Job and Family Services Adapt

Jun 21, 2010

There are some signs that the job market is improving, but longer periods of unemployment mean that many people are replying on support from local agencies. Last fiscal year The Clark County Department of Job and Family Services faced a $3 million deficit and a 10% increase in cases.

The Clark County Department of Job and Family Services is just outside downtown Springfield. The parking lot is always crowded, and although the four story building doesn't look that big from the road, there's a lot happening inside. The agency handles food assistance, workforce development, child support and family services for the whole county.

But Executive Director Robert Suver says they've had to do all of this with less people.

"Just in the last year we've had a reduction in staff of 23% between the layoffs - the 33 layoffs and the 31 individuals who left through attrition - we've had 64 people leave," says Suver.

And that, he says, has taken its toll and made it hard to deliver services to clients.

So the agency adopted a strategy called case-banking. The idea is to redistribute the work so each person does part of a case rather than a single case-worker taking on the whole thing.

"We wouldn't be able to manage the caseloads the way they are today without having this concept. We can't get the customer served so to speak and serve them the way they need to be served without doing something different," says Terry Perkins.

Perkins in charge of the BenefitsPlus division. They handle food assistance, medical assistance, and child care subsidies. BenefitsPlus is seeing more cases because people are staying unemployed longer, and families are needing more help than ever.

"They've set such a high level of standard for themselves"

The case-banking system is working for Job and Family Services clients, but Human Resources manager Kerry Padraza says that it's taken some adjustment for the employees.

"Because they've set such a high level of standard for themselves they feel like they're not as responsive as they could be. So they put a lot of pressure on themselves which leads to a lot of morale issues and frustration and stress on them," says Padraza.

She says that directors do their best to let employees know that they're aware of what's happening.

"I think that we talk a lot with them. I think the supervisors try and engage. Certainly the deputy directors try and engage and the director meets with our staff regularly to let them know that we know what they're facing," says Padraza.

"There always needs to be an outlet"

Director Bob Suver wants to relieve his employees' workload, and predicts more services will go online. Unemployment benefits are already online, but Suver says that system has it's limitations.

"We get a lot of people coming in really wanting to talk about their unemployment. It's something that they really want to talk to someone in person about. They're coming to us thinking that we can help them or do that for them," says Suver.

But he says the system doesn't allow for much intervention from Job & Family Services employees. Suver hopes that any new services online will preserve the client/caseworker relationship for those who need it.

"A lot of our programming does require some face to face, and there always needs to be an outlet for people who have a problem or a unique setting that requires a face to face - to have that available to them," says Suver

As the Clark County Department of Job and Family Services moves into the next fiscal year, employees and directors will continue to use the case banking system and explore new ways to deal with an ever-growing increase in the need for their services.