Social workers protest overcrowded conditions
Cramped cubicles, high caseloads, and shared phones leads to frustration
Waving signs declaring “More Space Needed Now!” nearly 50 social workers marched out of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services’ Compton office on May 7 to protest the overcrowded working conditions that they have endured for more than a year.
Home to nearly one-quarter of the 35,000 children who receive childcare services in Los Angeles County, the Compton office connects families with services such as domestic violence prevention and mental health care.
But social workers say that overcrowded conditions have led to a high turnover rate and increasing frustration. According to Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents social workers throughout the county, nearly 300 social workers are being forced to share cubicles, computers, and high case loads at the Compton facility.
“I’ve been a social worker for 22 years, and I have never seen conditions this bad,” said Donald Napier, who joined in the protest. “We are only supposed to be assigned 31 cases each, but some of us are shouldering as many as 40.”
Napier said that other conditions have also added to the frustration. “The copier frequently breaks down and it takes a long time to get it fixed. That means the social worker has to walk from one end of the building to another just to find another copier.”
Napier said that the overcrowding is one of the main reasons for the frustration. “They’re hiring more social workers to try to lower the caseload ratio, but they’re not providing the new social workers with desks. The social workers are forced to share the same phone number and the same computer.”
Jose Izquierdo, 37, who has been a social worker for over one year, said that the cramped working conditions have made it difficult to complete his work. “I share my cubicle with another social worker and we have to alternate sharing the cubicle on a daily basis. She may work Monday, Thursday, and Friday, and I work the other days. Obviously, the conditions make it difficult to complete work for our clients because we are not available for them on a daily basis.”
Izquierdo said many social workers get “fed up” and quit. “The working conditions make it difficult to work for our clients, so oftentimes, we are unable to respond to their needs. It’s disheartening for us to be considered professionals, yet they don’t give us enough respect to give us our own cubicle. And I’ve heard that of all the DCFS facilites, the Compton office is the only office where the social workers have to share cubicles.”
According to Michael Soller, deputy communications director for SEIU, county officials have promised to move workers to a Hawthorne office site, but have “dragged their feet” when giving a deadline to ease the space crunch.
Social workers said they want the County to commit to a definite timeline as to when they will relocate social workers to the Hawthorne location. Soller said that although the County had issued a timeline of six to eight weeks, it still hasn’t committed to a deadline for the move.
“We are united in preventing children from falling out of their families, and that means we have to move fast to get services to families on the brink,” said social worker Patricia Placencia. “We need our county leaders to recognize that.”
Jamil Watkins, a social worker for three years, said she was glad to hear about the relocation. “This is the first time I’ve seen some real progress in the three years I’ve been here,” she said. “I don’t have to share a desk, but I can certainly empathize with those who do.”
Watkins said that although moving Compton social workers to the Hawthorne location will alleviate some of the crowding, “they will be away fom their community and that will be one of the difficulties that people will have to deal with. There’s no way we can continue to function the way we are.”
Stu Riskin, spokesperson for the County Children and Family Services Department, said that the County is also exploring alternative options to overcrowding including telecommuting and co-locating some of its workers.