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One-third of reports concern threats against social workers’ outside of work


A recent doctoral dissertation examining statutory social workers' reports of occupational injures reveals that nearly one-third concerns threats outside the workplace and in many cases also against their families.

“This is the worst part; they feel that they cannot protect themselves and become very vulnerable,” says Jimmy Munobwa, who has a PhD in social work from University of Gävle.

Hotfull person i mörkret utanför ett hus

Foto: TT

Jimmy Munobwa has worked for many years as a statutory social worker and as the immediate supervisor of statutory social workers. He was inspired by his colleagues’ stories of the threats and violence they were facing and their coping strategies.

His work has now resulted in a doctoral dissertation. It is one of the few based on in-depth interviews with active statutory social workers dealing with children and youth, substance abuse, and welfare support, as well as on occupational injury reports related to threats and violence filed with the Swedish Work Environment Authority.

Slandering and Threats

The results show a workplace where slandering and threats, especially from young clients, have become almost normalised, something to be expected and brushed off. Clients get away with behaviours that would be unacceptable in the interviewees’ private lives.

As one social worker put it, “At the social services offices, it's always been like this, we get called all sorts of names, the most common one is 'socfitta' [social service b**ch], but it's not something we react to.”

Jimmy Munobwa

Jimmy Munobwa

“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



Jimmy Stephen Munobwa, Ph D in social work at University of Gävle
Tel: 076-268 18 47
e-mail: jimmy.munobwa@hig.se

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2023-09-20
Högskolan i Gävle
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026-64 85 00 (växel)