Social Worker Safety

In the Wake of the Murder of Social Worker Brenda Lee Yeager

February 2010

Defendant pleads guilty to murder of Brenda Lee Yeager; faces possible double life sentence.

2009: HB2566, regarding the malicious assault law and protected persons… refered to by Governor Manchin as the Social Worker Safety Bill, passed the West Virginia Legislature on the final night of the 60-day session and has been signed into law.  Brenda Lee Yeager's daughter and sister, as well as the owners of the company she worked for, were on hand to witness the signing along with Delegate Virginia Mahan (D-Summers), who championed the bill, and Sam Hickman, CEO of NASW WV, which supported the bill. Delegate Bonnie Brown (D-Kanawha), also a supporter of the bill, and NASW member Dennis Pease, director of Daymark, Inc, also attended the signing ceremony.

During the 2009 Legislative Interim meetings Select Committee A on Children, Juveniles and Other Issues investigated safety measures, including technology solutions. The Select Committee on Health was assigned a study of the safety of DHHR employees engaged in in-home services, but has asked House and Senate leaders to reassign the study to Select Committee A.

HB2566 expands and redrafts the state’s malicious assault law to make it clear that an assault on a social worker like Brenda Lee Yeager would be a covered offense.  Yeager was brutally beaten, raped, murdered and her body mutilated on July 30, 2008.  She provided Right From the Start services for infants under the auspice of a for-profit provider.  Her services were reimbursed by the state’s Medicaid program.  In years past a social worker who was a state employee might typically have provided such care, but these and similar services are now commonly performed by providers under contract with the state or on a fee for service basis.

“The passage of this significant piece of legislation is a fitting tribute to the memory of our colleague Brenda Lee Yeager, and an important tool for social workers across West Virginia,” said NASW WV Chapter CEO Sam Hickman, ACSW.  ‘Although no law can guarantee safety and much remains to be done, this bill is an appropriate first step.”   The perpetrators and accomplice charged in Yeager’s murder are awaiting trial. 


In the wake of social worker Brenda Lee Yeager's brutal murder on July 30, the WV Legislature has begun to review several issues related to social worker safety in West Virginia.  NASW Executive Director Sam Hickman provided testimony and serves as a resource to the Legislature's Select Commitee A (Interim Committee) and has participated in a number of presentations to social workers on safety issues.  NASW WV will continue to work on compiling good safety recommendations for social workers, employers and the Legislature.

Previous Updates (1)

During the Interim Legislative meetings, Select Committee A recommended that the Legislature pass an updated Malicious Assault law that more clearly defines that social workers providing in-home services are among those against whom the crime of assault and battery is a criminal offense. House Bill (HB) 2566 is currently pending in the House Judiciary Committee.  In addition, the State Senate has introduced Senate Concurrent Resolutions 10 and 11. SCR 10 requests that the Interim Committee on Government and Finance study issues related to the safety of DHHR workers who are involved in home visits, while SCR 11 requests that the same committee continue Select Committee A during the 2009 Interims. Currently, SCR 10 is pending in the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, while SCR 11 is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In addition, NASW WV has also suggested that state officials within the departments of DHHR and Military Affairs and Public Safety work closely together to define and recommend communications technology strategies that will improve safety in the field through instant communications.  Other strategies recommended by NASW WV include recommending that agencies hire office personnel whose duties include tracking and regularly communicating with field workers and dispensing specialized communications devices as warranted, clarifing missing persons response protocols (especially in local law enforcement jurisdictions), adding Health and Human Services Aide positions within WV DHHR to facilitate home visits in pairs in potentially dangerous situations, creating an advance direct practice career track in protective services, enhancing salaries, and fully funding the Pay Equity Commission's recommendation that the state provide a $500,000 match which, with additional federal funding, will help to equalize the salary disparity between predominately female and other state job classifications with similar requirements.

NASW WV appreciates the committment and leadership shown by Delegate Virginia Mahan and Senator Roman Prezioso, co-chairs of Select Committee A - Committee on Children, Juveniles and Other Issues, for adding this important issue on to their already full committee agenda during the 2008 Interim meetings.  We also appreciate the support of Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin and Speaker of the House Richard Thompson, who agreed to add social worker safety issues as an additional Select Committee A study assignment.

  • Download Personal Safety Tips for Social Workers by Janet Nelson, MSW

Previous Updates (2)

NASW West Virginia Chapter action on social worker safety issues continues in the wake of Brenda Lee Yeager's tragic murder just over six weeks ago. 

Following the issuance of a press release (see updated version below, along with other information and resources) Chapter Executive Director Sam Hickman, MSW has been interviewed extensively by the media on television and radio and in newspapers. 

Delegate Virginia Mahan (D-Summers) and Senator Roman Prezioso requested, and Senate President Tomblin and House Speaker Thompson agreed, to add social worker safety as a study assignment for the Legislative Interim Committee they chair- Select Committee A - Children, Juveniles and Other.  Sam met with Sen. Prezioso and Del. Mahan and their committee attorneys in last August and provided testimony to Select Committee A during the September Legislative Interim Meetings in Bridgeport.

Sam has also been researching aspects of social worker safety and providing some training on this issue since Brenda's murder.  He presented recently to a group of 30 social workers in Charleston, and will participate in panel discussions in September  (WVU Field Faculty Seminar) and October (Children's Justice Task Force Conference). Board member Paula Taylor, MSW will lead off the Opening Session at NASW WV's Management Institute and Fall Conference with a Social Worker Safety presentation. The conference will be held in Morgantown on September 25 and 26.

Some national attention has been given to Brenda's murder to bolster efforts to pass the Federal Terri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act, introduced in Congress in 2005.  The act would provide grants to states for safety technology and training.

This issue remains vitally important to NASW West Virginia.  A variety of recommendations will be put forward for social workers, agencies and the WV Legislature.  Check our website for updates.

October 23, 2008

Social work safety - capitol building