Intimidation in workplace is something nobody should have to face
Experiencing violence and abuse is unfortunately a reality for too many of my social work colleagues. It is an issue I'm familiar with - the two occasions in which I was assaulted during my professional career have stayed with me, as did the handling by a past employer.
No one should go to work in fear of being abused or assaulted. However, for many social workers this is considered part and parcel of the job. The worry and anxiety which is caused when a service user - or someone close to them - deliberately targets a social worker with intimidating behaviour, threats or physical violence, can have a severely damaging impact.
While the effects are at times felt in terms of physical injury, there are often negative consequences for the social worker's mental health and confidence in their professional abilities.
By detailing the debilitating impact of verbal abuse and intimidating behaviour as well as physical violence, insult and injury, it directly contradicts the old adage which claims damage is only caused by sticks and stones.
We, as the professional association for social work, want to empower members, enabling them to excel in the provision of services for individuals who are often vulnerable and disadvantaged. However, the first step of empowering social workers is ensuring they can work free from fear of intimidation, threats and violence.
It is beyond doubt that our research highlights a serious problem, and while the task of minimising risks to social workers presents significant challenges, it is achievable.
Where we found examples of employers appropriately supporting and protecting staff, we have highlighted how this can be replicated elsewhere. Keeping social workers safe will require all organisations involved to pull together.
BASW Northern Ireland is committed to working with social work employers and Government departments to achieve this goal.
Colin Reid is chair of British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland