Social Work Safety

Kimberly Robertson

As a future social worker, one must be weary of the issues facing the profession.  One of the most crucial concerns facing the social work profession today is safety.  The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Guidelines for Social Worker Safety in the Workplace (2013) pointed out, “Social workers have been the targets of verbal and physical assaults in agencies as well as during field visits with clients” (p. 5).  The NASW has provided these guidelines to promote the safety of social workers in all settings.  To be specific, the Wisconsin Chapter of NASW has supported the Social Work Safety Bill in light of the Castle Doctrine’s exclusion of social workers.  The Social Work Safety Bill should be passed in Wisconsin in order to include social workers in the Castle Doctrine, implement safety education, and advance social justice.

The Social Work Safety Bill stems from the Castle Doctrine, Act 94 (2011).  Passed in 2011, the Castle Doctrine allows for people to use deadly force if they believe there is an intruder on their property or breaking into their home.  Wisconsin Act 94 (2011) specifically protects public safety workers, which refers to professions like police officers or firefighters.  Social workers do not fall under this category. With numerous cases of violence against social workers, something needs to be put forth to protect the profession.  Reeser and Wertkin (2001) explained that in today’s society, social workers are seen as agents of the state and not as part of the helping profession (p. 96).  Thus, the Social Work Safety Bill was proposed to protect human service workers who engage in regular home visits, like social workers, by exempting them from the Castle Doctrine defense.

Although the verbal and physical assaults from clients are difficult to prevent, providing social workers with safety education can help to protect them in crisis situations.  The Teri Zenner Bill in Kanasa, Senate Bill 25 (2009), requires specific safety training for all new social workers. After social worker Teri Zenner was brutally slayed by a client during a home visit, the state took action to promote safety education for all social workers.  Matt Zenner, husband of Teri, worked to pass this bill in Kansas to expand the safety skills of social workers (Carpenter, 2010).  Senate Bill 25 (2009) requires six hours of safety training for all social workers in the state of Kansas as part of the continuing education requirement, thus making Kansas a model state for safety education.  In the Social Worker Safety Bill, safety education would be included as part of continuing education and improve the overall safety skills of social workers.

The Social Work Safety Bill would ultimately advance social justice, which would strengthen the profession as a whole.  According to the NASW Code of Ethics (2008), the ethical principle of social justice urges social workers to challenge social injustices and focus on change efforts.  The major social injustice facing the social work profession currently is that social workers are frequently at risk while on home visits and if the risk escalates, the Castle Doctrine protects the homeowner, not the social worker.  Social workers need to become advocates for their own protection, which they can do by supporting the Bill. It is important to be an advocate and fight social injustices facing social workers, “for a profession that is already struggling to recruit and retain social workers to serve the nearly 10 million clients [they] work with on a daily basis” (“The Urgency of Social Work Safety,” 2010). By passing the Social Work Safety Bill, social injustice will be fought by giving social workers a voice for their own protection.

The Social Work Safety Bill would have a number of benefits for social workers and the community if passed.  If an individual chooses to use deadly force against a social worker while they are on the individual’s property, the individual would be covered under the Castle Doctrine.  With the Social Work Safety Bill, this would no longer be possible, as social workers would be exempt from the Castle Doctrine defense. Overall, supporting the Social Work Safety Bill would raise awareness for an issue that the social work profession has been facing for a very long time.



2011 Wisconsin Act 94. Assembly Bill 69. (2011).

Carpenter, T. (2010, April 8). Law affects social workers, safety. Retrieved from

Kelly, J. J. (2010, October). The urgency of social worker safety. Retrieved from

National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of ethics of the national association of social workers. Washington, DC: NASW Press.

National Association of Social Workers. (2013). Guidelines for social worker safety in the workplace. Washington, DC: NASW Press.

Reeser, L. C., & Wertkin, R. A. (2001). Safety Training in Social Work Education: A National Survey. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 21(1/2), 95-113.

Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act, S. 1490, 111th Cong. (2009).