A Challenging Job: Physical and Sexual Violence Towards Group Workers in Youth Residential Care

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Residential or group care social workers appear to be at increased risk for experiencing physical violence at work. However, little is known about sexual harassment in addition to physical victimization of social workers in youth residential or group care. We investigated the prevalence of physical and sexual victimization of youth care workers in residential care and tested whether characteristics of the group care workers and the type of care facility influenced this prevalence. One hundred seventy-eight participants reported whether they had experienced verbal threat, physical threat, physical violence, verbal sexual harassment, and physical sexual harassment by one or more of the youth they worked with in a 1-year period. Eighty-one percent of the group workers experienced violence. Most incidents were verbal threats, but about half of the participants experienced physical violence. Youth care workers from secure care were most at risk for experiencing physical and verbal violence and workers from juvenile detention facilities were most at risk for experiencing sexual harassment. Rates of violence were increased for participants working with children with a mild intellectual disability. Gender of the youth care workers was not related to the rate of victimization, but age was: younger group workers reported more incidents than older group workers. The high levels of violence in residential youth care indicate that residential care is not the best workplace for professionals nor the best rearing setting for youth. Alternative care settings, such as treatment in a family-type environment, should be explored.

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