Skills for Care wants social workers to learn self-defence

Social care workers should be trained in self-defence to prepare for violent confrontations with service users, according to official guidance from Skills for Care.

The updated guidelines on tackling abuse in adult social care highlight the importance of training in self-defence and restraint to help “workers recognise potentially violent situations and develop their skills in defusing them or, if necessary, escaping from them”.

The publication of the advice, which is split into two separate documents – one for employers and another for practitioners – comes amid growing concern for the safety of frontline workers.

This week a mental health charity, Mental Health Matters, was fined £30,000 for failing to protect a support worker, Ashleigh Ewing, who was stabbed to death by a service user in Newcastle in 2006.

Meanwhile a social worker from London, Shauna Bailey, accused police of failing to stop a mentally ill service user from repeatedly stalking and assaulting her. Richard Jan beat her with a brick and baseball bat during a six-year campaign.

Staff and volunteers should be trained to recognise signs of agitated or aggressive behaviour in service users before situations escalate into violence, according to the guidance, and should also be taught how their own behaviour can influence situations.

In addition to training, the guidance includes the following checklist for employers to ensure the safety of staff:

• A written policy statement on violence and abuse against workers, which should include the possibility of removing services from perpetrators

• Clear assessments of the risk to practitioners of the individuals and families they work with, which should be periodically reviewed

• Clear guidance for victims, colleagues and managers about what they should do after a violent or abusive incident, including support for victims to help them recover

Practitioners are also encouraged to report all cases of violence and abuse to their manager and share information about potentially violent service users with managers, colleagues, other departments and other organisations.

Before conducting home visits, the guidance states workers should ask themselves questions such as “Is there a history of violence?” and “Should you be visiting in pairs, or is additional support needed such as a line manager or police officer?”

The updated guidance follows a national taskforce set up by the Department of Health in 2001 to address violence against social care workers. Members of the expert group claimed in 2008 that little had been done by ministers to implement their recommendations, such as strengthening employers’ policies on staff safety.

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