#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 21 April 2021

'My life is shattered': Social care workers speak out about vicious assaults

Workers say management ignores the impact attacks have on workers.

Image: hand injury image via Shutterstock

THE MAJORITY OF social care workers have experienced some form of violence in their workplace.

This is according to a survey of more than 400 workers by Social Care Ireland.

It found 90% of social care workers had experienced workplace violence, with the figure rising to 100% in children’s residential services.

“The potential for violence in the workplace is like living under house arrest, being held hostage by someone you are supposed to be caring for. You bide your time never knowing if you will get out of your shift safely or not,” one respondent said.

Another described the various reasons or triggers for violence:

Fixations on items or people, family access or lack of family contact, not having a voice (autistic) lack of the ability to communicate with others, being told ‘no’, refused access to food or other items, their diagnosis impacting on their behaviour, staff or young people relationships, new staff starting or unfamiliar staff working with the young people, changes in routine, lack of consistency or structure.

Vicious assault

The majority of workers continue to experience abuse, threats and physical assault at work with almost 40% of social care workers reporting experiencing physical assault monthly or more often.

I am currently suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with my life in shatters two years after a vicious assault.

“Physical injury has had a major impact, to the point of partial disability. I sum up one particular incident as having ruined my quality of life, preventing me from continuing activities that I enjoyed. The severity of the type of violence seems to have increased,” one social care worker revealed.

Staff also said they felt some employers are failing to protect pregnant staff in children’s residential centres by not allocating them to alternative duties.

A huge area that needs to be looked at is violence for pregnant staff members. The culture is the pregnant [woman] seeks alternative duties than working directly with risky service users. The management and the area manager do not offer alternative duties or alternative placement. They put the staff at risk. The team carry the burden of keeping the woman safe. The woman eventually has to seek leave via GP as she is not safe. It is an absolute disgrace.

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, the child and family agency Tusla said it takes the health and safety of pregnant staff members very seriously.

“Where a risk is identified in such an assessment, plans are made to ensure it is managed and where this is not possible, the pregnant staff member is temporarily relocated by agreement to another centre in which the identified risk does not present,” a spokesperson said. “Routinely, pregnancy related risk management plans also include additional safeguarding measures that are put in place to ensure staff members are protected from unforeseen risk as it arises.”

Ignoring effects

More than half of those surveyed perceived violence to be an “acceptable reality” to their employer.

Management choosing to ignore effects of violence on staff. Staff expected to deal with situations and take abuse ‘because it’s our job’…a case of put up or shut up. If you don’t like it, you know where the door is! Notice a serious lack of respect for staff by management especially in the last six months.
I am currently out after a serious assault. The management have not been supportive, telling me I am haemorrhaging funds and they would be dubious of my injury, even though the medical evidence is there to back it all up. Management need to understand the mental, physical and emotional effects such serious injuries can have. No-one is looking for sympathy, just support.

A number of social care workers who were surveyed noted a lack of after support in their workplaces following incidents.

If it’s a particularly violent situation there may not be anyone to cover you and you may need to wait until the situation is resolved to seek medical treatment. Debriefings and supervision may not happen until well after the incident. Also occupational injury leave is not always granted. Some staff have been severely assaulted and been denied this leave resulting in them using personal sick leave for injuries which are work related.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

“After being beaten up on shift when some support was present, to going on shift the next day to find you were working with no real back up and the same violent threats,” another worker said.

One worker said they “would feel angry and annoyed, not at the child, but at the situation that I am forced to work in”.

“The impact of workplace violence for both the individual professional and the organisation is significant, and the above findings highlight that workplace violence is no longer ‘risk’ for those employed in social care, but is a reality faced often daily in their workplace,” the authors said.

Tusla welcomed the report, commenting today that it is committed to providing a safe, supportive and positive working environment for all of its staff members.

Through a range of measures including training in the management of workplace aggression and violence, staff supervision, the occupational health service and the employee assistance programme, Tusla takes every step to protect staff from violence and to support employees who have experienced violent and/or threatening behaviour. Under its serious physical assault scheme, Tusla also offers fully paid leave to staff who have suffered a serious physical assault in the workplace to support them through the recovery process.

The agency noted there has been an increase in the level of demand for residential care placements for children and young people, and they sometimes exhibit challenging and violent behaviour.

The sad fact is we are almost immune to it now, the odd slap and punch wouldn’t affect me at all, completely desensitised.

Read: “Social workers have learned to simply ignore the attacks”: In defence of social workers>

Read: A social worker’s perspective: We need to rethink the way we help vulnerable children>

Read next: