Tuesday, July 13, 1999 Published at 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Call for more protection for social workers
Social services staff need better risk assessment procedures, says Mind
The government should introduce new legislation to make risk assessments compulsory, say leading charities.
Mental health charities including Mind, SANE and the National Schizophrenia Fellowship say the killing of social worker Jenny Morrison in London last November illustrates the need for greater risk assessment procedures and practice.
Mind says a recent study shows poor risk assessment is the main cause of community care deaths.
Speaking after the conviction of paranoid schizophrenic Anthony Joseph for the manslaughter of Ms Morrison, Mind chief executive Judi Clements called for "major improvements" in risk assessment procedures.
Public service union Unison wants the inquiry into the case to reveal why Ms Morrison was allowed to visit Joseph on her own.
It says social workers and nurses top the league for attacks at work, although nurses have received much more publicity recently.
The government has highlighted attacks on nurses and is developing a strategy to reduce violence against NHS staff.
But Unison says at least six of its members who work in social services have been killed in recent years and many more have been attacked.
They include Richard Kirkman, who worked in a centre for homeless people in Cheshire, and was killed in 1983 and Norma Morris who died in 1985 when she responded to a call from a man attempting suicide.
"Because of the kind of cases they work on and because they are often visiting people in their homes or at hostels, they are likely to be more at risk," said a Unison spokeswoman.
The British Association of Social Workers and Unison have issued guidelines on dealing with violence in socal services which they say can help minimise the risk of attack.
"Risk assessment is at the heart of every health and safety issue," said the Unison spokeswoman.
"Unfortunately, in areas like social services where people are often put into difficult situations, basic safeguards can be ignored or forgotten."
It calls for an effective reporting procedure so that risk groups can be identified, measures to reduce dangers can be drawn up and assessment can be made of whether these are working.
The guidelines say many incidents are not reported because they are seen as "part of the job" or there is not enough time to write a proper report.
The guidelines also call for risk assessment procedures to classify levels of risk so that agreed levels of response can be set.
They also set out how staff should be trained to spot warning signs about violence and to report them.
And they call on managers to ensure measures to reduce violence are monitored and that staff who are attacked get proper follow-up counselling.
The Unison spokeswoman said: "Often following investigations into incidents, it is found that staff have highlighted risk problems to their managers beforehand and action has not been taken."
She also pointed to basic safeguards, such as alarms, safe meeting rooms, panic buttons, back-up support and mobile phones, which it says can play a vital role in protecting staff.
And she stated that each client required a different approach.
The British Association of Social Workers say staff are working under greater pressure than in the past.
They have the demands of community care, youth justice and family pressures on their shoulders and are also facing financial cutbacks, continual organisational change and constant scrutiny from the media.