Safety Tips for Home Visits From a Veteran NYC Social Worker
Pascale Victor, LMSW
Pascale Victor, author of Field Work with an Open Heart: Portraits that Unlock the Door to Your Clients’ Secret Lives, is a licensed social worker with a degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work in New York City. Her extensive experience encompasses both direct clinical work and social work administration. She also has experience providing short-term therapy to adolescents, adults, and families, serving as a bridge between her clients and community-based organizations for continued long-term mental health treatment. She was formerly employed as a hospital social worker where she worked closely with psychiatrists in order to provide social service intervention to the youth who were brought to the pediatric emergency room as a result of mental health or emotional/behavioral problems. From 2002 to the present Pascale Victor has been employed as a social worker for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). There she provides social service intervention to the residents of NYCHA: youth, adults, elderly, as well as families. Responding to emergency situations and providing intervention in crises are part of her responsibilities.
Ms Victor has compiled a list of safety tips for all social workers whose jobs, like hers, include field work. She believes some of them will also be helpful to other social work professionals who do not do field work.
Doing Home Visits? Err on the Side of Caution and follow these Safety Tips
1) For an initial home visit, try to schedule the appointment by telephone or letter so that the client will know to expect you and be prepared. If you speak to the client ahead of time, you may be able to get vital background information or an update on their current situation, which may have changed.
2) Whenever possible, conduct home visits accompanied by colleagues or employees from other agencies who are also working on the same case. If you are a woman about to conduct a home visit that is potentially unsafe, you may request that a male colleague accompany you. For example, I have a male co-worker who is 6’4” and wears sunglasses and an earpiece, so he looks like a secret service agent. He can definitely be intimidating, which is why I request his “bodyguard services” for some cases.
3) Depending on the nature of the case, some clients can come to an office, rather than have you meet them in their homes.
4) Always carry a charged cellular telephone.
5) Request a joint home visit with a police officer if you think the situation could become extremely
6) Be sure to inform your supervisor and another colleague of your whereabouts.
7) Know where the exits are in a home and in building hallways.
8) Do not enter an elevator with people who are suspicious-looking or make you feel uncomfortable in any way. If you are feeling nervous, pretend that you are using your cellular telephone and cannot get on the elevator. When riding an elevator with someone who frightens you, immediately press the button of the next floor so that you can get off.
9) If you feel unsafe during an interview and believe you are or might be in danger, you should immediately end the interview and leave—run if necessary!
10) Depending on the case and any confidentiality issues, you can possibly get a client’s trusted family member involved and conduct a joint home visit with that person.
11) Always be vigilant and assess the surroundings—both inside and outside a client’s home.
12) Never stand too close to an apartment door. Clients often open their doors and allow their dogs to run out and jump on you. Request that the client put the dog or other pet in another room. It is also possible that a client could try and harm you, so stay back. It is rare but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
13) Always remember to keep your cool. Never show a client that you are scared. Always remain professional and if the situation gets out of control or dangerous—leave. Remember that you are the professional and are there to help the client. If you show that you are scared, the client might try to take advantage of the situation by being manipulative.
14) Do not allow clients to play on your sympathy and good nature to get what they want. Stay firm and do your job to the best of your ability. Never allow a client to sway you in any way that is not for the good of the case. If you make a decision against your better judgment and only follow the client’s wishes, the client may become very upset and refuse to be cooperative if you make contrary decisions later. A client may even “turn against you” and become belligerent and hostile.
15) Do not get too comfortable and let your guard down with clients. Remember that you are providing a service for them—they are not your friends.
16) Depending on the case, it may be possible to meet in a public place such as a nearby park,
community center, senior center, coffee shop, etc.
17) Educate your clients about how to get rid of bedbugs with a professional pest service. Bedbugs often hide in living room furniture and bedrooms. Field workers who deal with bedbugs are most definitely at risk.
18) Wash your hands regularly. If you are out all day and are constantly touching door knobs, shaking hands and utilizing public transportation, it is easy to catch germs and spread them. Keep a hand sanitizer or wipes in your coat or bag.
19) If you are highly allergic to certain domestic animals then you should take that into account before conducting home visits. Many clients live with cats, dogs and other pets. If being around a particular animal triggers an allergic reaction, necessary precautions need to be taken into account ahead of time. In some cases you may need to see an allergist for guidance.
20) Always wear comfortable clothes and shoes while working in the field since you will be regularly walking, standing and climbing stairs.
For more information, or to contact Ms. Victor, please visit www.pascalevictor.com