Monday, May 17, 2010

Social Worker Safety

A student wrote this paper for one of the descriptive paper assignments.

The dangers of Social Work are on the rise. Studies have shown an increase in verbal and physical abuse in the past 15 years. Some states are taking steps to help protect Social Workers. Many of these states are fighting budget crunches, like many other policies. In 2007, a bill was introduced by Dennis Moore of Kansas. He re-introduced it again in 2009. The Bill, Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act, is still in committee today. The Bill lays out a plan on issuing grants to states that find themselves in need of funds to properly train and protect their workers. The Bill could help states ease the burden their budget cuts have had. Currently, the Bill offers $5 million dollars a year in grant money to states, but this amount needs to be increased. Social Workers have a direct correlation to the future well being of children and need to be funded accordingly.

A 2002 survey conducted by the National Association of Social Workers found that violence and threats were common. The survey which was taken from 800 social workers found that 19 percent of them had been victims of violence and 63 percent of them had been threatened. What is so shocking is the number of respondents who had been threatened. In many cases, not only in the public sector, but also in the private sector social workers find themselves making home visits alone and not knowing what they will find when that door opens. In 2006, a similar study was head by the same organization. This time it involved 5,000 participants. The results were just as telling, with 44 percent responding that they face safety issues while on the job. Social workers making in home visits are there to ensure the safety of the children involved and are constantly looking for signs that they may be in a dangerous setting. These surveys show that not only do they need to be looking out for the child’s safety but their own as well. A 2000 Bureau of Labor Statistics found that social service workers were 7 times more likely to be victims of violent assaults while at work, than other workers in the private sector. It is clear that this is a dangerous yet necessary field.

In 2008, the U.S. saw a major downturn in the economy which lead to fewer tax revenues but not lower spending. This combination meant many states found themselves in budget crisis, from California to Florida to Michigan. All states in the union found themselves with choices to make and cuts to the budget to produce. Many states looked at the Social Workers as areas they could cut employees by adding to the case loads of other case workers. The state of Illinois is looking at a budget shortfall of 13 billion dollars this coming year. Legislatures are looking at the state’s Human Services Budget for cuts. These cuts would test a budget already stretched too thin. On Feb 24th, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability released a study showing the state of Illinois underfunded the Human Services Budget by 4.4 billion dollars from 2002 to 2010. States need assistance to ensure that they can keep these vital programs operating and operating at the safest possible levels.

In 2007, Dennis Moore, a lawmaker from Kansas introduced the HR-2165 Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act. This bill would allow states to receive federal funding to help ensure the safety of Social Workers. The bill is in honor of Teri Zenner, a social worker in Kansas, who had been stabbed and killed in a routine in home visit in 2004. This tragic event may have something good come from it if legislation like this can be passed. The first Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act referred in the future of this paper as HR-2165 was dedicated to provide funding for proper training of social workers. HR-2165 had eight areas where funds were to be directed. First, funds would be used to provide safety equipment such as cell phones and GPS devices for workers, training in self defense and crisis management, facility safety improvements, provision of pepper spray for self defense, cultural competency training, training to help work with the mentally ill, educational resources to train staff on safety awareness measures and finally other activities determined by the Secretary to be safety training. Of these eight points the three most important may be the self defense and crisis management training, installation of safety equipment, and provision of pepper spray. Sadly this bill died in Committee only to reappear in 2009 under HR-1490 Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act. The bill was yet again introduced by Dennis Moor and sponsored by 50 others but it too is currently stuck in Committee. It would seem that safety of social workers takes a back seat in politics and many Americans don’t fully understand what social workers do, with many not having any experience with them. HR-1490 is an exact copy of HR-2160, but it would seem the states need of the bill is even greater at this point with the budget cuts that many states are facing.

One of the issues with HR-2160 and HR-1490 is the apparent lack of funding in the bill. The bill only offers a $5 million dollar provision to be spread among all states every year for five years. Most states like Illinois, where the Human Services Budget has been under funded by $4.4 billion dollars over 8 years, would see this grant money as a drop in the pool lacking funds. The bill needs to make more money available for grants especially in this economic climate. The key would be to ensure that the money given to the different states organizations is really used to increase the safety of the social worker in the field. Training sessions should be set up in major cities throughout each state to make sure that social workers have access to the latest techniques in dealing with a crisis. It is possible, if the bill was to make it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote it would garner national attention. Then it could be expanded as Americans learn what social workers find themselves up against on a daily basis.

Social worker safety has seen an increase in attention in the past 15 years but not in action. Surveys have shown that many social workers feel that they are in dangerous situations when out in the field. In a study conducted in 2002, 19 percent had been victims of violence while 63 percent had been threatened. Studies like this show there is a very present danger in social services field and it is important to ensure that the workers are going into the field with the best possible training and equipment. In 2007, Dennis Moore introduced a bill that would provide states with grant money to provide such training and funding. Although that bill would die, it did make reappearance in 2009 and is currently in committee, where it will hopefully find its way to the floor for a vote. Over the years, there have been several high profile stories of social workers meeting their deaths in the field but many more acts of violence or threats never go reported.

1 comment:

Jimmie Menon said...

I don't think that it is always the fault of the companies when any worker gets injuries at the workplace. Sometimes it is due to the mistake of employees that they get into trouble. OSHA has been a idol for many safety providers in the world. In order to provide the employees life, one has to do improvements in the workplace, salary increments, employees bonuses and other things which are in the favor of all the staff.

Jimmie Menon
Guelph Payroll Service