April 27, 2021

A new study in the Journal of the Society for Social Work & Research examines the role of healthcare and social work professionals when faced with a court order to restrict an individual’s access to firearms.

Washington state allows a family member or law enforcement officer to request an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) when individuals may be at extreme risk of harming themselves or others. Some states allow health professionals to file ERPOs independently for their clients or patients but that is not the case in Washington state.

UW researches examined the response of healthcare, mental health, and social service professionals when contacted by an ERPO petitioner. They found differences in how healthcare professionals and law enforcement officers would evaluate the situation, including variations in how they would conduct a risk assessment, interpret and respond to at-risk behaviors. 

“In particular, we found that when respondents had an established mental health provider, the provider was the person most likely to know about the individual’s history, risk and protective factors . This individual was able to recommend effective strategies to support the person in crisis,” said Megan Moore, School of Social Work’s Sidney Miller Endowed Associate Professor in Direct Practice.  

The researchers analyzed ERPO records from all counties in Washington state from 2016 to 2019. Out of 237 ERPO petitions filed, 24 involved a healthcare professional. “More work is needed to understand whether and how health professionals want to be involved in the ERPO process,” said Kelsey Conrick, a trainee at the UW Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC) and doctoral student at the School of Social Work.

The state-funded study is part of HIPRC’s Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program, whose mission is to reduce the impact of firearm injury and death through interdisciplinary research and collaboration with institutional, community and government partners.