A New Path for Adult Protective Services in Texas
October 22, 2013 | Kezeli Wold, Director of Field Operations for Adult Protective Services, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
A popular bumper sticker in the Lone Star State says, “I’m not from Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” Although I am not a native Texan, my 25 years of residency here have led me to adopt the Texas truism that “Everything is bigger in Texas.” So when I was sitting at a conference in Buffalo, New York, listening to people from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Hampshire talk about adult protective services (APS) casework tools, I was filtering their presentation through a thick mesh of big-state, big-program bias.
A popular bumper sticker in the Lone Star State says, “I’m not from Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” Although I am not a native Texan, my 25 years of residency here have led me to adopt the Texas truism that “Everything is bigger in Texas.” So when I was sitting at a conference in Buffalo, New York, listening to people from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Hampshire talk about adult protective services (APS) casework tools, I was filtering their presentation through a thick mesh of big-state, big-program bias. Fortunately, my boss—a native Texan, I might add—was sitting next to me, and she had her blinders off.
A year and a half later, we had ourselves a project manager, a contract with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), and a workgroup of employees from across the state working diligently to develop a new APS practice model for Texas. Although we continued to remind the folks from “up north” that “Texas ain’t New Hampshire,” it became increasingly clear that these people both knew what they were talking about and had something valuable to offer us.
We do great APS work in Texas. Yet, despite our cool technology, a mobile workforce, a robust data system, and a lot of really dedicated people working hard to “protect the unprotected,” plenty of room exists for improvement. Traditionally, we have relied on the knowledge, expertise, and gut instincts of our caseworkers and supervisors to deliver effective services. Today, however, we are dealing with a changing workforce; we are hiring people with less life experience who are less likely to make APS a career. It typically takes a year or two to be become a proficient APS worker; we are fortunate if we can keep our employees for three or four years. That said, we owe it to our less tenured workforce to provide them with the tools to support their decisions, while continuing to empower decision making at the caseworker and supervisorial level. The Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model makes complete sense for our environment.
After translating the safety, risk of recidivism, and strengths and needs assessments into “Texan” and running a field test of the paper assessments, we are ready to start incorporating these instruments and new practice model into our IT system. We will be putting together the training plan and producing a communication plan to support implementation across 254 counties and 11 regions. With those challenges ahead, I have been reflecting on the lessons learned so far:
- Our people are awesome! For the core workgroup focused on adapting the assessments and definitions, we brought in people from every region and every level. We had directors, program administrators, subject-matter experts, supervisors, trainers, policy specialists, managers, and caseworkers working together. Every single person brought a unique perspective and contributed to shaping the assessments. The result of this inclusive approach is a product that has credibility with the people who will be implementing it.
- We do good work every day. So much of the work we did with NCCD involves “trueing up” our current practice with the new model. In other words, we already did much of the assessment and decision making involved in the SDM® model; we only were lacking a structured, formalized approach to it.
- We care about our clients and our employees. Not a single decision was made during the process without considering how it would affect the people we serve and what it would mean for the caseworker in the field.
- We are very busy. APS was fortunate enough to be able to bring in a full-time project manager to make sure that the work was done. Left to our own devices, the process very well may have dragged out for years. Having someone who could focus on the project and hold everyone’s feet to the fire made a huge difference.
- We are open to change. Even as we first began to survey staff about current practice, our people in the field were already excited about the possibility of a new approach to APS casework. Although the prospect of completely rethinking our work is daunting, the overall feeling on the front lines is one of expectation rather than fear.
- We have great leadership. In addition to my visionary boss, we have regional leaders who are willing to ante up the resources needed to affect change and are excited to implement a new casework practice model.
Over the years I have spent a lot of time thinking about the balance (and occasional tension) between “doing things right” and “doing the right thing.” So far, our work in implementing the SDM model has felt to me as if we are doing the right thing right for APS in Texas and the vulnerable clients we serve.
Kezeli (Kez) Wold is the director of field operations for Adult Protective Services at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Kez has worked in protective services since 1996, with experience as a child and adult protective caseworker, frontline supervisor, subject-matter expert in risk and self-neglect, program administrator, and regional director. He has a BA in political science from Texas Lutheran College and a master’s degree in public administration from Texas State University.