Social Worker Safety Bill Introduced

Federal lawmakers May 3 introduced bipartisan legislation in an effort to provide stronger safety measures for social workers "and other professionals who work with at-risk populations."

Introduced by U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., the “Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act” worker is named after Teri Zenner, a social worker and case manager with the Johnson County (Kansas) Mental Health Center who in 2004 was stabbed to death during a routine, in-home visit with a client.

The bill, if enacted, would set up a grant program that would provide workplace safety measures, equipment and training for social workers, domestic violence outreach staff and others that work with potentially violent patients.

“A strong program of community service workers is vital to the best interests of our nation’s vulnerable populations,” Moore said. “We have a responsibility to make sure that those who have dedicated their lives to helping others have the resources and support they need to do their job well and return home safely.”

Zenner: Bill Will Help Keep Social Workers Safe

Zenner's husband, Matt Zenner, said he is pleased that the legislation – a long-time goal of his – has been introduced. Since the incident, Zenner has worked to improve the safety of social workers and bring the daily dangers they face to the public's attention.

“Our family’s goal since Teri's death was to do everything necessary to make sure that no other family had to go through what we went through,” Matt Zenner said. “Protecting social workers has, unfortunately, tended to be sort of an afterthought and that’s why we think this bill is so important.”

In Kentucky, the death of social worker Boni Federick prompted the passage of state legislation, which will provide $3.5 million to fund security improvements at state child welfare offices and another $2.5 million to hire additional front-line staff. (For more read “Ky.: Social Worker Safety Bill Enacted.”)

Social Workers Often Victims of Violence

According to OSHA's most recent Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers, 48 percent of all nonfatal injuries from occupational assaults and violent acts occurred in the fields of health care and social services.

The National Association of Social Workers found that among members of the Child Welfare Specialty Practice Section, 19 percent had been victims of violence and 63 percent had been threatened at some point in their careers. In addition, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees found that 70 percent of front-line child welfare workers had been victims of violence or threats while on the job.

As of right now, California, New Jersey and Washington are the only states to have adopted safety guidelines for social workers and case workers.

“Although not every incidence of violence can be prevented, many can, and the severity of injuries sustained by social workers and case workers can be reduced," Moore said. “We must do everything we can to ensure that tragedies like Teri’s never happen again."

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