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Insult and Injury: Exploring the impacts of intimidation, threats and violence against social workers

Intimidation, threats and violence – incidents which endanger personal safety are familiar to many social workers.

In supporting and safeguarding the most vulnerable people in society, social workers can become targets for abuse and violence. This is often at the hands of the individuals they are working to protect, or those close to them.

On hearing from members who have experienced aggression and violent behaviour in their professional roles, BASW Northern Ireland conducted research to examine the extent to which social workers have been subjected to intimidation, threats and violence and to ascertain the support provided by employers.

Our findings paint a troubling picture of both the scope, and the nature, of incidents experienced.

Close to nine out of every ten social workers (86%) who participated in our survey have experienced intimidation, three-quarters (75%) have received threats, and half (50%) have been subjected to physical violence.

The associated impacts on social workers’ emotional, mental and physical wellbeing, their performance in work, and their family lives is deeply concerning. BASW Northern Ireland recognises aggression, both veiled and overt, directed towards social workers is often prompted by stress and worry caused by problems facing service users and their families. Nevertheless, it is essential that social workers can work free from intimidation, threats and violence.

As well as detailing the types of incidents encountered by social workers and exploring the associated impacts, this report presents a series of recommendations aimed at improving social workers’ safety. BASW Northern Ireland looks forward to working with its partners across the health and social care, criminal justice and education sectors to see these solutions implemented.

Colin Reid

Chair, BASW Northern Ireland