Case Workers Called 'Intolerable, Unforgiveable'

Demand In Social Services Causing 'Bad Attitudes'

September 18, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray scored the county's Department of Social Services Monday, saying the "lack of concern, the lack ofcompassion" sometimes shown clients is "notorious, intolerable, and unforgiveable."

"We are disturbed about what we've been hearing about the delivery of services," Gary, D-3rd, told department officialsand board members who met with the council Monday to hear a litany of complaints.

"I don't doubt that you're doing your darndest," Gray said, but the attitude of case workers "is something that needs to be seriously addressed."

"I don't know what the problem is, but we need to movein a different direction to satisfy concerns."

The council sharedthose concerns in three anonymous client letters and a five-point summary of complaints given officials and board members.

Some case workers are "very rude and give clients the impression they don't care," the summary said.

It cited one case worker in particular for "making entirely inappropriate, very personal and judgmental remarks tofemale clients."

The case worker was not identified.

The summary said clients "believe case workers take punitive measures against them if they show the slightest questioning attitude."

It is oftenimpossible to get through to case workers during the hours when theyare supposed to be taking calls from clients, the complaint said.

Department officials said they can change attitudes, but eliminatinglong waits may be impossible.

"If people wait (a long time) and are treated kindly and fairly, there is no problem," Betty Eggleston, assistant social services director for income maintenance, told the council. "There is no excuse for anyone being treated unkindly."

Each worker has five regular slots and two slots for emergencies, she said. "If you're number six with five people ahead of you, you could wait several hours. The caseworkers don't even take coffee breaks."

"We're aware we have some problems," social services Director Sam Marshall told the council.

Requests for Aid to Families with Dependent Children have increased more here than anywhere in the state, he said.

His staff, which was trimmed 30 percent because of budget cuts, is seeing 70 percent more clients overall, he said.

Although the department's walk-in system causes people to wait, "It makes it possible for us to see more people," Marshall said.

Eggleston told the council the department used to schedule appointments, "but half thepeople don't show up. Waiting three hours is better than waiting three weeks," she said.

Marshall urged the council to be wary of the complaints outlined in its memo. "I caution you -- people can make uslook horrendous," he said. "Many complaints come out at the time benefit checks go out."

Social services board Chairman Mae A. Beale said she understands "there is a problem with some of the workers." The department is providing clients with complaint cards, which it willbe tracking, she said.

"I'm glad we're having this meeting so we can see what the issues are," she told the council.

Gray told board members and department officials to examine the council's complaints and return with a solution.

The council did not set a deadline.

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