SDM System Brings Clarity to Arizona APS

June 27, 2018 | Kama Chase

Older woman

Not long ago, Arizona Adult Protective Services (APS) recognized the need for practice change due to inconsistencies in services across their six districts. Vulnerable adults were not receiving the same quality of services from one area to another for a variety of reasons, including investigators serving as case managers, which left cases languishing as the reported allegations were not addressed. Sometimes the wrong allegations were addressed, or cases were held open because investigators simply did not know what to do with them. In other areas, investigations were completed in a timelier manner, or cases were closed quickly without any case management provided. 

In 2016, a conversation regarding how best to adjust practice was started by those in highlevel leadership positions, and Arizona APS applied for a grant to create new assessment tools to better serve vulnerable adults in Arizona.  

With assistance from NCCD, workgroups were created in 2017 and began discussing what was needed to support staff decision making during an APS case. Many hours were spent in person and via webinars customizing and testing the assessment tools before the final products—a Structured Decision Making® (SDM) safety assessment, safety evaluation plan, and SDM® risk assessmentwere piloted in the two districts that represent most of our population. 

These new tools are revolutionary for Arizona, bringing distinct concepts of safety and risk to our practice. Prior to having these tools, investigators mixed together the concepts of risk and danger. They were unable to separate them in conversations with their supervisors or when trying to inform decisions and determine outcomes for cases. Never before was a plan used to identify safety issues for adults in Arizona—or to address dangerous situations in the moment. Just the language captured in the tools forces investigators to think in a new way.

The pilot in my district made investigators think differently about safety and risk, changed their practice, and enabled them to move cases along more swiftly for better client outcomes. Now investigators can quickly identify whether clients are vulnerable; if clients are in dangerous situations, workers are able to plan for that and move the cases forward.

The tools became effective May 1, 2018, and will continue to evolve and change practice as APS investigators gain a better understanding of the SDM system. 

Kama Chase, MPA, is the District 5 Program Manager for Arizona Adult Protective Services and a workgroup/pilot team participant. 

This is the final blog post in a series on adult protection. You can read the complete series here.