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April 11, 2008 permalink

Today two articles, from California and England, present the hardships dealt with by social workers while missing the common theme. Social workers are now more feared and hated than the police. In neighborhoods where residents are disposed to fight back, social workers are getting attacked. In Oakland California social workers fear to enter certain districts. In Preston England social worker Philip Ellison was stabbed to death.



Oakland violence stops social worker visits

Barbara Curtis is a big-hearted woman who could use some help.

The 61-year-old Oakland grandmother is not only raising four grandchildren from 2 to 15 years old, but all of the kids have behavioral problems stemming from their mother's chronic drug use during pregnancy.

But for Curtis, her grandkids and dozens of other families, the escalating pattern of violence on the streets of Oakland has claimed another, unseen victim in recent weeks.

Government social workers are required by law to make home visits, escorted sometimes by law enforcement officers, but social workers employed by private groups don't share that benefit. And some of the agencies serving children in dicey Oakland neighborhoods have had to rethink their home-visit policies because of possible exposure to violence and gunfire.

Curtis had to cancel a visit from a caseworker last week, when gunfire erupted outside her home.

"I had to call and stop her on the freeway because they were shooting outside, and I didn't want her to walk into the middle of it," said Curtis, who lives in an Oakland Housing Authority property in the 9700 block of Birch Street.

Another social worker also has temporarily suspended visits to her home because of the violence, Curtis said.

In essence, Curtis is being held captive in her own home.

"I get my baby around 5:30, and after that, I don't go out," she said. "I stopped going to choir rehearsals and Bible study for fear of what I'd find when I came home.

"I've had neighbors call to say I couldn't come home because they've been shooting outside and the street is roped off," she said. "The kids want to ride bikes and play outside, but I have to keep them in the house because I don't want them getting shot.

"The (security) gate has been broken so many times that (the housing authority) said they wouldn't fix it again. There's supposed to be security here, but there's no security, period."

And since the start of the year, the violence that has led to 36 homicides and a whole lot of gunfire in Oakland has presented an obstacle to even the most dedicated social service workers.

Kim Beckham, program manager for early childhood mental health at Family Paths, said the agency assesses each case individually, and factors in the potential for violence inside and outside the home.

"When there is gunfire and drug deals happening outside people's doors, it creates a barrier for caseworkers and leaves families in even more isolation," she said.

The agency is working with several families, including Curtis', to find an alternative meeting site in the community, Beckham said.

For several years, caseworkers at the Jewish Children & Family Center, another nonprofit group, have made accommodations to meet with family members outside the home when there is a potential for violence, said Carol Singer, director of parenting and youth services.

Another agency, Family Support Services, said the recent rise in violence has prompted it to renew safety policies and reacquaint its caseworkers with those rules.

"We've increased our safety protocol because of the violence," said Erica Hilton, the agency's clinical director.

In recent weeks, clients have called to cancel appointments because of continuing violence. And Hilton has halted some home visits until things calm down.

There are other long-standing policies that remain in place for darned good reasons.

"We do go into Acorn (housing projects) but not at night and not in the late afternoon," Hilton said. "The majority of the families we work with are trying to make a better life for themselves, and yes, while the violence has been prevalent, especially recently, there are many, many home visits made each week without incident."

But until Oakland police or City Hall, or anyone else, can find a way to restore some semblance of order, the families that need help most will continue to be cut off from resources they desperately need.

"I'm gonna tell you like this: If I could afford it, I would move and live in a tree," said Curtis. "But I pay $261 a month, I'm on a fixed income and I can't afford anything else around here."

So for now, Curtis must live a backward existence until her kids are far from harm's way.

"When they sleep at night, I pretty much stay awake, walking and listening to see what's going on around - and outside - my apartment," she said.

"I sleep mainly when the kids are at school, and sometimes I'll catch a wink or two when they get home, but there's always one eye opened."

Chip Johnson's column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at

Source: This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Tributes paid to social worker killed on duty

Philip Ellison
Mr Ellison leaves a widow and three sons

Tributes have been paid to Lancashire dad Philip Ellison, the social worker stabbed to death while doing his job.

Married father-of-three Mr Ellison, of Leyland Road, Penwortham, was attacked with a knife at a supported housing block in Glebe Close, Fulwood, Preston on Monday.

The 47-year-old, a social worker in adult care at Lancashire County Council, suffered multiple stab wounds and later died of his injuries.

Social care bosses and community leaders described Mr Ellison as a "respected, dedicated social worker".

One friend said: "Deepest sympathies to his wife, sons and extended family.

"I considered Phil one of those people who genuinely cared and went the extra mile for people. It's a sad situation to find social workers put into danger to be killed trying to do their best."

Mahmud Amirat, chairman of the Preston Gujarat Muslim Welfare Society, said: "Philip was a friend of mine. He was a respected, dedicated social worker and active popular representative of member of the local Asian community.

"He will be sadly missed by his family and friends. May I, through the Lancashire Evening Post, on behalf of the local community offer our sincere condolences to Mr Ellison's family and friends."

Another friend said: "I went to school with Philip and I'm sure all his ex-schoolmates will all be saddened by this tragic loss.

"He was such a lovely guy. My condolences go out to his family."

One colleague who attended the scene at Glebe Close, described him as "such a lovely bloke".

Mr Ellison has been described as a jolly man who loved his family.

Friend Rukhsana Tabassul of Watling Street Road, Fulwood, worked with three of Mr Ellison's sisters as a community support worker. She said: "We were all good friends, it's a very, very sad story. He was a very hard working husband, he was a very jolly person.

Source: Lancaster Evening Post (UK)