Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Kicking and biting is part of your job'

Violence caused lost-time injuries for 51 teacher's aides over five years

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Scratching. Biting. Kicking.

If a strange man on the street was violent, you'd want him arrested.

But what is an educational assistant working with a child with a disability to do?

"Violence is a huge issue in school divisions, because I would say 100 per cent of the time daily (it's) the educational assistants who work specifically with the students who are at risk," said Stephen Edwards, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) health and safety adviser.

Edwards works with educational assistants, daycare workers and bus drivers. He encourages them to file reports about violence on the job so it can be tracked, but that doesn't always work.

"They're quite often told 'Kicking and biting is part of your job,' so this is why some of them feel, 'This is no big deal,' " he said. "Sometimes when I see some of the members, their hands are black and blue, or their legs."

Figures provided by the Workers Compensation Board show elementary- and secondary-school teacher's assistants are among top 10 groups of workers who lost time at work due to violence or assaults.

The statistics for 2006 to 2010 show 51 teacher's assistants took time off due to injuries from violence on the job. That figure falls only slightly behind 52 correctional service officers and 58 police officers who reported injuries for the same reasons from 2006 to 2010.

The statistics also show 32 early childhood educators and assistants missed work due to injuries from violence or assaults. One elementary school or kindergarten teacher lost time in 2009 and one secondary school teacher in 2006.

Patricia Lloyd, founder of Educational Assistants of Manitoba, said the majority of violence comes from "kids who don't know what they're doing." Educational assistants are vulnerable to violence because of their close relationships with students, she said.

"We're right there dealing with them one-on-one, so if they have a diagnosis, we're working directly with them," said Lloyd.

"They have things going on that don't equip them for the world and they communicate in any way they can, and sometimes, it's with violence," she said. "It's our job as educational assistants to try to figure out what the triggers are, to de-escalate before they get really bad."

Lloyd contrasted educational assistants with people who work in health care. An earlier story in the Free Press Danger Pay series reported that nurse's aides, orderlies and patient-service associates were the largest group of people who lost time at work due to on-the-job violence from 2006 to 2010. Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses also ranked high.

"I think the biggest thing is that we don't get any training, and I think that's the big difference between health care and us. Health care (means) working with people with Alzheimer's or dementia or whatever... but they get a lot of training. We get no training."

Educational assistants who work in high schools are especially vulnerable because the students are bigger, she said.

Bruce Sielski, Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba executive director, said the stress on educational assistants has shown up in people seeking programming.

"We have seen a lot of educational assistants that are working with tough cases, which may be (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) or anything within the school system, learning disabilities," he said.

"They've taken a lot of abuse and sometimes it gets to a point, a breaking point, where their anxiety has taken over."


Danger Pay:

The third in a Free Press series on violence at work.

Education: Who gets hurt working with kids?

Elementary- and secondary-school teacher's assistants: 51 from 2006 to 2010, eighth most dangerous job for on-the-job violence in Manitoba

Early childhood educators and assistants: 32, 10th

Secondary school teachers: One in 2006

Elementary school teachers: One in 2009

-- Source: Worker's Compensation Board statistics on people who lost time at work due to assaults or violent acts, from 2006 to 2010

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2011 A7

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