Social work: a noble occupation where you have the ability to positively impact others’ lives. As a helping professional, this can be an extremely rewarding career. At the same time, this is a career that comes with a unique set of safety concerns. Sadly, these safety risks are sometimes a matter of life and death. Consider this unfortunate case, reported in Social Worker Today’s article, “Violent Crimes and Social Worker Safety”:
On January 19 in White Plains, NY, 26-year-old Jamile Wilson stabbed St. Vincent’s Hospital-Westchester case manager Frances Mortenson, 47, during a home visit. Mortenson suffered multiple stab wounds to her face and the back of her head, neck, and abdomen; she was in critical condition before undergoing surgery. Wilson has since been charged with second-degree attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon, which are both felonies.
Social worker safety is clearly a concern, and the case of Frances Mortenson makes it obvious that your safety must be taken into account. Asa social worker, you are constantly meeting new people and going to new places. This, unfortunately, positions you to be located in potentially high-risk environments. That’s why, in your occupation, it is critical that you follow these social worker safety tips to ensure you don’t find yourself desperate in a life-threatening situation.
Avoid working alone
While this may not be possible all of the time, do your best to schedule appointments when other people will be around – either in the facility where you work or in the home where you are visiting. Don’t be afraid to ask the client who will be in the house when you coordinate a home visit, and don’t be shy about rescheduling if the person promised others would be there . . . but aren’t.
2. Schedule appointments strategically
If you are conducting home visits, do your best to schedule them during daylight hours and times of the day when other people are out and about. In the best-case scenario, visit with a coworker so there are two of you entering the home.
If you have the option of scheduling appointments at an office instead of in the home, even better. Depending on the office where you work, you can take some precautions that will ensure your safety. Schedule appointments when other people are in the building, and try to avoid having to walk to your car after appointments late at night.
3. Know whom you’re meeting
Before an initial meeting, try to gather as much information about the individual or family as you can. This can provide you with critical information that can help prevent putting you in an unsafe situation.
For example, if you are planning to meet with the family alone, but one family member has a history of violence, rethink that plan. Ask a coworker to accompany you. Or if you know the individual has a history of drug use, you’ll be extra-sensitive to any signs that the person is impaired, possibly putting you in the danger zone.
4. Trust your instincts
If you meet someone or walk into a situation and get a bad feeling, trust your gut. Most likely, there is something going on that validates your increased level of concern.
Without offending the individual, politely excuse yourself, using whatever reason you can that makes sense to you and the other person. For example, maybe you have another appointment immediately following this one, so you might explain that you are going to be rushed if you try to conduct both appointments back-to-back. Apologize for not recognizing this potential conflict sooner, and then be sure to follow up afterwards.
Even if you don’t want to be the one to meet with the person on future visits, you may be able to find a suitable substitute to take your place. However, be sure to explain the situation to that person so that he or she is not being put in harm’s way. Or, if it’s possible to visit in a more public location or with another colleague, this may remove the safety concerns – and provide you with backup assistance if the situation deteriorates.
5. Carry Emergency Panic Button with Yourself
Perhaps the best social worker safety tip is to carry Silent Beacon wherever you go! Silent Beacon is essentially a panic button for social workers, allowing you to summon help at a moment’s notice, quickly and easily. Here’s how it works: if you find yourself in an emergency, simply press the easy-to-touch button on the lightweight, portable device. The device, when paired with the free safety app, triggers an alert that goes out to your pre-stored contacts. These contacts can include friends, family, and even emergency personnel!
Once you trigger an alert, your contacts will receive a text, email, and/or voice message indicating that you need help. GPS technology enables first responders to immediately pinpoint your location in real-time and get to you as quickly as possible.
The Silent Beacon is affordable, too. With a price of $99, it’s the best money you can spend to ensure your safety. Plus, there are no hidden charges – like activation or cancellation fees – that you need to worry about. Just purchase the device, set up your contacts, and that’s it! Help is just a press of the button away.
Although following these tips won’t guarantee 100% social worker safety, you can decrease your odds of becoming a victim. And by carrying a panic button, if an emergency arises, you’re prepared.