Friday, December 22, 2006

Social workers depend on their supervisor's support and insights

Social worker debate expands
Yetter, Deborah. Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 22, 2006, pg. A1.

FRANKFORT, Ky. House Speaker Jody Richards said yesterday that he will ask state child welfare officials to rescind a controversial plan to put more social workers in the field by reassigning many managers and other workers.

"It just seems it would exacerbate the problem rather than solve it," Richards, D-Bowling Green, said of the plan to get more workers investigating child abuse and neglect without spending more money. While legislators can't block the plan, Richards said, they can make their feelings known.

But Eugene Foster, an undersecretary with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said yesterday he will push ahead with the plan, although he said "we will use the input and advice of our workers."

Opponents of the plan turned out at a legislative hearing on it last night, and some of the approximately 45 social workers and others who attended said the cabinet should have consulted with them sooner.

"We know what we've got is working," Missy Perry, a social worker and supervisor from Warren County, told the House human services budget subcommittee. "If we'd have been part of the planning process, it would have been better."

The plan is aimed at putting more social workers in the field by consolidating offices, cutting middle managers and sending them back to the field to handle cases. Officials want to reduce workers' current average caseload of 21 to 17 within acceptable range by the agency that accredits Kentucky's child welfare system.

Foster said the plan would cut the number of top managers by merging 16 regions each with its own top managers into four. But he said it also would add some supervisors in the field. State officials want to have the reorganization in place June 16.

'They don't have a clue'
The subcommittee heard more than an hour of sometimes emotional testimony from workers and others who said the reorganization plan would strip them of the advice and support of top managers some of whom worked in the field for years.

Some complained they don't believe officials in Frankfort understand their work.

"They don't know what I need," said Kim Wilson, a child abuse investigator in Warren County. "They don't have a clue what I deal with on a daily basis. Have any of these people making these decisions worked my job and gone out and looked at an infant with first-degree burns?"

Others from local communities also raised concerns, including Jerry Stephenson, minister of Midwest Church of Christ in Louisville. He worried about the effect the reorganization might have on a new program his church offers in partnership with the state to provide a safe and neutral site for children who have been removed from their homes to visit with their families.

"We're not anti-reorganization," he said. "We just think it ought to make sense."

Lawmakers mostly listened. Rep. Jimmie Lee, chairman of the subcommittee, assured the audience he is still seeking additional money that could be used to hire more social workers.

Several social workers said they need money for more workers not reassigning supervisors to the field.

Jefferson reorganization
Charles Wells, executive director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees who spoke briefly at last night's hearing, has called on state officials to rescind the plan.

Wells said his organization, which represents about 1,500 social workers, has been inundated with calls. "For two days I've been doing nothing but answering calls on this," he said.

Wells said most of the calls are from social workers who aren't as concerned about their jobs as they are the effect on neglected and abused children they serve.

He said one of his concerns is that the state is proposing to merge Jefferson County which has been a stand-alone region because of its size and heavy caseload with 18 other counties.

Wells called that "nuts," saying no single administrator could supervise a region that broad and effectively help workers with day-to-day decisions about removing children from homes and investigating abuse and neglect.

"Sooner or later they're going to have some kid die because they're not going to get the support they need," he said.

Tom Emberton Jr., commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services who announced the changes, has convened a work group of Jefferson County social workers to hear their concerns. The group had its first meeting Monday in Frankfort.

Regions too big?
Patricia Pregliasco, a social worker who attended, said workers told Deputy Commissioner Mark Washington they believe the four regions are too big and will make it hard for workers in the field to get the help they need.

Pregliasco said officials should have convened the work group before they announced the reorganization not after.

"They didn't talk to anybody," she said. "They don't understand the critical nuances that affect families and the safety of children in each region."

Paige Shank, who supervise some social workers in Jefferson County, said she thinks officials don't understand that supervisors do more than sit in their offices.

Yesterday, Shank said, she had to leave the office to pick up a youth in foster care at his school and take him to a facility where he is being admitted for emotional problems.

"You think when you have a building on fire the thing to do is send more firefighters inside," she said. "But without support outside, the building's collapsing because no one's attending to the whole picture."


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