Abstract: Client Violence: Building Workplace Safety for Promoting Social Workers' Well-Being (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

98P Client Violence: Building Workplace Safety for Promoting Social Workers' Well-Being

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Hanae Kanno, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA
Xin Chen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Soochow University, Suzhou, China
Monit Cheung, PhD, Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Background/Purpose: In a study about researcher safety, social workers who work in potential high-risk situations lack a plan to protect own safety (Cheung & Zhou, 2016). Literature on worker safety in the last decade mentioned secondary trauma affecting the mental health of social workers (Kanno, 2017). Although a study by Penfold et al. (2014) focused on how social workers worked with law enforcement to protect their clients in risky business (prostitution and drugs), very few addressed violence against social workers in their workplace. ‘Client violence’ (CV) was defined as “verbal abuse, threats, attempted or actual physical attack, intentional property damage against service providers by clients and their family members” by previous research (Kanno & Newhill, 2009; Padyab & Ghazinour, 2013). However, very seldom violence prevention is empirically researched in work settings. This study aims to use the direct account from social workers to analyze experiences and perceptions of CV.

Method: In this phenomenological study on CV, social workers were purposively recruited in multiple social work settings to participate in an individual interview. Each of the 16 consented social workers participated in a one-hour interview. Demographic questions included: age; employment status and job position; years of social work practice experience. Semi-structured questions were asked regarding experiences in and perceptions toward CV. After obtaining consent from the respondents, the principal researcher conducted and audio-recorded each interview and transcribed the contents verbatim. The transcripts were imported into Nvivo12 and coded by two other researchers for triangulation. There were two cycles of coding: open coding to identify potential codes of violent acts; pattern coding to group the open codes into themes.

Results: The interview participants’ age ranged from 24 to 61, with a mean of 44.25 (SD=12.44). They had worked in current job for 9.03 years (SD=5.32). Half of them (n=8, 50%) reported working as frontline workers, 43.75% worked as administrators, and 6.25% had both roles. Their work settings included child protection services (n=8), women shelter (n=2), hospital setting (n=2), behavioral health services (n=2), hospice (n=1), and private practice (n=1).

All respondents had experienced CV in their career. Eight themes emerged from past experiences: Assessment of the violence situation (n=274): severity, frequency, triggers; Skills in de-escalating conflicts (n=143); Empathy toward the clients (n=141); Support from the work settings (n=103); Use of advocacy skills to help clients (n=48); Support from personal network (n=36); Social work job commitment (n=35); and Trauma-related feelings about personal safety (n=32). The phenomenon of client violence was expressed in terms of “expected worker stress” from “unwelcome aggression.”

Conclusions: Social workers described experiences to support advocacy efforts to mobilize resources to support worker safety. Promoting and educating the general public about the importance of anger management and mental wellness require evidence to address the problem. Case vignettes from social workers’ experiences can be used for advocating agency policy changes. Practitioners can plan preventive measures so that clients and workers are ready to work together with no fear. Through social workers’ voices, preventing client violence is an ethical standard in social work practice.