A new taskforce has been set up to help protect social workers in Northern Ireland from violence and abuse after nine out of 10 staff said they had been intimidated.
A recent report by the British Association of Social Workers NI (BASW NI) highlighted the scale of the problem, suggesting that three-quarters of their staff had received threats and half had been subject to physical violence.
The Department of Health has established the force to improve the safety and well-being of staff and will consider the professional and organisational arrangements employers could put in place.
Chief Social Worker Sean Holland will chair the group which will have sitting representatives from trade unions, directors of HR, trusts and senior leaders in social work.
Speaking after the first meeting, Mr Holland said: “Social workers in health, justice and all sectors face challenges including threats and violence with a rising problem being the use of social media to intimidate workers.
“These experiences have a hugely negative impact on their job performance, physical and mental health, and their personal and family relationships.
“Often social workers express an understanding as to why some people they work with may behave in certain ways but that does not make unacceptable behaviour any more acceptable.
“Social workers are people trying to make the lives of children and adults who may be vulnerable, better and safer and it is not tolerable that during the course of their daily jobs that they face such abuse.
“When it comes to intimidation, threats and violence, employers need to understand how to meet their responsibilities to employees to fulfil their duty of care and to do that they have to understand particular issues associated with social work.”
The taskforce will develop best practice guidance for employers including appropriate training for social workers in situations where there is a potential threat, the circumstances when lone working is not appropriate, and steps that they must take to address threats and intimidation delivered by social media.
Mr Holland reiterated that attacks on social workers would not be tolerated.
“I often talk with pride about the state of social work in Northern Ireland. I am not proud of these statistics on threats and violence and quite simply they are not acceptable,” he said.
“The culture that nothing can be done and abuse goes with the territory for social workers doing their jobs has been challenged.
“It is not okay and something can and will be done.
“I am looking forward to working with BASW NI, NIPSA and other partners to make sure that best practice in this area is standard practice. This is a Northern Ireland initiative but I hope that our work will be of assistance to employers in other parts of the UK.”