NYC Social Workers Want Protection on the Job

They're asking for a state law that would make it a felony to assault them while they're on the job.

By Melissa Russo
|  Thursday, Mar 8, 2012  |  Updated 9:00 AM EDT
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Case workers for the New York City Administration of Children's Services say the job's a dangerous one, and want state lawmakers to make it a felony to assault them. Melissa Russo reports

NBC New York

Case workers for the New York City Administration of Children's Services say the job's a dangerous one, and want state lawmakers to make it a felony to assault them. Melissa Russo reports

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Some New York City social workers in the Administration for Children's Services say they face enough threats on the job that they want a new law making it a felony to assault them.

ACS workers say it's a dangerous job visiting the homes of troubled families who perceive them as the enemy.

"The first knock on the door is an uneasy feeling," Farrah Lawrence, an ACS social worker, told NBC New York. "I get this knot in my stomach because these families have a criminal history. So me going into the home, I feel afraid to be attacked."

Lawrence's anxiety spiked last year, when a mother threatened to retaliate after Lawrence removed a young boy from the home.

"She informed me she's going to kill me and my child, and I became very, very afraid," said Lawrence. "I felt she had the potential to do this."

Case workers can request NYPD assistance if they foresee a problem, but the police can't always be there. In 2011, 40 ACS workers reported being assaulted on the job.

"They consider us kidnappers, baby snatchers," said one case worker who was assaulted last year outside her office in Queens.

"She just reached out and grabbed my hair and pulled me down to the ground," she said.

Dozens of other social workers had similar experiences working in city homeless shelters and welfare offices.

Those social workers want lawmakers to pass a bill making it a felony to assault them while they're on the job. The felony protection exists for other kinds of workers, including police, firefighters, nurses, transit workers and ticket agents.

The state Senate passed the bill last week. Its future in the Assembly is less certain. In past years, the bill has stalled in the Codes Committee chaired by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol.

"These  issues are very difficult because when you pass them, everybody wants the protection,” Lentol said. “We really don’t want to open a floodgate.” 

Lentol won’t commit to passing the protection for social workers but does support making it a felony to assault a different group: sanitation workers, who claim they are often victimized by motorists who develop road rage when stuck behind a garbage truck.

“They’re a target because everybody’s in a hurry these days,” said Harry Nespoli, president of the city's sanitation workers' union. 

Lentol said the Legislature could end up passing legislation that protects both groups.

Lawrence, the ACS worker, said it’s been a long time coming.

“It would definitely reduce the risk of social workers and caseworkers being harmed in the field," she said.

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