Safety Tips For Social Work Field Placements

Field Placement Safety, woman standing behind fenceLook Out for Your Own Welfare

As social workers, we often care so much for our clients that sometimes we neglect our own personal welfare.

One of the requirements of getting an MSW@USC is field placement.  We are sent to work with clients in neighborhoods that aren’t the most glamorous. Not to mention, we’re often required to work with individuals who are at their most vulnerable points in their lives. Unfortunately, there is no specific solution to providing social workers guaranteed safety. However, there are essential safety measures you can take to protect yourself at your next clinical experience.

Always be in the “K.N.O.W.”

Social workers love acronyms! Here’s one I penned to help other MSW@USC students look out for their own personal safety.

*Know your client population. Initiate a dialogue with your agency’s staff members to understand the full picture. Discuss common population demographics and personal history, such as gang association and history of violence. Pursue this further and take time to understand the clinical variables at play, such as alcohol or substance abuse. Lastly, don’t forget your asynchronous training in assessing situational factors. If there is immediate availability of a weapon, remove yourself from the situation and alert the appropriate authorities.

*Notify your agency and supervisor of your whereabouts. Upon going into the field, provide other staff members with the names of parties you’re meeting, the address of your site visit and the location’s telephone numbers.

*Observe and assess the situation. At all times, interns should evaluate the risks to their personal safety and avoid exposing themselves to danger. After completing an assessment of the situation, do not hesitate to follow your agency’s procedure for reporting an incident.

*Wear a noise-making device, such as a whistle, on your wrist or keychain. If you feel unsure how a whistle could help, role play with your supervisor until you feel more comfortable using it.

Questions? Contact your supervisors!

The best safety policy and procedure is the safety policy and procedure that’s observed and used!

What measures are you taking to ensure your own personal welfare and safety?  Have you come up with any other acronyms that could help?


Click here to learn more about the MSW@USC.

  • Mark Holbrook, Ph.D.

    While acronyms make useful heuristics they are insufficient as potential safety measures. I have been teaching personal safety to social workers since 1996 and I urge everyone to look at these safety tips.  The video demonstrates one of the meaningful safety tips a field worker may ever learn and it is all free!
    Stay Safe,
    Mark Holbrook, Ph.D.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Mark,   Thank you for sharing that!  Yes – acronyms are fun, but they are definitely not a substitute for actual precautions and safety measures.  Glad you could continue the discussion on this very important area! 

  • Riverteller

    Conflict resolution is also worth considering.
    this link leads to readable and usable material

  • Eldora3040

    Its really hard in todays society because being safe is an extremely difficult thing to achieve in any field of work let alone for social workers. When you are trying to help people that may have had a history of violence thats always going to be at the back of your mind is this person dangerous. Its a very fine line we have to walk. I help ex felons get back into the work force and they face the same kind of problems.

    • Mark

      With all due respect Eldora3040, I disagree with your premise and suggest that it is that kind of dogma that places SWs in jeopardy. There are some risks inherent in working with the public but those risks can be minimized considerably through appropriate training and education in personal safety. Having a client’s violence history “in the back of your mind” is insufficient to keep one safe.  The idea of a “fine walk” you mention wasn’t completely spelled out in your paragraph but I think you meant a fine walk between helping your client and taking risks of getting hurt.  That just isn’t true but that mindset, is propagated by the social work dogma which prescribes everyone to be in denial of the risks.  Some may pay lip-service to a vague notion of danger and the need to be safe but little more.  Working with the public is very dangerous for those who are improperly or inadequately trained.  It has been a mission of mine to work to keep SWs safe since 1996 and I continue to be disheartened by people in the field who still think as you do.  I hoped that mindset was being eradicated from the social work service but I guess I am the one who has been in denial.

  • Paul Hoy

    I feel that if you are so concerned about your safety about working with a diverse sector of society then possibly your choice is the wrong employment field

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