the Social Work Safety Task Force.

“One of the key reasons that this legislation was signed into law was the collaboration and incredible hard work of folks at NASW Massachusetts Chapter and the agency leaders in the private and public sectors who made this a priority, as well as the schools of social work,” Perlstein said.

Trust said the Massachusetts Chapter will closely monitor the safety bill’s regulatory process.

“We anticipate weighing in at key times during the process and offering the expertise of the task force to help guide regulatory decisions,” she said.

The chapter will continue its campaign to maximize safety for social workers in the workplace as well. It has developed a safety curriculum that trained social workers will deliver to public and private organizations.

A subgroup of the task force also created a web page of safety policies, guidelines and links to legislation and activities throughout the nation on the chapter’s website: Creating a Climate of Safety.

More information is available on this website in the Social Worker Safety Practice section.