Social worker Brenda Lee Yeager, 51 of Lincoln County,was tragically killed in the line of duty on Wednesday. Her body was found on Friday and the circumstances of her murder are beginning to come to light.
The members and leaders of the National Association of Social Workers, West Virginia Chapter mourn the loss of our valued colleague and share in the grief of her family and loved ones. We also mourn for the innocent child whose life have been irrevocably altered by this tragedy. It is the highest calling of our profession to utilize our skills, training and expertise to protect society’s most vulnerable citizens. This calling often places social workers in extremely dangerous situations.
The media reports we have seen have shown a great respect for Brenda Yeager as a social worker, and noted that we are often not adequately compensated for the important work we, particularly in the child welfare arena.
We do not know why Brenda was visiting this family alone. We believe this was a scheduled visit to an existing client family. Although policies on field visits vary with the situation, Brenda would probably be alive today has she not called on this family alone. Not only has the life of a dedicated social worker been senselessly lost, but the lives of the child she was trying to protect and the young couple she sought to instruct to be better parents have been irrevocably changed for the worse.
This tragedy will increase the National Association of Social Worker’s commitment to implement better policies, procedures, staffing, training and salaries to prevent it from happening again.
Last year, the State of Kentucky passed social worker safety legislation in the wake of a similar tragedy. During its 2008 Regular Session, the West Virginia Legislature considered, but did not pass, an important bill designed to improve social worker safety. SB 286/HB 4103 would have increased criminal penalties for those who commit felony or misdemeanor assault and battery on CPS or APS (Adult Protective Service) social workers operating in the performance of their duties. If passed, social workers would have been included with law enforcement and other public safety officers, and recognized as often being put in dangerous situations in the course of the work.
The threat of increased criminal penalties may well avert some violent crimes against social workers, but more can be done:
- Policies and staffing levels should insure that social workers never go alone into potentially violent situations in the field.
- Social workers should be equipped with self-defense skills and technology to insure their personal safety. GPS systems and ‘panic button’ devices to alert authorities, office safety features such as electronic doors, and interactive data bases allowing social workers to check criminal records before making field visits are all good steps to take.
- State and federal funds should be applied to insure that social workers – especially those in protective services – are well trained and competitively paid for the important work they do.
For several years, NASW West Virginia has sponsored social worker safety courses to increase awareness, offer safety tips, and improve self-defense skills. We will continue to do so, and we will work to insure that employers provide social workers with the tools needed to do their jobs safely and effectively. More information can be found online at: http://everydayselfdefense.com/
We cannot bring back Brenda Yeager, but we can honor her memory by working to better insure the safety of social workers and those we serve.