Editor's Viewpoint: Social workers need effective protection
Imagine going to work each day knowing that you could be subject to assault, threats of injury or rape or have threats made against your family. Those are the kind of challenges that one expects police officers to face on occasion and, while still inexcusable, at least the officers are trained to cope and have the weapons to defend themselves.
However, these crimes are directed at social workers, people whose duty is to help those in need or who are vulnerable. A report from the British Association of Social Workers following a survey of 220 members makes very distressing reading.
Pregnant social workers were assaulted or told their babies would be killed; other colleagues were threatened with death, rape or torture. Some nine out of 10 in the profession said they had been subject to intimidation at some stage of their careers; three quarters received threats; half were physically assaulted and others received bullets in the post or had their families' wellbeing threatened.
That is a horrendous litany of crimes, all the more terrifying given that 77% of respondents to the survey were women. A large number of threats had paramilitary links.
Social workers know that many of their service users are experiencing their own traumas in life and anticipate that their work will be challenging. But the picture painted by this report brings those challenges to a whole new level.
It is a scourge of modern society that those who respond to others in need are often the target of abuse or assault. Firemen, police officers, paramedics, nurses and doctors have all turned up to help people who then often turned violent.
The common response when such incidents occur is to call for zero tolerance, as if some new hardline legislation is required to punish those guilty of abusing people working in the emergency services.
The laws of the land governing intimidation, assault or threats are sufficient to deal with the guilty, including those responsible for the disgraceful abuse of social workers. What is required is to report each incident to the police, who can then attempt to build a prosecution case.
At the same time, employers must ensure that social work staff are given adequate training on how to protect themselves and avoid, as far as possible, putting themselves in a vulnerable situation.
It is worrying that the BASW report said only 57% of those surveyed had received such training. Employers need to do much better to protect staff.