Socialworkersspeaks on FacebookFollow Us on TwitterRSS Feed

Social Worker Writes New York Times About Social Work Safety

Sherry Saturno

Social worker Sherry Saturno, LCSW, DCSW, wrote a letter to the New York Times in response to its recent article on the death of Massachusetts social worker Stephanie Moulton.

Moulton was allegedly murdered by a schizophrenic client who had committed violent crimes in the past. She was the only staffer on duty at the group home when the crime occurred.

The New York Times article (to read it click here) looked at how budget cuts have adversely affected mental health care and social work staffing and likely contributed to Moulton’s death.

Here is Saturno’s response (you can read online along with other letters to the editor by clicking here).

The violence against social workers has become a risk of the profession, and one that needs to be addressed nationally. Social workers are frequently sent to dangerous situations, alone and unarmed, in neighborhoods that the police do not enter without a partner and a gun. We lack legislation at the federal level to protect social workers, and despite advocacy efforts, the Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act has yet to become law.

Detailed safety training for social workers who make home visits is desperately needed. The day before Stephanie Moulton was murdered in Massachusetts, another social worker, Frances Mortenson, was stabbed by a client during a home visit in New York.

Stephanie Moulton’s death provokes questions about the value we as a society place on social workers’ lives.

NASW’s Center for Workforce Studies and the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University at Albany did a survey that found that four out of 10 social workers face personal safety issues on the job. To learn more about that study, click here. NASW is also committed to improving social worker safety. To learn more click here. And the National Association of Social Workers Massachusetts Chapter Committee for the Study and Prevention of Violence against Social Workers created a general guideline to improve safety. To read the guide click here.

|   Leave A Comment
Tagged as: , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Was an addiction specialist front line worker most of my career. U do sign out when u leave the office but really no one pays attention. You are alone and it demands a strong skill set to reach out in the community. Most young social workers don’t have a clue. Training is necessary. Personally I carried pepper spray but no one knew that. I was always hyper-vigilant and gratefully could talk my way out of danger…u must not present as afraid or ignorant. Please help because it’s amazing to me how more accidents and or death haven’t happened. Thank You

  2. I appreciate the story, but am surprised that Social Works Speaks does not use people-first language. I expect mainstream publications to use language such as “murdered by a schizophrenic client” but not a social work publication.

  3. This is a very sad story and I think that unfortunately it will not be the last one like this.
    Cutting funds for mental health will continue to put workers at risk. In my experience it is next to impossible to get mental health services for clients that have no money and are on public aid.
    It is even hard to get services for someone who is willing to pay out of pocket.
    My heart goes out to the family of the victim in this tragedy…she was not in a safe workplace environment.

  4. Budget cuts are one of MANY reasons why a social worker’s safety is compromised. Incompetent program administration, reckless supervisors, mediocre regulatory oversight, and poorly constructed programs with ridiculous policies and missions are other reasons why social workers are put at risk. For example, there is no logical reason why a social worker should visit the home of a drug addicted and mentally ill person by herself, unarmed, without a police escort. But there are many programs that are more concerned with billable visits, veiled under the noble cause of “case management”, than protecting a worker’s safety. Recently a social worker here in NY was critically injured when she was stabbed by an unstable, mentally ill client during a home visit. Social Workers are not police and programs should not permit home visits when a client is known to be psychiatrically unstable, dealing and/or using drugs, living with known criminals, and/or to the home of a client with a criminal record. If NASW wants to do something about social worker safety, they should lobby to change the way services are delivered (ie get rid of programs like the horribly unsafe ACT Team, which exists throughout the country) to ensure that workers are not recklessly thrust into potentially horrific situations.

  5. “Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act – Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to award grants to states to provide safety measures to social workers and other professionals working with violent, drug-using, or other at-risk populations. Authorizes such grants to be used to provide or support: (1) the procurement and installation of safety equipment, including communications systems to assist agencies in locating staff, and technical assistance and training for safety communications; (2) training exercises for self-defense and crisis management; (3) facility safety improvements; (4) provision of pepper spray for self-defense; (5) training in cultural competency and on strategies for de-escalating a situation that could turn volatile; (6) training to help workers who work with mentally ill communities and who need help coping; and (7) educational resources and materials to train staff on safety and awareness measures. Directs the Secretary to establish guidelines for assuring the cost-effectiveness and quality of the safety measures funded.”

    Pepper spray, a cell phone, “educational resources”, self defense classes, and everything listed above are no match for a social worker faced with a weapon carrying, violent, drug abusing, and/or sex offending client in their home. Unless the bill wants to add a provision that allows social workers to carry GUNS to home visits, this bill will not ensure safety. If social workers carried guns, they would be law enforcement, not social workers.

    I was almost sexually assaulted on the job, after being sent to the home of a drug addicted, mentally ill, sex offender without knowing his criminal history. The case record contained no information about the fact that the client tried to rape his mother and succeeded in raping his sister. I was saved from a likely incident after his roommate entered the apartment. When I returned to the office and told my supervisor about the incident, she told me about the client’s rape history. She LAUGHED as she PROUDLY described a time when he masturbated on her back, while she had her back turned and made a phone call. She acted like this was a badge of honor. I was disgusted, but not surprised, because my reckless supervisor was as mentally ill as most of our clients. I refused to see this client again and faced opposition. I had to argue with the top of hospital administration. They agreed with my refusal to see the client ONLY AFTER I threatened lawsuit and a report to OMH. This is one mere example of why certain programs and administration need to be evaluated and in some case eliminated to ensure social worker safety. In this same program, I unknowingly entered crack houses and the homes of drug dealers. When I reported these incidents, program management did not care to eliminate these clients from our caseload. All they cared about was billing Medicaid and keeping the case load numbers up. Staff was comprised of wanna be police with no guns, psychiatrically compromised social workers, and/or social workers who drank on the job while driving around all day making home visits.

    It is time to get REALISTIC about safety on the job.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.