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The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Safety and Social Work

I just got finished watching an episode of the new show “Body of Proof,” a new show about a brain surgeon turned medical examiner and how she works with the police to figure out how her patients have died.

In this specific episode, one of her patients is a social worker. While I won’t reveal the ending, the episode considers how safe the victim was and whether any of the social work clients or coworkers may have caused the victim’s death. (to watch the episode for free, click here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/229614/body-of-proof-helping-hand#s-p1-so-i0 )

This episode is just another thing that has me thinking about social workers and our safety. On one hand, we know that we’ve chosen a career field that may put us in harm’s way. Some of us remove children from parents who have a history of abusing others, some work in crime-ridden areas in hopes of helping teens leave gangs, some work nights with violent sex offenders, and most of us work in areas that cause others to lock their doors when they drive through.

Sometimes, I think about the bouncers at the nightclub doors, the police officers who stand next to doormen at ritzy apartment buildings, and about the security guards in the shopping malls. I wonder whether social workers aren’t considered less important, less valuable than a club-goer, a rich Upper East Sider, or a pair of department store earrings. I wonder why we are required to pay small fortunes and take daunting tests to be permitted to work in our fields but there are no options (or even requirements) to complete self-defense training. I wonder why we learn how to protect our clients from their addictions, their abusers, their fears, and their relapses, but we’re not taught how to protect ourselves.

I freely admit that I don’t have the answers for these problems. I don’t know how to afford a police detail or even a trained security guard for agencies that are already barely making financial ends meet. I don’t know how to require documented ID from every senior citizen who wants to attend a center without the risk of losing the undocumented and the most private of seniors. I don’t know where the money would come from to double staff so that no social worker makes a home visit alone.

It just seems wrong to me that we simply accept things as they are. It seems wrong that we let our coworkers and ourselves continue on this path of crossing their fingers before each work day and of hoping that the system has created an intake form that will truly give us warning when a client is dangerous. There has to be more that we can do.

I hope you’ll share your ideas, tips, and solutions. Be safe, Everyone!

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