“While there is supposed to be zero tolerance, most social workers see themselves as helpers and refrain from reporting because it could have negative consequences for the client, which is a good thing in itself,” Jimmy Munobwa says.
No Protection Outside of Work
It is well known that statutory social workers, especially those investigating cases involving children and youth, often work under particularly challenging conditions. What is new is that so many of them report that threats outside of the workplace are increasing and are causing the most concern and stress.
“They feel unprotected when they are targeted outside of work. In the workplace, there are routines, colleagues, and even reinforced glass, but as soon as they step outside, there is no protection.”
The dissertation includes many examples of how social workers, or their families, are threatened or attacked at home: “It was at night; we woke up to a crash. Our kitchen door was attacked with a knife, and large rocks had been thrown into the kitchen through the windows.” The father of a child taken into custody was later linked to the crime.
Another father whose child was placed in protective custody went to the social worker’s children’s preschool, took a photo of the children, and sent it with the message: “Your children seem fine; you should take good care of them.”
Yet another social worker says: “My colleague called and said a client was looking for me. I was outside alone with my young children in the park where I live, and I was terrified."
“I know where you live”
Threats like, "I know where you live,” “I’ll find you,” “I’m waiting for you outside,” were described by many interviewees. They felt that there were not enough measures in place to ensure their personal safety outside of work.
“Some have been given protection regarding personal information when things have got out hand, or assistance in moving. Security doors have also been provided after a client broke down the door with an axe. Another example is that police patrols have been provided for a couple of weeks for a social worker. However, these are temporary measures that don’t help in the long run,” Jimmy Munobwa says.
As Noah, a youth worker, explained: “If a client really wants to harm me, I am completely unprotected when I leave the office.”
Protected Personal Information and Anonymous Decisions
Swedish municipalities and regions have now raised the demand for protected personal information for social workers, at least for those working with children and young people, and for agency decisions to be signed by the social welfare board rather than by the individual social worker.
“Anonymous police reports should also be considered, as many are afraid to report today,” Jimmy Munobwa says.
Many social workers also called for better protection and more support from managers and supervisors. They spoke of a workplace culture where they were expected to keep clients calm and handle violent encounters with little support.
“I knew that threats occurred, but that it affected so many surprised me. To me, the increasingly harsh social climate, with tougher demands and less support, causes these tensions between clients and the system,” Jimmy Munobwa says.
Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Photo Jimmy Munobwa: Private