Client violence: “just part of the job”

A former IDEA Services support worker has warned of the lifelong consequences of client violence as an E tū survey reveals a raft of similar assaults against staff.

The support worker, who asked not to be named, says she suffered serious, permanent back injuries after an assault two years ago at an IDEA Services home.

“There’s just a huge history,” says this support worker. “Staff have been forced to hide in the office. I know of a staff member who would be in a bad position if a client hadn’t pulled this person off her.“

E tū conducted a survey on client initiated violence, or CIV, in response to other, similar stories. This formed the basis of a paper presented to a conference recently.

The internet survey drew 292 responses, with 199 people reporting an incident over the past year. This included being punched, kicked and spat at – in all, a total of 424 incidents. Some workers required extensive treatment, counselling and time off work.

“I had two major injuries which resulted in me having a brain scan and long-term pain therapy.”

Some, like the support worker in this story, never return to work. Another remains traumatised months after she was chased, knocked over, and beaten over the head till she passed out. Another said: “I had two major injuries which resulted in me having a brain scan and long-term pain therapy.”

Others revealed how they “sleep over” at night with several big, physically mature males but they’re not allowed to lock their doors. The toilet also has no lock.

Many respondents were angry over their employers’ attitude to assaults, which is that it’s just part of the job. They also complained that bad behaviour was rewarded while workers were always blamed for incidents, never the client.

They reported little support for rehabilitation and return to work and few knew who their health and safety reps were. One respondent noted there was only one health and safety representative for every 60-80 workers.

“The word is, get over it, it’s work.”

Speaking about the problem, Health and Safety Representative (HSR), Robyn Campbell said: “The word is, get over it, it’s work. It’s only when someone is really, really hurt that it comes to light.”

She says workers need to recognise abuse when it happens and is urging her co-workers to report it to their HSRs.

“They think anything physical like a punch, that’s abuse. They don’t get the concept that yelling, swearing, abusive language – that’s abuse. But it is and it needs to be reported.”