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Social workers are treated like 'human punchbags'

SOCIAL workers are suffering serious injuries and stress, claim union bosses. The recent allegation that a 16-year-old boy threatened to slit his social worker's throat highlights the fear that social workers are living in, claims IMPACT union.

The female social worker had been subjected to repeated serious threats while working with the teen for the past two years, Dublin Children's Court heard.

Gardai described to the court how the social worker was in "fear for her safety".

However, IMPACT union representative Niall Shanahan said that this is not an isolated case and simply highlighted an "ongoing problem" among social workers.


"We know anecdotally it is an ongoing and recurring problem," he told the Herald.

"I know of another social worker who had their jaw broken and they were required to continue their shift."

However, Mr Shanahan said that there is a lack of clear reporting of absenteeism due to trauma after assault.

"We haven't seen any official documentation about it," he added. "But any sick leave absence wouldn't necessarily be recorded as sick leave due to assault in the workplace, just as it would be in the case of a garda or a nurse.

"What it does tell us is that there is a hidden element.

"There is no recognition that it brings constant mental stress and trauma. Social workers are not better or worse off -- it is a constant feature."

Mr Shanahan said that as a union, it is an issue they are trying to address.

Noel Howard from the Irish Association of Social Care Workers said that individuals working with difficult children shouldn't be treated as a "human punchbag".

"Our members would work in residential centres and community centres and they are subjected to aggression on a regular occasions, some of it verbal, some physical.

"Some people are on extended assault leave and sick leave which is brought about by this aggravation, intimidation and violence.

"Our view would be that people who go in to work with difficult children, they have a fair idea of what to expect. But it shouldn't make them a human punchbag.

"Verbal and physical aggression is part and parcel of the job.

"We have been saying it for 15 or 20 years but that whole element has increased over time, whatever you put that down to," he added.