The state agency charged with investigating abuse and neglect and with protecting older Texans and those with disabilities from financial exploitation did not consistently follow its policies and procedures for in-home investigations, the Texas state auditor reported Wednesday.
The audit found that specialists and managers at the Adult Protective Services division of the Department of Family and Protective Services did not make regular contacts with clients to ensure their safety as required by its policies, did not follow procedures related to supervisory approval of cases and did not follow procedures when determining that clients were ineligible for services.
“This increases the risk that allegations of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation may not be adequately investigated and addressed,” according to the report. The auditors examined roughly 250 cases out of a total of about 160,000 from Sept. 1, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2018.
In a response to the audit, the department noted that turnover rates in the Adult Protective Services division is the highest of any division at the Department of Family and Protective Services.
“Turnover at this rate increases the likelihood that caseworkers will focus attention on immediate client safety at the time of intake rather than ongoing service and safety contacts during the life of the case,” the department wrote in its response. The agency said it already has started a system to improve compliance with rules for contact ing clients periodically.
Kez Wold, associate commissioner for Adult Protective Services, told the American-Statesman the turnover rate is at roughly 24 percent — each year, about a quarter of nearly 500 caseworkers in the division depart the agency.
The rate is even higher among staffers within their first year of employment, he said. “The work we do is very complicated, it’s very difficult, and for them to be fully confident and competent at the work we ask them to do, it can take a year or two.”
Department officials said the starting salary for caseworkers is $29,000 to $35,560, depending on qualifications.
The division is trying to identify root causes of the high turnover rate, which historically has been below 20 percent, Wold said.
The Department of Family and Protective Services long has grappled with how to stanch child and elder abuse.
The Statesman reported in March that more than 100,000 callers each year hang up before reaching an operator to report abuse and neglect in Texas because of long wait times, with callers sometimes on hold for more than an hour.
In 2016, state lawmakers approved $150 million for Child Protective Services, another arm of the Department of Family and Protective Services, to hire 829 additional staffers and give caseworkers a $12,000 annual raise. Lawmakers in 2017 infused more money into CPS to maintain the raises over the next two years, as well as to make additional improvements.
No such emergency money has been sent to Adult Protective Services, Wold said.
CPS, he said, was in a crisis. Of Adult Protective Services, Wold said, “I don’t think we’re in a crisis, but we are a stressed program.”
The agency investigates about 90,000 cases a year.
“We all have parents, and aging requires a lot of energy and understanding,” Wold said.
Annette Juba, deputy director of AGE of Central Texas, a nonprofit that educates caregivers and operates adult day care programs, told the Statesman her organization has occasionally acted on behalf of clients unhappy with the response from Adult Protective Services: “To our knowledge, in those instances when we escalated the situation to a supervisor, the case was satisfactorily resolved. In other instances, we have been impressed with the workers’ dedication to the needs of the older adult client.
“It does seem that Adult Protective Services workers are responsible for a large caseload,” Juba said. “We know from our work serving older adults and their family caregivers that family dynamics combined with a dementia diagnosis can lead to an incredibly complex situation that requires a lot of time, expertise and nuance to sort through.”