A report released by the Yolo County Grand Jury last week praised the county’s adult services program for its high quantity and quality of work, as well as the strong work ethic that exists among employees, but also found low employee morale, inexperienced management and lack of safety guidelines for social workers in the field.
The adult services program, which operates within the county’s Department of Employment and Social Services, provides social programs and support for residents over the age of 65 as well as dependent adults between the ages of 18 and 64. The two primary programs adult services operates are Adult Protective Services and In-Home Supportive Services.
The report issued Friday found that the agency’s caseload has increased significantly in recent years.
During fiscal year 2011-12, Adult Protective Services investigated and managed 845 cases of alleged abuse or neglect of a senior or dependent adult — nearly double the 498 cases just four years earlier. But despite the increased workload, staffing remained the same, with one social worker supervisor and two social worker practitioners, as well as interdepartmental support.
Still, the grand jury found that employees were able to close out every case in a timely manner over the past five years, and a third social worker practitioner was added earlier this year.
In-Home Supportive Services, meanwhile, provided services to nearly 2,000 eligible seniors and dependent adults in 2009-10, the last year for which data was available, the grand jury said. Those services allowed elderly and dependent adults to remain safely in their own homes with assistance.
But in investigating the county’s adult services program, the grand jury reported finding inadequate oversight by management, poor communication between management and staff and abrupt staffing changes, all of which have contributed to low employee morale.
Specifically, the grand jury reported that managers who had previously worked exclusively in child services were being placed in oversight positions in adult services, leaving employees to report a lack of confidence in and respect for their bosses.
Additionally, the grand jury said, “Employees have been asked to report or have been made to feel they must report to more than one supervisor. Employees testified that at times they receive instructions from multiple levels of management, bypassing supervisors to whom they directly report. Without distinct lines of authority, morale has suffered.”
Also of concern to the grand jury was the lack of a specific safety plan for Adult Protective Services employees.
“Caseworkers experience unique safety concerns outside of the office as they deal with individuals who may be unstable,” the report said. “They may also encounter abusers of their clients.”
Generally site visits are conducted by a single caseworker who arrives in a marked government vehicle and “although the educational background social workers possess prepares them to handle critical situations,” the grand jury said, “it is important that formal procedures ensure the status and safety of all caseworkers in the field.”
Specifically the grand jury recommended that adult services identify what specific safety training social workers should have and develop protocols to document where caseworkers are when they are in the field.
“This may include alerting local law enforcement when visits are made to residences with potentially volatile situations and/or carrying county provided portable radios to communicate emergency situations quickly,” the grand jury said.
The report also suggested developing protocols for routinely confirming and documenting the safety of caseworkers during and after onsite visits.
Ed Smith, interim director of the Department of Employment and Social Services, said Tuesday that he agrees with the grand jury’s recommendations on caseworker safety and that he and his staff would be meeting Wednesday to begin putting those recommendations into place.
He also said he doesn’t know of any caseworkers having been harmed while in the field.
As for issues related to management and employee morale, the grand jury suggested that adult services improve communications, perhaps through a regular newsletter, establish a protocol for managers and supervisors to periodically accompany staff on field visits and review qualifications and training regimens for all management positions.
Smith said that while he did not think employee morale “is a significant issue … clearly, we are going to look at it.”
He also said that individuals who work in the service field — whether child services or adult services — are generally equipped to handle either and moving from one field to the other is not a significant leap.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy