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Social Workers Want More Firepower

December 1, 2007 permalink

From the follow-up story of an attack on a social worker by a mother guarding her child, it appears that more security will be coming to Ontario social workers. It is only a matter of time until they emulate the police in Ohio. In an incident we think of as Kentucy Fried Baby, on November 18 police in Trotwood Ohio zapped a seven-month pregnant mother with a taser. We are not sure whether the cop thought the enlarged woman was a threat to his life, or whether he was inspired by Igor to bring the fetus to life with a jolt from his electrodes. 50,000 volts is about what it takes to separate a mother from her child.



Security concerns at Children's Aid

Date: 2007-11-30, By Lauren Gilchrist

In light of recent assault at Chemong Road office, frontline worker speaks out about lax security within the organization

Everybody has their breaking point.

One frontline worker at the Kawartha Haliburton Children's Aid Society (CAS) has finally reached hers and is speaking out.

Recently, one of her co-workers was allegedly assaulted at the Chemong Road office by a 34-year-old woman armed with a pair of barber scissors. The accused was arrested and charged with possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and assault with a weapon. The victim was treated at the hospital for her injuries.

The frontline worker was baffled when she read executive director Hugh Nicholson's comments in Peterborough This Week shortly after the incident.

“What really smacked me between the eyes was when he said the security systems work fine,” she explains.

“We are almost more dysfunctional than our own clients. We know he [Mr. Nicholson] is going to the board and saying everything is fine and it's not.”

The worker, who has asked to remain anonymous, has now come forward to say the security system at the Children’s Aid Society on Chemong Road is anything but fine.

But Mr. Nicholson says he can understand her concerns.

“That’s understandable given the situation. Everyone is a little nervous after that [the alleged assault].”

But he doesn’t agree with her claim that he is going along telling the board everything is fine.

“No. I’m not saying that. I don’t understand why someone would say that to be quite honest,” he explains.

“Situations like this are upsetting. Unfortunately it sounds like one or some staff may feel like we don’t do something about it, but we are very concerned with it [safety].”

The worker says she was in the office the day the most recent assault happened, but she didn’t witness the event. What she does know is that the receptionist tried to press the panic button but it didn’t work.

“She had the presence of mind to get on the switchboard and call for help,” explains the worker.

She is not only concerned for the staff, but also for the parents and children who come into the facility.

She says to the best of her knowledge there are two panic buttons in the building that trigger the alarm.

“I should bloody well know where all the buttons are, but I don't,” she explains.

She says the only real safety training they have is the two fire drills a year.

“I think maybe the receptionist has been show where it [the button] is. We get tons of training all the time, but not on security in the office.”

Mr. Nicholson confirms there are two panic buttons in the high risk areas. They were installed two years ago in response to another assault that occurred in the back area of the building. When asked whether staff are trained on the use of the buttons he says “yes and no.”

“The staff that are in those areas are trained on the panic buttons,” he explains.

He says there is also a sign posted above the panic buttons listing what workers should do in a crisis. He admits the sign above the button could probably be bigger.

Once the panic button is pressed it triggers an internal alarm with flashing strobe lights.

“That alerts internal staff and they would go to the area where the situation is,” he explains.

Mr. Nicholson says what happened in the most recent case is that the receptionist tried to reach the panic button but for whatever reason couldn’t reach it. She decided it would be quicker to post an alert over the intercom.

Mr. Nicholson says an e-mail went out to staff when the buttons were installed two years ago describing what to do in that sort of emergency.

“We did survey the staff in the building and most seemed to be aware of what to do,” he states.

“We assumed teams would do the training and that always isn’t the case.”

Mr. Nicholson says all staff have enough information to know what to do with the panic buttons.

”We generally have a pretty good response to it.”

The most recent incident has caused not only one frontline worker to speak out, but also for the organization to re-examine their safety protocol.

Mr. Nicholson says what staff are saying now is that they need regular training on the use of the panic buttons. The first training session is already planned for Dec. 10.

“We are also reviewing our system of codes at that time too so people know what they’re going to.”

He says their current policy on emergency codes is vague, and they are reviewing it as well, and clarifying it.

The worker says along with training around the panic buttons, there is the issue of the meeting rooms at the front of the building.

In her opinion this area has no security whatsoever.

“That's an unprotected area where not only staff are vulnerable,” she says.

She says if the most recent alleged assault had happened in one of those meeting rooms and not in the lobby, they could have been in trouble.

Mr. Nicholson confirms there are no panic buttons in those rooms.

“We know who's going in and out of those meetings. That area is always supervised that they're in,” he says.

“They (staff) have raised concerns. We are concerned about what to do in those rooms, and we weren’t aware of (staff's concerns).”

Mr. Nicholson says they need to improve their system of flagging possibly high risk clients who are in the building and have the appropriate people there at that time.

In the back of the building, called the access centre, there are more meeting rooms. But the worker says even in that supposedly secure area, that's where the attack that happened two years ago took place.

“We still have to use those rooms in the front because we get so many parents,” she explains.

During the summer the worker says they had a bomb threat at the office. According to her, it took them a week to inform staff about the incident.

Mr. Nicholson confirms they did have a bomb threat. According to him they got the threat on a Friday afternoon and told workers on the following Tuesday. At that time he felt it would have caused more anxiety to tell the workers about it right away.

“I think right now we have a much better process in place,” he notes.

It's not only safety inside the building that the worker is concerned about. There is also a question about the safety of the workers when they visit client's homes.

The worker says they work closely with the police and have a good working relationship with them.

She says police can't believe workers will go into some these locations on their own.

“The police say they will not go in on their own, they wait for back-up at these locations. I think the courts and management need to take more notice when staff are saying clients are escalating,” she explains.

Mr. Nicholson says workers quite often go into client’s homes alone. But he says if there is a risk a police officer will go with them and, if the client is very high risk, they will ask the client to come into the office instead.

“The workers and the supervisor assess that then determine the most appropriate response,” he explains.

“That’s their job. So they are skilled at handling those situations and making sure when they do go in [to a client’s home] there’s an exit and assessing the situation before they go into the home.”

Mr. Nicholson says they have established a safety task force that will come back at the end of December with recommendations. He says the health and safety committee is also doing an assessment and will also put forward recommendations.

“By the end of January we are going to implement them,” he says.

He notes that along with looking into training around the panic buttons, the newly established task force will also look into the safety of home visits.

“We can always do better,” he admits.

Source: Metroland Media Group