Canada: Safety of support workers called into question after deadly attack at Calgary home - - PressFrom - Canada
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Canada Safety of support workers called into question after deadly attack at Calgary home

22:35  28 october  2019
22:35  28 october  2019 Source:   calgaryherald.com

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a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Deborah Onwu, 47, a Nigerian immigrant who was a youth social worker employed by Wood's Homes, was fatally stabbed on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. © Facebook Deborah Onwu, 47, a Nigerian immigrant who was a youth social worker employed by Wood's Homes, was fatally stabbed on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019.

The death of a Calgary care worker has reignited the conversation about the dangers support workers face while serving vulnerable populations.

Youth care worker Deborah Onwu, 47, was fatally stabbed at an assisted living home on Friday in the 1800 block of 27th Avenue S.W. A suspect has been charged.

Onwu was an employee of Wood’s Homes, a children’s mental health centre that provides treatment to children, youth and families.

While Onwu was not a registered social worker with the Alberta College of Social Workers, her job shared many of the same responsibilities.

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Lynn King, executive director of the college, said her death shocked the community and draws attention to the difficulties the social service industry faces.

“When a tragedy like this happens, of course, we are saddened and we are shocked,” said King. “Our hearts go out to the family and anybody touched by this tragedy in the community because this affects all of us, including employees, the agency, colleagues and clients.”

She said there has to be adequate support and policies in place to ensure these workplaces are safe, appropriate training for working with vulnerable populations and government structures that support the social services industry.

King said current policies and practices are not adequate.

“I think a tragedy like this tells us it’s not,” she said.

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“I would like to see some immediate intervention and speaking from our government’s perspective and looking into the idea of, ‘are the resources there that are needed?’ and what the oversight is on the various employers who are employing workers to work in vulnerable situations.”

Additionally, King said it’s important these agencies are hiring adequate professionals for supervisory positions.

It is not the first time a caregiver has been killed while on the job in Alberta.

In 2002, youth care worker Sharla Collier, 20, was sexually assaulted and killed by a 14-year-old resident of a group home in Lethbridge.

Collier had taken her client, Ira Badger, a group home resident with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, for a walk along Oldman River when he beat her to death with a tree branch.

Badger later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in adult court to life with no parole for seven years.

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In another incident, support worker Valerie Wolski was strangled by Terrence Saddleback, then 25, after being assigned to spend the night alone with him in 2011.

Saddleback, who has developmental disabilities, had a long, well-documented history of violence with caregivers but few, if any, details were made available to Wolski or her employer, the Canadian Mental Health Association.

In both cases involving Collier and Wolski, the fatality reports on their deaths took years to complete.

A year after Wolski’s death, Camrose care worker Dianne McClements, 61, was stabbed to death by a 17-year-old boy in her care.

And, now, Onwu is another face added to the string of tragedies.

King said the government pays attention to the issues sporadically but should give it dedicated attention.

“I think, on and off, when there’s a tragedy — it’s sad to say — but it brings us back. It’s not the first time we have had this experience in our province, sadly, and it’s really a call to say, ‘What are the pieces missing to have this type of situation occur again?'”

As previous recommendations have stated, King said, there should be practices and policies in place that disallow care workers from working alone.

Brandon Jacob Spencer  Newman is charged with second-degree murder in connection with Onwu’s death and is set to appear in court on Friday.

— With files from Paula Simons, Postmedia

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