by Edward Marable, Case Supervisor
In 1979, I began doing “field work”, as the Credit Manager for a seedy furniture store in downtown Newark, New Jersey. Occasionally, I’d have to visit customers in their homes to secure their monthly payments or even repossess their furniture. As you can imagine, I was not well liked in the community.
Years later, I found myself in the exact same community, serving at-risk families as a caseworker for the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). Occasionally, I had to remove children from their homes. I would not say that I was well liked in the community then, either.
You see, the issue was never one of popularity. In my mind, no matter what hat you wear or what role you play, the issue is safety. Over the years, I’ve learned that the person most responsible for my personal safety, is me. Although it may sound selfish, I’ve also learned that no child, and no case is more important than my personal safety. I’ve learned to strike a balance.
Over the last forty years, I’ve never had a troubling incident in the field while doing my job. Just lucky? I think not. I’ve come to understand that there is inherent risk in everything we do. You can minimize risk and enhance your personal safety by following a few simple rules:
• Gain as much information as you can before embarking. Ask: What floor or apartment do you live on/in? Does your bell work? Do you have a dog?
• Don’t attract attention to yourself. Do you really need your wedding ring, purse, wallet, laptop, or briefcase to do this interview?
• Be polite and respectful to everyone you come in contact with. That doesn’t mean that you should feel obligated to break a five dollar bill for someone who asks.
• Leave nothing visible in your car. Take items of value and identification out of the glove box and arm rest in advance.
• Most importantly, follow your intuition. If the timing of a particular visit seems unsafe in your gut, reschedule and try another day.
This is not an exhaustive list of safety tips. Instead, it is designed to get you thinking about your number one priority in the field – your personal safety. As an organization, Passaic County CASA has an unblemished record of volunteer safety. If you are a CASA volunteer and you have safety concerns, you can certainly discuss them with your Case Supervisor. At the end of the day, however, the person most responsible for your safety is YOU.