Social workers across Georgia can sometimes face hostile, threatening and dangerous incidents and behavior when working in the field.
On Monday, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services went live with a phased rollout of a new security system by distributing to child-welfare investigators and case managers “panic buttons” that connect to the Click Safe mobile phone application.
“These professionals must go wherever necessary to safeguard children,” Tom Rawlings, interim DFCS director, said in a press release. “They can’t choose the places or situations they enter.”
When pressed, the button on a key fob transmits a signal via Bluetooth to a phone app on the worker’s state-issued mobile device. The phone then silently notifies the agency’s call center where a trained operator contacts the nearest 911 center with details on the alarm, a description of the employee, the location and a request to rush law enforcement officers to the scene.
To prevent accidental triggering of the device, the button must be pressed either for five seconds or five times in succession.
The system operates silently and out of sight to keep from alerting anyone threatening a case worker that law enforcement is responding, which could make a tense situation even more dangerous.
Engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute developed the system at the request of Gov. Nathan Deal.
“Georgia Tech is proud to be part of this innovative collaboration between the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the state of Georgia, and the Department of Family and Children Services,” Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson said. “We expect the Click Safe emergency-response system to become a powerful tool in helping protect DFCS case managers and child-welfare investigators in sometimes-dangerous situations as they focus on their vital work of ensuring the safety of Georgia’s children.”
Child-welfare workers are not armed, do not have badges and have no arrest powers. They call on local police agencies for support when they know they are going to a risky situation, but Click Safe is designed to protect them in cases where a seemingly peaceful assignment turns dangerous.
“Our child-safety professionals are trained to de-escalate unpleasant situations, but having a panic button gives them assurance that help will be there if their verbal techniques aren’t successful,” Rawlings said.