Zero tolerance of violence

Rising incidents of violence to social care staff and patchy safeguards by employers need to be tackled radically Violence...

Rising incidents of violence to social care staff and patchy safeguards by employers need to be tackled radically, writes Professor Brian Littlechild

Violence against social care staff is a pervasive and enduring problem, as evidenced in the survey results set out in this edition. These results highlight that the number of incidents of different types of violence and abuse is high, and that recognition, training and policies in agencies are often inadequate.

Agencies rarely give the resources to the staff to consistently co-work where necessary, although isolation is a key risk factor, which on occasions has led to deaths. Violence and the fear of violence affect staff not only personally, but also their capacity to carry out their work effectively. That fear, and inadequate agency responses, contribute to staff retention problems in social work.

They can also lead to problems in safeguarding children. In a high number of child abuse death inquiry reports, violence and intimidation of workers has led to staff not being able to protect the children involved.

The government’s acceptance of the recommendations of the 2001 National Task Force on Violence Against Social Care Staff led to a £2m campaign to reduce violence. The GSCC Code of Conduct for Employers require agencies to make it clear to service users and carers that violence, threats or abuse to staff are unacceptable, and to have clear policies and procedures for preventing violence and managing violent incidents.

It is not clear what the practical action and outcomes from these have been. Agencies need effective plans to implement and review staff training programmes and policies, consulting with frontline staff and managers to increase reporting and recording.

Staff need clear messages that acceptance of any form of violence, including abuse and threats, is not “part of the job”, and that if they do report, they will be positively supported. Similarly the behaviour of service users must be addressed with them, and not ignored as often happens.

It is key within and between agencies that information is shared on serious incidents and patterns of abuse by individuals. Recording and assessment of these incidents should include the perspectives of both victims and service users. Agencies’ misplaced concerns about confidentiality can obstruct the sharing of this information, but safety and duty of care requirements should override these; if others do not know the risks, they cannot plan for them. The 2001 taskforce recommendations need to be revisited, with monitoring of agencies’ progress in dealing with such violence. Too many staff have suffered because of failings in this area.

Professor Brian Littlechild is associate head of school, Nursing Midwifery and Social Work at the University of Hertfordshire

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