States use GPS-enabled devices to enhance social worker safety

With graduates citing personal safety as a reason they're not going to work for social agencies, states look to GPS devices to be able to find workers in trouble.

In spite of the high demand for social workers, state welfare agencies are seeing a shortage of skilled workers replenishing the industry. With baby-boom retirements, high turnover rates and relatively low salaries, not to mention the occasional dangerous situation, some states are equipping their frontline caseworkers with Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices for a quick response in case of emergency, reports Stateline.org.

After a Kentucky social worker was murdered when she took a baby away from a neglectful mother, state agencies began to look for ways to improve the safety and efficiency of its workers.

Mississippi and Alabama have given GPS tracking devices to front line social workers. The devices are embedded in cell phones. If a dangerous situation arises, workers can press a panic button on the phone to call for help.

Mississippi has issued GPS-equipped cell phones to 450 field workers. The phones can also be used to take photos of children and their home environments and record audio field notes that can be uploaded to the state's caseworker database.

Alabama also has an ambitious program to give cellphones, laptops and GPS units to 4,500 social workers under a one-time $12 million grant from state general revenues.

Whether new technology can lure new recruits into the field remain to be seen. According to a 2006 survey by the National Association of Social Workers, at least 12 percent of the workforce plans to quit the profession in the next two years. Many cited increased paperwork, heavier caseloads, lack of training, and personal safety as reasons for leaving.

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