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Social worker safety a growing concern

August 25, 2015

Social work is a serious – and sometimes dangerous – profession, as proven by the recent fatal shooting of Lara Sobel, a longtime employee of the Vermont Department of Children and Families. Sobel, who leaves behind a husband and two daughters, was killed by a woman upset about losing custody of her daughter.

downloadCondolences are obviously offered to friends, colleagues and family, but also to the children and families Sobel has worked with over her 14 years with the Vermont agency. Hers is a loss that extends into the community, into society where she contributed so mightily to creating safe and stable families.

On the best of days, social work can be overwhelming and isn’t for the faint of heart. Workers such as Sobel are drawn into the turbulent lives of their clients and families, and have to wade all the challenges and uncertainties that accompany domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse and neglect that occur all too often within families.

It’s important but difficult work that also carries potential risk from families who may feel they have been wronged or angry about how their case has or is being handled. In this case, Sobel, sadly, bore the brunt of her assailant’s frustration and anger.

In a column on the National Association of Social Workers, association President James J. Kelly, Ph.D, ACSW, LCSW, noted the risks of the profession. “In the past few years alone,” he wrote, “we have witnessed the fatal stabbing of a clinical social worker in Boston, the deadly beating of a social service aide in Kentucky, the sexual assault and murder of a social worker in West Virginia, the shooting of a clinical social worker and Navy Commander at a mental health clinic in Baghdad, and the brutal slaying of social worker Teri Zenner in Kansas

“These are only a few of the murders of our colleagues, which, along with numerous assaults and threats of violence, paint a troubling picture for the profession.”

We at Family & Children’s Place are intensely proud of our social workers, to the ethics and behaviors they adhere and the services they provide to children and families, but we recognize the risks they face and strive to be attentive to worker safety and self-care in all situations.

Sobel was a caring colleague who made considerable contributions to her friends and family, and we appreciate and honor her caring commitment to improving the lives of children and her families.