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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Social workers: Working conditions, salaries at Family Dept. remain in crisis

Family Secretary Carmen Ana González Magaz

By John McPhaul

The Social Work Professionals Association of Puerto Rico (CPTSPR by its Spanish initials) insisted on Tuesday that the government immediately address the crisis of personnel and working conditions at the Family Department.

On Monday, in a hearing held in the House of Representatives, the agency accepted that there are more than 10,000 uninvestigated cases, including hundreds from 2016. During the discussion, the lack of personnel at the Family Department was brought up again in the Legislature, mainly due to the precarious salaries and labor conditions at the agency.

“The truth is that there is not only a recruitment problem in the Family Department, there is a retention problem,” CPTSPR President Larry Alicea said in a written statement. “Working conditions are such that many colleagues have to leave the department, take leave and often resign. This is compounded by the active recruitment of social work professionals by dozens of U.S. agencies that offer recruitment bonuses, sometimes three times the salary they receive in Puerto Rico, and better working conditions. Therefore, the matter is not resolved by recruitment. There is an urgent need for a salary review and an immediate improvement in working conditions at the agency.”

Alicea added that “every year the number of social work staff in the Family Department continues to decrease.”

“The issue of case backlog is not a new one,” he said. “The same Department admitted during the hearing that the ideal caseload is five referrals per day, but in reality 10 to 12 cases are assigned to colleagues who investigate them. This, apart from being exploitative, represents a threat to the safety of children and families served by this public institution. Case overload has an effect on the emotional and physical health of our colleagues and directly affects the quality of service.”

The CPTSPR has historically denounced case overloads and has insisted that the working conditions of the profession must be improved. To resolve the issue, the professional organization has submitted two bills. The first, Senate Bill (SB) 893, addresses working conditions through a charter of rights for professionals. The second is SB 894, whose objective is to address working conditions, creating a decent minimum base wage.

“The Legislature has in its hands a unique opportunity to address this crisis. We expect immediate action. Now is the time,” Alicea said. “Adequate working conditions ensure the provision of excellent services. In the case of abuse, the speed of intervention is a threshold issue to ensure that children are free from any harm to their safety. Early intervention is crucial to prevent the escalation of violence and complex cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse and death that we have seen in cases that have been reported in the press.”

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