Social care staff ‘sexually, physically assaulted’

Social care workers in a residential centre are suffering from repeated physical and sexual assaults by teenagers with challenging behaviour, a health union has claimed.

It has emerged that social care workers in a Limerick residential centre are going out sick to avoid the prospect of being subjected to even more abuse from children in care, who have escaped major sanction.

The Limerick Health and Welfare Branch of Impact tabled a number of motions at a recent Impact conference in Ennis, Co Clare, concerning the repeated assault of social care workers in residential care centres in Limerick run by the child and family agency Tusla.

The branch called for the union to negotiate a policy with Tusla in response to repeated assaults on social care workers.

It requested the union to work with Tusla to ensure that social care workers in residential settings can transfer to community or other settings if they experience either psychological or physical health problems or when they can no longer safely perform their duties.

The branch also requested that Tusla ensure that injuries sustained at work when working with clients must be treated as occupational injuries and not as regular sick leave.

There are three residential centres in Limerick who deal with children from Clare, Limerick, north Tipperary and other counties who are placed in state care exhibiting challenging and sometimes even violent behaviour. One social health care worker, who works in the Mid-West confirmed that they are often assaulted more than once a day over a 12.5 hour shift.

The worker stated there have been numerous instances of social care workers in Limerick being assaulted over the last year, and there were 20 incidents of assault in one centre last month. While there are safety policies in place at the centre, the worker said they were not working effectively and are not protecting staff.

“I have been subjected to physical and sexual assaults. We write incident reports on every incident. There were several incidents of sexual assault on me in 2013 and 2014 and other staff. Nothing happened.

“Social care workers are expected to come back the following day after a sexual assault after a manager meets with them and asks if they are okay. Several staff went out sick because they were too traumatised to come back to work,” the social worker said.

Asked what happens if a social care worker is sexually assaulted by a client, the worker said staff are expected to go back and care for that client again.

“Statements can be made to the gardaí after an assault but there is only so much the gardaí can do because these teenagers are sometimes 12, 13 or 14. Some young people are involved with juvenile liaison scheme and get off with a caution.

The staff in centres have been assaulted in some form, even the manager. The worker said the centre has several staff out on sick leave for years and staff have left the service because they are too traumatised to work there.

If a social care worker goes on sick leave, they are entitled to three months’ full pay and three months’ half pay.

The union will now have to request Tusla to do an audit of injuries at work and examine the policies on dealing with challenging behaviour.

Tusla failed to respond to a number of press queries.

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