What is managing aggression and potentially violent situations?
Managing aggressive behaviour and potentially violent situations is not about stopping young people or others from experiencing and/or expressing anger. It is natural for all people to feel anger, an emotion that arouses people psychologically & physically in threatening situations.

Some young people find it difficult to express anger and frustration in a constructive way and at times aggressive behaviour and violence is the result. Youth AOD services and practitioners are required at times to manage aggressive behaviour and potentially violent situations. To do so organisations operating youth AOD services need to create a culture of non-violence and put in place measures that minimise the risk of aggression and violence occurring. Where incidents involving aggressive and potentially violent behaviour do occur, practitioners need to be enabled to respond effectively and both provide and access follow up care and support. Further, processes should be adopted that promote organisational learning and modification of systems and practices to prevent recurrence of incidents involving aggressive and potentially violent behaviour

Organisations that manage aggressive behaviour and potentially violent situations effectively can enact their duty of care for both clients and staff. In Victoria, WorkSafe (2003) and the State Government of Victoria (2007) have developed guidelines that help organisations and practitioners respond to workplace aggression. The aim is to minimise and eliminate wherever practicable the risks of work place violence related to occupational assault and implement strategies, controls and supports where total elimination of risk is not possible.

WorkSafe Victoria also defines the term occupational violence and aggression as any incident where an employee is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances arising out of or in the course of their employment. This includes:

  • Verbal, physical or psychological abuse
  • Threats or other intimidating behaviours
  • Intentional physical attack such as hitting, pinching or scratching
  • Aggravated assault
  • Threats with weapons or objects
  • Sexual harassment and sexual assault

Why is managing aggression and potentially violent situations effectively important in youth AOD work?
Like all young people, those who become clients of youth AOD services are learning how to understand and regulate their emotions. Anger is a powerful human emotion that some clients struggle to express and manage in a constructive way.  At times this means that when clients feel angry, they lose control become aggressive. In turn this can escalate into violence. Alternatively, youth AOD clients might also have learned to use aggression and violence to manipulate or control a situation through intimidation and threats.

Helping young people find viable ways of living in the world without resorting to aggression and violence will often be integral to the process of addressing substance use problems.  Even so, practitioners and other staff working in youth AOD services should not ‘accept’ that being subject to aggression and violence ‘goes with the territory’. Incidents involving aggression and violence can have harmful physical, emotional, psychological and social consequences for staff and clients, including the perpetrator. 

There are measures that can be taken to prevent incidents of aggression and violence occurring. Where incidents do occur, there are also effective strategies that can be employed by managers and practitioners that minimise risks to staff and clients and prevent escalation of aggression and violent behaviour.

The State Government of Victoria (2007) require healthcare providers, such as organisations operating youth AOD services, to prioritise actions and coordinate mechanisms for preventing workplace injury and the health consequences arising from exposure to violence.

High quality services constantly work towards creating a culture of non-violence where violence of any form perpetrated against any person is not tolerated and staff are not blamed incidents of violence.

This module was prepared by Greg Denham & Andrew Bruun.

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