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Who's protecting the social workers, asks BASW's Chief Executive

More consideration needs to be given to the safety of social workers who increasingly face abuse and violence while trying to keep others safe, BASW’s Chief Executive Bridget Robb said.

Ms Robb told a BASW conference in Bristol that social workers regularly walk into “the most complex situations that society is throwing up” and often put themselves at risk.

The working conditions and expectations put on social workers were such that other professions would not tolerate, she said.

Speaking at BASW’s England Annual Conference and Annual Meeting, Ms Robb said: “We absolutely need to think about systems and processes to support the public, but we also need to think about systems and processes to help us to do our job safely and understand the risks we are taking.

“Social work has changed. For most front line social workers, particularly people in safeguarding teams, you are working with people in the most complex situations that society is throwing up.

“We expect you to be able to use your own transport, knock on doors not knowing who is behind them, not knowing if the people are safe or unsafe, often not knowing who is in the household.

“And we expect you to come out having done the job of keeping the people in the household safe, but not necessarily keeping yourself safe while you are doing it.”

A survey of 242 social care workers (57 of whom were social workers) by CommunityCare last year found nine out of ten respondents had been abused, assaulted or threatened with violence at work.

The majority – 80% – had been attacked two or more times in a year. Most assaults were verbal, but 39% were physical.

Ms Robb told conference delegates: “Most institutions have notices up saying ‘we do not accept abuse to our staff’. How many of you have been abused when you have gone into a home? I certainly was on a regular basis.

“How many of you have had a situation where someone has stopped you from leaving? I certainly have. We even know of situations where people have been taken hostage.

“Very often we are working with people for whom violence is part of the dynamic of how they do their relationships. We are working with people who are either actively hostile or not wanting us engaged in their lives.”

Ms Robb added that employers are often sending newly qualified social workers to do assessment visits on their own. At the same time, councils are cutting car allowances and expecting social workers to use public services, denying them a quick escape option if things turn nasty.

“I don’t think many employers have thought this through. If we are serious about our profession, we need to think about how we take greater control and engage with employers with a much more dynamic discussion about what are good and safe ways of practising.

“A lot of other professions would not tolerate the sort of relationships, working conditions and expectations we put up with on a day-by-day basis.

“As we look to the future of how we develop our services, we must also discuss how we do it in a way that keeps us healthy and safe, with an understanding of the risks we are taking.”