Last year at least ten families or staff from the Hand to Hand home visiting program – a First 5 program that serves expectant or new parents in Richmond and San Pablo – had a friend or family member killed or injured by gunfire.

When violence flares in a neighborhood, what is the best way to keep social service workers safe and still reach families in need?

The Hand to Hand program answered this question by developing a safety protocol.  According to Odessa Caton, District Director for Aspiranet (the lead agency of the Hand to Hand collaborative), the protocol has already had a positive impact on worker and family safety.  

Last year, a home visitor had a funny feeling when she noticed the street lights were out in the neighborhood she was visiting so she left the area. Shortly after, there was a shooting in the neighborhood. The home visitor’s Supervisor sent text messages to other workers to stay away from the area.  In another case, the home visitor was already inside the home when a shooting occurred outside.  Because of the safety protocol, she knew what to do and was able to keep everyone safe until police arrived.

Here’s Hand to Hand’s safety protocol:

1. Always believe your intuition and gut feelings and follow them. If your gut says to leave, then leave. Alert your Supervisor through phone and text messages.

2. If a street or neighborhood looks different than it looked last time you were there, even if you cannot say exactly why it appears different (more or fewer people hanging around; more people driving down the street or no one driving down it; more people parked on the street or no one parked in areas where there usually are cars parked), leave the area and alert your Supervisor.

3. If you drive into a neighborhood where there are usually street lights on and all the lights are off, leave the area immediately and inform your Supervisor.

4. If you hear shots or anything that sounds like “popping”, leave the area and call 911 to report. Then alert your Supervisor.

5. If you see multiple police cars in an area, avoid this area and alert your Supervisor.

6. If you are in a home and an incident occurs outside in the neighborhood, stay where you are. Move everyone away from the street-side of the home and call 911. Then alert your Supervisor.

7. If you have a home that is in a rough area, call the client before your home visit and ask if there has been any incidents in the area that day – proceed with an awareness of your surroundings at all times.

8. Always be respectful of everyone you encounter and make it clear by your body language and friendly, relaxed facial expression that you are there to visit a specific home.

9. Finally, if you are in an area that is rough, ask your client to walk you to the door and say goodbye either in the doorway or just outside the home so that people in the neighborhood see that you have a positive association with the client (often times clients intuitively do this for their workers).

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