The designated secretary of the Department of the Family, Cieni Rodriguez Trochewho faced the confirmation hearing in the Senate today, Wednesday, said that, among the priorities of her administration, if she is endorsed in office, will be strengthen the workforce and expand the services offered to older adults.
The hearing of the Senate Appointments Commission to evaluate the credentials of Rodriguez Troche, who has been in charge of the agency on an interim basis for 11 months, was directed by Senator Ruben Soto. The president of the Upper House, Jose Luis Dalmaujoined the discussion later.
The official, who before entering public service worked in the third sector, was accompanied by three professionals – two social workers and a Police sergeant – graduates of the Independent Family Living Program. “They represent the thousands of success stories that go unnoticed,” she noted.
Rodriguez Troche has a master’s degree in Social Work with a concentration in Agency Administration. Under the current administration, she served – until October 31, 2022 – as an advisor to the governor Pedro Pierluisi in Social Welfare Matters.
Dalmau could not specify when he would take Rodriguez Troche’s appointment to a vote or if he has the necessary votes for his confirmation. “We have not held a caucus on this or any nomination of the governor,” he explained.
He recognized, however, that the appointment of Rodriguez Troche “has not caused the controversies that other designations have caused. I see a lot of legislators here asking very important questions. “We have to see if the answers and presentations satisfy the colleagues when they go to vote.”
Great need for employees
The designated secretary, during the confirmation hearing, said that Familia faces an accelerated pace of retirements among its employment mania, a scenario that makes the recruitment plan difficult to increase the number of officials who, in such a scenario, face an overload of work. .
“I know that there is a lot of room for improvement in operational terms, but every time I visit a location, I perceive a staff that is committed and knowledgeable about their work, but overloaded.. Many times, I have questioned how within small spaces and with limited equipment they are able to care for dozens of people and cases in a day,” she acknowledged.
Rodriguez explained that, currently, social workers under the Administration of Families and Children (Adfan) handle between 30 and 40 cases, when the ideal number would be 15. Meanwhile, family technicians from the Administration of Socioeconomic Development (Adsef) have low its responsibility 1,171 cases, but they should not exceed 800.
The scenario for child support specialists under the Administration for Child Support (Asume) is no different. These maintain an average load of 1,219 claims, about 500 additional to those that should be considered.
In the past months, Rodriguez Troche said, Familia managed to recruit 150 social workers, but needs to add 100.
Although he indicated that, “in numerical terms,” the agency is complying in handling cases before its consideration, he acknowledged that, “in terms of quality… there is room for improvement.”
When asked by legislators, he commented that, “When you have a social worker who has to attend to 40 cases in a month, we are talking about the space they have to attend to each case is, at most, two and a half hours per month.”
This improvement, he said, is also tied to the digitalization of processes, services and protocols. Family has 2,132 minors in its custody.
Rodriguez Troche mentioned that one of his priorities is to expand services aimed at the elderly, including increasing the budget destined to serve this population group, given the increase that the agency has registered in the number of older adults in its custody.
By 2022, a total of 4,675 older adults They were subsidized by Family in care centers and, in 2023, the figure reaches 6,175. The number does not include the requests that come to the Home Auxiliary program, under which 1,375 people are served, nor the services offered in the Multiple Activities Centers (Campea), which reach 326 participants.
The official indicated that, to adjust the agency to the demographic reality of the country, it is also necessary to develop a new service model that responds to the needs of this population, recruit personnel for the 10 Institutional Adult Abuse units and implement a mechanized system to collect statistical data on referrals.
Since 2011, he maintained, the Demographic Challenge Law warned how Puerto Rico would become – by 2030 – a country with a majority population over 60 years of age. “By working exclusively in immediacy, today we have a population that is being neglected”he asserted.
“We have to continue thinking that just as we are investing in other issues, we have to integrate and incorporate more resources into the area of older adults, no one can take that away,” he noted.
The Family budget for this fiscal year – including its four administrations – amounts to $3,530 million. Of this total, about 88% is awarded directly to participating families.