A Day On the Job With a Social Worker

Going through my old clinical supervision bin, I came across a balled-up piece of paper. I read it and the words still break my heart. I share it with you in its entirety as it is a glimpse into the world of life of a front line social worker working in Community Mental Health.

The incident below has been reported in detail in the log, but I felt it best to bring it to your immediate attention as well, since it deals with staff and client safety. Today _  and I had a client that verbally assaulted another client. We followed protocol and tried to diffuse the situation, to no avail. In return ___ . tossed a scalding cup of coffee in _ face (client refused medical attention).We made a joint decision to call the police  for the safety of staff and clients, due to quick escalation of behaviors and the high risk of further violence. Hearing this news,___ . came around to our side of the desk, knocked everything off of the shelf, and physically assaulted _ .  Due to the lack of phone service we were unable to use the panic button (I find it alarming that the on-call supervisor did not send us an email or call us to alert us of this, as this is surely a liability and a glaring safety issue). I called  the police on my cell phone and tried to contact you and ___. I left ____  a message at 7:32am and did not hear back until 11:39am. I find this to be a disturbing delay for an on-call supervisor’s call back. By the time I received this call, ___and I had long ago made an executive decision to clean up and close the clinic, as ___ was hurt after being assaulted we were both shaken up (___also refused medical treatment). Our time sheets read out at 5:00pm. We do ask to be paid for the day, as this issue as beyond our control and we did the best we could with no guidance from the on-call supervisor. I provided _  with a ride home, as it did not seem fair for her to take the bus back home after such an ordeal, filed both a police and company incident report.

I simply cannot help but see this as another blow to staff and company morale, as today was Christmas and a lot of clients  were counting on us. It leaves me to ask the following question: How much time does staff give the on-call supervisor to respond before making an executive decision?  How long is a client barred for physical assaulting a staff and client? Should staff file charges against client when assaulted (I encouraged __ to do so)?  What safety precautions does the clinic have in place (the panic button is useless when the phones are down). Is staff allowed to care Mace and/or pepper spray?  It would also be helpful if we were alerted before hand of things like no phone service, non working intercom etc.

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4 Responses to A Day On the Job With a Social Worker

  1. Diane Webb says:

    Very dangerous situation. I used to work for a place that considered physical assault part of the job description—it is not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • msw blog says:

      It was. I resigned after that incident. I have heard from colleagues and agencies that physical assault is just part of the job. I agree it with you it should NOT be! I strongly believe lots of issues can be resolved with proper training , adequate staffing and strict rules for clients.


  2. As an ‘outside’ clinical supervisor myself, I’m interested in what other peers do when they see our interns struggling with unsafe working conditions, and also the all too common situation when workplace expectations don’t align with our ethical responsibilities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • msw blog says:

      I host biweekly “What would you seminars?” and a lot of ethical questions get address that way. I also address them in group and individual clinical supervision session. I believe students and agencies must understanding what an ethical issue is first. (see link below). Once, that is clearly understood. I encourage them speak up for themselves and clients with proper evidence, thought provoking questions and be able to provide solutions as I did in the post above.


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