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Report details troubling picture of violence against social workers

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) Northern Ireland has published deeply concerning research findings detailing social workers’ experiences of being subjected to intimidation, threats and violence.

Their report, Insult and Injury, presents the results of a survey open to all social workers in Northern Ireland. Eighty-six per cent of those who took part have experienced intimidation, seventy-five per cent have received threats, and fifty per cent have been subjected to violence.

Speaking ahead of the report’s launch Carolyn Ewart, BASW Northern Ireland Country Manager, said: “In supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society, social workers all too frequently become targets for abuse and violence. Our research details the scale of threats and violence experienced by social workers, which includes physical attacks and threats to kill.

“Social workers also told us about the debilitating impacts of intimidating behaviour, often in the form of implied threats, for example, a service user seeking to instil fear of attack by explaining they know where their social worker lives or where their children go to school. The scope of the problem and the consequences for social workers, as well as their families, is very worrying”.

BASW Northern Ireland’s research highlights a culture of perseverance, with few social workers taking time off work as a result of threats, intimidation or violence they have experienced. This is often despite staff receiving insufficient support from employers.

Commenting on this finding, Carolyn Ewart said: “In some instances, this appears to be the result of professional resilience. However, in many cases social workers have described feeling a pressure to continue under the perception that threats, intimidation and violence are an unavoidable part of the job. This should not be the case and keeping staff safe requires a cultural shift.”

As well as detailing the types of incidents encountered by social workers and exploring the associated impacts, the report presents a series of recommendations for employers, aimed at improving social workers’ safety. These include providing social workers with mandatory skills training for dealing with potentially violent or dangerous situations, improving security features of workplaces, and enabling social workers to undertake home visits in pairs or facilitating office-based contact with service users. For many employers there is also a clear need to improve support for staff who have experienced intimidation, threats or violence. 

Ms Ewart finished by saying: “Our recommendations are a first step towards addressing the dangers faced by social workers. If significant progress is to be made, social work employers in all sectors must demonstrate leadership by prioritising protection of their staff. Doing so will take us closer to the ideal scenario in which social workers can improve the wellbeing of service users, while suffering no ill-effect to their own”. 

Notes to Editors

Insult and Injury: Exploring the impacts of intimidation, threats and violence against social workers is available here.

Carolyn Ewart, BASW Northern Ireland Country Manager and Andy McClenaghan, BASW Northern Ireland Campaigns Officer, will be available for interview.

The British Association Social Workers (BASW), the largest professional body for social workers in the UK. The Association has 21,000 members employed in frontline, management, academic and research positions in all care settings.


Andy McClenaghan, Campaigns Officer

Phone: 028 9064 8873

Mobile: 07702 517560