In 2014-15, child welfare workers in North Carolina conducted 64,817 CPS assessments (includes both family and investigative assessments). During this same time they removed 5,212 children from their homes (Duncan, et al., 2016).
Behind these numbers were countless interactions between social workers and others, including thousands of exchanges with angry, upset parents and children. In most of these interactions social workers were--and felt--safe.
But in their line of work the potential for violence is real. Research and anecdotal reports suggest that, at some point in their careers, many social workers will face physical attacks, attempted physical attacks, property damage, or threats. Fatalities and serious injury, though rare, occur as well.
Perhaps that's why, when the NC Division of Social Services asked child welfare professionals what they'd like to learn more about, DSS directors, supervisors, and line staff all said "social worker safety" was a key concern.
Practice Notes has actually covered this topic before, in 1998 (vol. 3, no. 2). A lot of the messages we sent back then are worth revisiting. With this current edition we're adding new resources and touching on topics such as guns in the home, safety around dogs, universal precautions, and creating safe, trauma-informed child welfare agencies.
We hope you'll be willing to talk with others in your agency about safety. We want you to be safe and well as you engage in your difficult, rewarding work with children and families.
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