Planning and Preparation

A situation that I’ve seen play out time and again in the field is where the social worker or nurse does the right thing and requests police back up.  The police arrive, the social worker and police basically introduce themselves and then everyone troops into the house.  No one stops to explain the purpose of the visit to one another.  No one explains what his or her expectations are.  No one discusses the history of the family or contingency plans should things suddenly go “pear shaped”.

Far too often when things do get violent, social workers find themselves in the line of fire.  Having the police backup there helps, but if the visit is planned properly then it is the police who deal with the violence (which is their mandate) and the social worker escapes unscathed.  I remember one case in particular from my experience at Vancouver PD, where the first thing that the police officer in the home thought of when things got violent was the safety of the child:  he picked up the child and ran out of the house.  Unfortunately this left and unarmed social worker facing an irate parent.  This shouldn’t have happened.  It should have been the social worker leaving with the child and the cop making sure that happened.

I was reminded of the potential for violence in such situations when reviewing a case from Washington state back in 2005, where a Department of Social and Health Services social worker was attacked by a male with a machete and a club (for details see memo from Anna Kim-Williams of the Governor’s Communication Office, “Attack of Child Protection Services Worker”).

Time taken to discuss and plan before entering a risky situation is always time well spent.  When things get violent you will instinctively fall back on whatever you have planned or rehearsed beforehand.  If you have done neither, then you’re going to be standing there like a deer in the headlights, and that’s not a good survival response.

Charles Ennis



Who Is That?

I came across these articles by Sarah Ovaska and Thomasi McDonald about a social worker hurt in an office attack in Raleigh, NC, last February (Social worker hurt in attack: Security a concern at Wake building and Wake County Social Worker Assaulted on the Job).  It reminded me of some office incidents that motivated us to write about office safety in our book The Safe Approach.

In this incident, a 28-year-old male walked into the social worker’s place of employment and basically had freedom of access to the entire building.  Apparently there is no visible security checkpoint at the entrance: just a sign taped to a desk asking visitors to sign in with security.  The suspect went straight up to the victim’s fourth-floor office, where he repeatedly punched and kicked the victim, sending her to hospital.

People wandering around an office can be a great threat to personal safety and security.  At the very least there ought to be a locked gate or door separating the reception area from the offices.  The client should be signed in and given temporary visitor identification.  They should then be escorted to and from the interview.  The best set up is to have a designated interview room with separate doors for the client and worker. Display signs in the waiting area should indicate zero tolerance for violence. Any staff member who notices a stranger wandering about the office should politely question them as to their business there. You should never assume that the stranger that you see walking past has signed in or has permission to be there. 

Having the client sign in at reception also gives the reception staff an opportunity to assess the visitor’s demeanor.  If they are agitated and/or aggressive it is a good idea to keep them out and ask them to return when they are calmer.  If they cause a scene you can summon appropriate assistance to deal with this in the reception area.

Charles Ennis