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.