Issue 6-3 July 2000
Even though the SB 2030 study has been released and county child welfare departments have the possibility of getting an additional $132 million to lower caseloads, the battle is only beginning, according to Local 535 field representative Wren Bradley and SEIU State Council legislative advocate Michelle Castro.
Counties must act quickly, Bradley warns. "From the time the state notifies the county about new revenues, it can take four to six months to hire new social workers, which means that even if they act quickly and decisively, the counties will probably have less than six months to spend the money once they get it. If they don't spend all the money, the legislators will be reluctant to give them more next year."
Fight to Make Sure Money Used to Lower Caseloads
Legislators targeted the $132 million for caseload reduction, but some counties are already trying to find ways to spend the money on other things. The new director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, Anita Bock, is evidently waiting for the department to complete its reorganization plans. She has shown little commitment to reducing caseloads, and is attempting to find ways to use the money to hire support staff instead. "We are very concerned," Los Angeles County Chapter president Paula Gamboa warns. "We need to make sure the recommendations of the SB 2030 study are implemented and the money is used to hire children's protective service workers and not clerical workers, translators, or transcribers."
LA DCFS Management Is the Biggest Problem
Even though it has some of the worst caseload problems, Los Angeles spent only a small amount of the money allocated to it last year. Workers cite mismanagement of the department and the department's reluctance to ask the board of supervisors for matching money. Even when the department got the money to hire people, the personnel department was not able to process applicants in a timely manner. The union has filed several grievances to force Los Angeles management to hire more children's protective services workers.
Other counties were reluctant to hire new staff based on a one-time budget augmentation, fearing they would have to lay the workers off if the augmentation wasn't renewed. However, it is now clear that the funding will become permanent if counties can show that they are spending it on hiring workers.
Another problem has been that some counties, like Alameda, hired a large number of workers, but then they had no place to put them. They ran out of office space.
Recruitment and Retention
Full implementation of the recommendations of the SB 2030 report would require hiring twice as many social workers as are currently employed by California counties. However, not that many social workers are available. According to Bradley, the union, management, and legislators have to work together to create an aggressive program for recruiting and retaining social workers. Such a program would include the following elements:
•Education Opportunities: Increase the number of Masters of Social Work students graduating each year. With that in mind, Assemblywoman Dion Aroner has been meeting with a group of educators to encourage the state university system to expand its Master of Social Work programs and to review the MSW curriculum.
•Recruitment Incentives: Some counties, including Alameda, are offering incentive programs to recruit new workers, such as programs to forgive student loans and making it easier for workers to fulfill licensing requirements. Counties are also increasing the salaries they pay social workers. Los Angeles just gave its social workers a wage increase.
Public Awareness Campaign
"We need to do what the teachers did-reach out to the community," Gamboa suggests. "The public doesn't really know what we do. They think we are something between a probation officer and a cop. Most people come to work here because they know someone else who was a social worker and appreciate the positive value of our work. Unfortunately, we sometimes have an adversarial relationship with children's groups. They need to see us as people who really care about children and the welfare of families, and not just about our workplace issues. We also need to bridge the gap with the community and become advocates at that level as well. The community can be our best friend or our worst enemy. The perception is that we are a screwed up agency [in LA] and that we can't do our job. The caseload issue is irrelevant to them. They don't understand that if we had enough social workers we would have no trouble providing the best services to families. We need to go out to schools and town meetings to speak and let the community know what we do," she urges.
Round Table Discussion September 8
On September 8, 2000, the Local 535 Executive Board Children's Services Committee will be holding a round table discussion on the SB 2030 report and how to make sure it is implemented. The discussion will be in San Diego, the day before the Local 535 executive board meeting. Speak with your field rep if you are interested in attending. You can also call Geoff Stephen at (626) 858-1658, or Wren Bradley at (408) 279-2937 for details.