Should social workers be trained in self-defence?

Would self-defence courses for social workers make them safer or put them more at risk? Read the views of two of our editorial team and vote in the poll below.

Yes, there is no other option, argues Mike McNabb.

There seem three ways to deal with violence or the threat of it: fight back; flee (assuming you remain intact and have the lungs of an Olympic 100m sprinter); or use verbal persuasion. With a Local Government Association survey estimating that there are up to 50,000 attacks on social care staff each year, it is plain that that the art of oratory is, like most of us, a non-runner. Which leaves us with fight back.

Pugilism has never been among social care’s armoury – and even now I am not suggesting that the profession should don the gloves. But enough is enough. And social workers can no longer be expected to deal with clients who, for whatever reason, medical or otherwise, are hell-bent on attacking them.

Although health care staff carry mobile phones and panic alarms, they are of little use unless the victim is holding the thing when the assault occurs. Nevertheless they are better than nothing. Which is what social care staff have.

A better option – and in line with the law concerning employers’ duty of care – would be self-defence courses. Self-defence is a non-aggressive skill but one that would be used only in an emergency. Additionally, the person who has learned the skills can work with the confidence that if the going gets tough they have a better chance of escaping unhurt than if the only options were to either blow a pea in a whistle or try to tap out a phone number during a pummelling.

A trawl through an internet search engine will throw up all sorts of training for basic techniques and refreshers to maintain the skills if you are lucky enough not to resort to them regularly. So, I ask budget holders, is the LGA survey not enough of a convincing case to sway you to shuffle the department finances and keep your staff safe and confident?

No, it will only make things worse, says Simeon Brody

Working in social care is a risky business as the latest figures from the Local Government Association make clear. But self defence training for social workers will not make them any safer – in fact it may make matters even worse.

Learning to defend yourself effectively is not a quick fix. Any self-defence training course offered to social workers is likely to last a couple of days at most and may teach some basic holds or restraint techniques. That is not going to be enough to deal with a serious attack, particularly if there is a weapon involved. It takes martial artists three years or more of regular training to achieve their black belt – at which point they are considered fully competent in their art.

And having a very basic understanding of self-defence might actually be counterproductive if it gives social workers the false confidence to believe they can deal with a situation that in reality is too dangerous.

The real answer involves a combination of training in de-escalation techniques and better organisational safety procedures so that workers are not allowed to enter dangerous situations in the first place.

Social workers should never be put in a situation where they have to fight.


What are your views? Email

More information

Training: Coping with the threat of violence

Dealing with violent service users. Jim Wild on how a national strategy is needed


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