Social workers and carers working with people with dementia and autism are most at risk from physical attacks, according to research from Skills for Care.
A literature review, combined with a survey of 1300 frontline staff in both public and independent adult care settings, found those working with dementia were most likely to be physically assaulted. It also found their employers were least likely to have a policy in place around dealing with abuse or violence.
Although staff working with those suffering mental illness were more at risk from abuse or violence, most incidents in the past year related to verbal abuse.
Meanwhile, those working with people with autism were less likely to suffer abuse but when they did the abuse was more likely to be a physical assault.
The survey found a quarter of frontline staff in adult social care had experienced a physical assault in the last year and the same number had experienced verbal abuse on a daily or weekly basis.
While most physical assaults did not require medical attention, 6% needed first aid while others reported sexual abuse, being spat on, urinated on or being imprisoned. More than a third of respondents said they were working on their own when the incident happened.
Disturbingly the survey also found that nearly one in 20 incidents of abuse and violence in the past year came from other staff members.
Although the majority of incidents were by service users, one fifth were by friends and family of service users. The literature review found abuse has been increasing in this sector in past years, most likely because of budget cuts and staff being forced to refuse services. The most common reasons for service users to attack was because of frustration or misunderstandings.
In line with Community Care’s recent survey on violence, most incidents were not reported to management. Less than 30% brought it up in discussions, and of that number more than half said no help was forthcoming.
Survey respondents spoke of the emotional toll the abuse is taken. One said: “I ended up having to take sick leave as I could no longer cope- my manager did nothing to support me.”
Another said: “Feeling I have to put up with verbal abuse as part of my job has made me want to leave social work.”
A third said: “This episode of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour is not rare – it is something that happens every day. So far, I have a broken tooth, deep bite wounds to my arms and cuts to my face. This incident escalated to a dangerous level but was dealt with because staff are skilled in intervention work.”
The authors said employers needed to have a range of mechanisms to support staff. These should include effective management and supervision, clear systems for reporting incidents, structured training programmes (especially for those working with people with autism, dementia and learning disabilities) and practical help when incidents occur- ranging from time-out, a break to recover, counselling or further training.