On November 8, Michelle Vega, Family and Children’s Deputy to Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, stepped into the shoes of a Dept. of Children and Family Services social worker to learn more about the challenges of being a social worker in LA County.
Vega went to work with Linda Gaskins, CSW. “It was interesting to see the process first-hand and the dedication Linda displayed in working with the children and their families,” said Vega.
Linda shared some of her thoughts on the event: “I think it would be good if Michelle Vega could spend a week with me to see what really goes on, because you can’t see the scope of what we do in a day. She saw me running around trying to put fires out and do the things I was able to do, but not necessarily what I needed to do.”
Before they set out, Ms. Vega sat down with a group of social workers at the Pasadena office.
Daisy Cervantes, CSW III, outlined some of the problems she says social workers face: the Pasadena area services a high number of Armenians, but only three social workers speak Armenian; there is a high population of Mandarin speakers and getting an interpreter is challenging; and resources are lacking for the more impoverished population. “As social workers in Pasadena, we encounter families who struggle with substance abuse problems, domestic violence especially among undocumented workers, general neglect, severe neglect, mental health issues and all forms of abuse,” Cervantes said.
Francesca Galvin added, “It takes an emotional toll. Sometimes we are required to make a lengthy phone call directly after seeing a client, but that time needs to be spent regrouping.”
After a description of challenges, David Green, CSW III and SEIU Executive Board Member, outlined the four goals of Social Workers in DCFS.
1. Additional Staffing: Union members have called for 100 new CSWs to be hired by the end of the year. There is space in the budget allocated to hire new social workers, and it must be done immediately to lighten the burden of workload we labor under.
2. Rewrite the Policy manual: Currently, there are 6,000 policies social workers must follow, but if we are disciplined handily if we fail at following policies, which are antiquated and actually hinder us while doing our job. We need to cut the policy manual down to federal and state requirements.
3. Create an Educational-Based Discipline Program: “If I am disciplined, missing a month’s work or 15 days of work will not make me a better social worker,” said David. We are calling for educational-based disciplinary action, such as strength-based workshops, to replace suspensions. We are not reinventing the wheel. The Sheriff’s Department has found success with this program, and our intention is to model our program after theirs.
4. Replace Fax Machines and Copiers: We are using equipment from the 1990s, which costs the department $26,000 in repairs every month. We cannot do our jobs effectively or efficiently without working fax machines and copiers. We demand new equipment.
After listening to us, Michelle Vega asked a question: What positive changes have happened as a result of department action?
Moments passed, and a few people were able to come up with two positives changes: a database for foster home placement has been created to speed the search for foster homes and the department no longer counts holidays and weekends in the 72-hour response time for new cases.