Social workers should receive the same legal protection from violence as emergency workers, according to sector bodies.
The Social Workers Union (SWU) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) are calling for an urgent amendment to a new Assaults on Emergency Workers (offence) Bill to include social workers and mental health professionals.
'Social workers are the forgotten emergency service,' said SWU general secretary John McGowan. 'We support people and families of all ages, 365 days a year, in very difficult circumstances. Our clients increase in number year on year, at the same time as funding is repeatedly slashed.
'Nevertheless, social workers and approved mental health professionals (AMHPS) ensure vulnerable people receive the care, support and protection they need, in collaboration with their family and friends, often under difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances – just as a new study from our Northern Ireland branch clearly shows. We urgently need an amendment to add social workers to this bill.'
A study produced by the Northern Ireland branch of BASW revealed that half of social workers have been subject to violence. Of those responding, 86% have experienced intimidation and 75% have received threats.
Carolyn Ewart, BASW Northern Ireland country manager, said: 'Our research details the scale of threats and violence experienced by social workers, which includes physical attacks and threats to kill.
'Social workers also told us about the debilitating impacts of intimidating behaviour, often in the form of implied threats, for example, a service user seeking to instil fear of attack by explaining they know where their social worker lives or where their children go to school. The scope of the problem and the consequences for social workers, as well as their families, is very worrying.'