Salute to my former partner Pat.
Poverty Day is October 15. I’ve been reviewing comments on various social work sites on line and wanted to make a comment: The government certainly needs to put more effort into the homelessness issue, but NOT into housing so much as treatment beds. I know from personal experience as a cop working in the Mental Health Emergency Services team for Vancouver PD that most of the people living on the streets are there because (1) they spend every last dime on their drug habit and/or (2) they have mental illness (due to the drugs or exacerbated because of it) and are paranoid and live in a box so “they” can’t find them. The biggest problem that I had in the 9 years that I spent out there was finding treatment beds for mentally disordered/drug addicted people. You’re not going to be able to beat the problem if there’s a 9 month waiting list for treatment beds. Do you realize that for the entire city of Vancouver (population 600,000) there are only 4 detox beds for teens?
With the economy starting to turn towards recession there’s going to be increaing pressure on families and relationships and that’s going to add work to the already heavy case loads of social workers, home care workers and nurses everywhere. Increased stress is going to make your clients edgy. Now more than ever workers in the helping professions need to focus on safety awarness and take care of themselves. You’re not going to be able to help anyone if you don’t look after yourself. The best way to deal with violence in the workplace is not to get into dangerous situations in the first place. The majority of workplace assaults could have been avoided if a few simple precautions had been observed.
I was just reading Simeon Brody’s article Self Defense for Social Workers on The Social Work Blog. He wrote this after reading about social workers taking self defence training following the Naomi Hill homicide in Nebraska. He points out that a recent UK poll shows that 2/3 of social workers would like self defence training. This comes as no surprise to me and I think that it is a marvellous idea.
Martial arts training saved my ass more than once over the years that I was a cop: the martial arts training that I got on my own, that is. Such training would lead to a lot less violence in police work, as a competent martial artist can control a situation more easily. Not nearly enough effort or money is put into this type of training for cops, but that’s another story. Modern day cops would rely a lot less on force options like tazers if they knew how to use their hands.
Martial arts training would certainly have helped social workers in a lot of different dangerous situations that I’ve heard about over the years. You don’t necessarily need to fight: If you train in hold-release techniques you can greatly improve your chances by simply allowing yourself the opportunity to escape. Hold-release techniques are included in the training that I’ve done for social workers and nurses in the past. But it is only really effective if you practice. Something that you learned on a weekend workshop somewhere isn’t going to help you years later if you never ever practiced the moves after the workshop ended.
You’re not going to solve your safety problem by carrying “force options” like pepper spray in a purse or pocket either. There are three groups of people that pepper spray won’t work on:
(1) Mentally disordered people (who can disconnect from the pain),
(2) Drug addicts (most drugs are pain killers), and
(3) Goal oriented people (“What do you mean you’re taking my kid?!”).
That describes 95% of the people that I dealt with when I worked the Child Abuse Investigation Unit for Vancouver PD (Car 86). And it’s the primary reason why I put my OC spray in my locker and left it there when I was a cop. In addition, if someone starts rushing at you, the only way that you’re going to be able to use it in time is if it is in your hand already. For a cop to get a gun out of a holster and fire a single shot at a person running at them with a knife, that person has to start that run at least 27 feet away. If they’re closer than that, you’ll never do it. That’s why you see ERT entry teams going into clear buildings with guns out, looking over their sights and scanning for a target.
As a social worker you’re not going to get a lot of points with your client greeting them at the door with pepper spray in your hand. Martial arts training, on the other hand, can save you. I’ve had people run at me with knives at close quarters three times in my police career. I was able to disarm and arrest all without injury to either of us because I trained to deal with that scenario.
There’s a new podcast entitled Client Violence: Interview with Dr. Christina Newhill. This podcast is 42 minutes long, so you probably want to download this one at home.
The podcast is an interview between social worker Jonathan Singer, LCSW and Dr Christina Newhill, author of Client Violence in Social Work Practice: Prevention, Intervention, and Research .
If you are visiting a client in an apartment building, you should never, ever just walk up to the door and knock. Always listen at the door first to see what it is that you are walking into.
Always check the hallway exits outside the client’s apartment. Make sure that those exit doors are not concealing an unwelcome surprise. The last thing that you want to deal with if you have to leave in a hurry is hostile intoxicated people (who may be friends of the client) on the stairwell landings. If you have to leave in a hurry, you certainly aren’t going to be waiting for an elevator: You’re going to be heading for the stairs. You want to make sure that exit door is unlocked in case you need to use it to escape quickly.
I remember a case that we dealt with where the police had made several visits to an apartment to investigate domestic disputes during the course of an afternoon. Twice an intoxicated male had fled from the building when police arrived. When we came on duty we were asked by the officers involved to check this apartment, where a known client with a child was residing. Everything seemed quiet when we arrived at the client’s door in the hallway. But out of habit we checked the exit door only six feet away to see that the exit stairs were clear before we knocked on the client’s door.
They weren’t. A snarling German Shepherd attacked me as I opened the door. The client’s intoxicated boy friend had positioned himself on the exit stairs with a case of beer and his dog with the intent of setting the dog on the client if she left her apartment. Fortunately this male had passed out, so he had not let the dog out when we first arrived at the client’s door. I was able to slam the door on the dog and request assistance to remove both the dog and the male.