PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The social worker community is reeling from the Jan. 4 murder of an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services worker near Springfield.
Deidre Silas, 36, was stabbed to death when she responded to a call of possible endangerment of six children in a home in the town of Thayer. Benjamin Reed, 32, has since been arrested and charged with her murder.
“Every time this type of tragedy happens, I think we take a pause and we can remember all those things that we might have been trained on or those things that we had and its never enough,” said LaTasha Roberson-Guifarro, member-at-large of the National Association of Social Workers’ Illinois chapter.
Roberson-Guifarro said the tragedy has thrust the conversation of social worker safety in the spotlight.
“I think that we are in a time and a space where we’re having real conversations about what the best solutions might be to address crisis situation and situations that require mental health professionals or social workers,” she said. “How do we make sure that that we center on what the risk can be, but that we also still give our 100% when we are going out there?”
Desi Silva, executive director of child welfare at the Center for Youth and Family Solutions in Peoria, said the organization is offering support in the wake of the murder.
“But one can’t help but understand and believe that harm could befall them…So staff really started in a place of simply addressing the concern, bringing it to the forefront,” she said.
Silva said solo visits are common but law enforcement is always ready to help.
“My experience is that families generally accept social work assistance when you know law enforcement is not there,” she said. “When you feel that gut feeling, you should take somebody with you. You should call law enforcement.”
Bill McCaffrey, director of communications at DCFS, said all social workers go through a six-week foundation training, where safety is a part of the curriculum. Social workers learn de-escalation techniques, active shooter response and situational awareness.
Silva called de-escalation an “essential” skill.
“De-escalation is simply being is really bringing awareness to the job, one that that you walking in with purpose. Purpose to intervene, purpose to form a relationship with the client, some of whom are voluntary and some are not voluntary,” she said.
Silva added workers should read up on the family before a visit to be mindful of the situation.
“Be thoughtful about what you’re consuming when you’re reading it, and really think about your safety. I think about the neighborhood. Think about the home. Think about the exits. Think about where you sit in the home and then think about being mindful about how somebody is presenting and how we respond to their presentation is incredibly important,” she said.
Attacks on social workers are rare, but they do happen. DCFS reported 20 cases out of more than 2.5 million home visits since 2017.