2000 Jordan Institute
3, No. 2
Family-Centered Practice and Worker Safety
If your approach to social work practice is family centered, this issue of Practice Notes, with it's talk of safety assessments, safety action plans, and "how to defend yourself", may make you a bit uneasy.
It's not hard to see why. Family-centered practice is about using your powers of observation to uncover hidden strengths in families, not their likelihood of doing you harm. It's about seeing them as colleagues, not potential assailants.
Yet often we walk into the homes of families havingquite literallythe worst day of their lives. It would be dishonest and foolish to ignore safety concerns. The question is, how can we take safety into account without insulting or distancing ourselves from the families with whom we work, particularly those who meet some of the criteria defined in the "Predicting and Dealing with Violence" article?
One approach is to bring this concern out in the open. If you have safety concerns, talk openly with the family about them. Make it clear that you are interested in resolving these concerns so that you can focus on helping the family.
Another way to integrate safety concerns into your practice is a safety contract (see below). The idea behind this kind of contract is that a formal, written commitment is more likely to be honored and remembered than an informal discussion about safety.
The most effective way to promote your safety may be the family-centered approach itself, however. Why? Because, with it's emphasis on respecting the traditions and competencies of families, and on empowering them to create their own solutions to the problems they face, family-centered practice builds solid relationships with families. And to a large extent, the quality of your relationships with people is what determines your personal safety.
Sample Safety Contract
I understand that my children and all members of the family and the social worker must be guaranteed physical safety during our work together. I agree to provide this safety for all members by separating rather than fighting. I guarantee that any firearms in the house will be disarmed and locked up. I guarantee the worker's safety and will accompany the worker in the community if necessary.
© 1998 Jordan Institute for Families