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Social Workers urge the government to immediately address the Family Department crisis

The Puerto Rico Social Workers Association (CPTSPR) insisted yesterday that the government should immediately address the crisis of personnel and working conditions in the Family Department.

On December 5, at a hearing held by the House of Representatives, the agency accepted that there are more than 10,000 cases that have not been investigated, hundreds of which correspond to 2016. During the discussion the lack of personnel was brought up again by the legislature, mainly because of the precarious salary and working conditions of the Department’s staff.

"The truth is that there is not only a recruitment problem in the Family Department, there is a retention problem. Working conditions mean that many colleagues have to take a leave with the Puerto Rico State Insurance Fund Corporation, and often resign. This is compounded by the active recruitment of social work professionals by dozens of United States 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," said Larry Alicea, president of the CPTSPR.

Alicea added that "every year the social work staff in the Department of the Family continues to decrease. The issue of backlog is not a new one. The Department admitted itself during the hearing that the ideal burden of cases is 5 referrals per day, but in reality 10 to 12 cases are assigned to the investigating colleagues. This, apart from being exploitative, represents a threat to the safety of children and families that this public institution serves. 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 this fact and insisted that the working conditions of the profession must be improved. To resolve this matter, the organization has submitted two bills. The first, Senate Bill 893, which addresses working conditions through a professional bill of rights. The second is Senate Bill 894, which aims to address working conditions by creating a decent minimum wage.

"The legislature has a unique opportunity to address this crisis. We expect immediate action. This is the time. Adequate working conditions ensure excellent service delivery. In the case of abuse, prompt intervention is a threshold issue to ensure that children are free of any harm to their safety. Early intervention is crucial to prevent the escalation of violence and the complex cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse and death that we have seen in cases that have spread in the press," said the head of the CPTSPR.

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