Since December 2020, the adult protective services (APS) field has seen a significant influx of federal funding through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) of 2021 (enacted December 2020) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 (enacted March 2021). Through considerable work from local, state, and national advocates these statutes have provided the first dedicated federal funding to support APS programs and supplement current sources of funding. There have been direct investments and impact on APS clients, staff, and systems from this funding and the field looks to continued expansion and support from future federal appropriations.
Investment in Services
Across the country, APS programs have supported direct services and supports for clients with the new federal funding. CRRSA funding was largely used by APS programs on pandemic needs such as personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and clients and technologies to support telework. Many examples can be found within previous APS TARC blogs and toolkits on COVID-19. Programs also used funding to build outreach flexibility for APS workers such as the use of purchasing cards (a type of agency credit card), for field staff to pay for immediate assistance items (groceries, utilities, and home repairs) in Nebraska and in New York City to meet emergency needs such as transportation. Similarly, states including North Dakota created emergency funds for critical items including stair lifts, bed bug extermination, and other services. In Rhode Island, respite care has been an additional focus. The state has increased emergency respite service availability to seven days and created a thirty day “safe shelter” program. The increased time provides staff greater ability to explore longer term housing.
While the funding is making direct impacts in helping adults remain in their homes, it will also have a direct impact on those who may need to leave their homes due to safety concerns. Short-term emergency shelters for older adults are being replicated in many states. Indiana is exploring the use of funding to support a new elder abuse shelter based on the Weinberg Center Shelter model in New York City.
Investments in Staff
APS programs are also investing in their staff from trainings to specializations and much in between. Staff will benefit from improved training such as standardization of Iowa’s conversion to virtual trainings. As training moves increasingly virtual, these pilots will help pave the way for successful state and national efforts. Programs are also implementing topic specific trainings to help workers understand trauma, build self-care and resiliency, or delve into unconscious bias and diversity challenges. Virginia is in the process of piloting an adult sexual assault virtual training with strong interest across the state.
In training at the national level, the Administration for Community Living is utilizing the funding for initial development of a National Adult Protective Services Training Center (NATC) through the National Adult Protective Services Association to develop APS worker training through an e-learning platform. While it is just getting underway, the NATC will bring updated and consistent training to the field.
As cases coming to APS are increasingly complex, programs are also investing in specialized staffing and skills. The funding is increasing the ability of states to hire or contract with specialists like forensic accountants to consult on complex financial exploitation cases, train staff, or sit on multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs). In an effort to process complex medical cases APS programs are also investing in APS nurses. While hiring permanent staff has been a challenge for many states with uncertainty about future funding, many states have also supported staff through bonuses and hazard pay.
Cases involving tribes and tribal jurisdiction can also pose complexities. While some tribes may have their own protective services system, they are not yet included in the direct grants to APS. States, such as Minnesota and Washington, have chosen to make allocations directly to tribes. In North and South Dakota, APS has developed memorandums of understanding and partnerships with tribes that do not have their own programs. In North Dakota, APS workers had been doing visits in partnership with a tribal member. With the new funding they are now working towards creating a tribal case manager position. A tribal case manager and liaison position would help support elders served in a culturally appropriate way and build a stronger relationship and connection with tribally based supports. Additionally, in South Dakota, APS has awarded a grant to a tribal partner for a geriatric social work position.
Investments in Systems
APS programs have been strategically looking at their systems and the appropriations of the last year. Many have given a boost to both immediate needs and broader changes. Programs looking at increasing remote and mobile work opportunities are investing in these capabilities. In Indiana, this includes investing in mobile printers. Nebraska is ensuring workers have updated laptops and cell phones with the funds. States are also in the process of purchasing agency owned four-wheel drive vehicles. Workers in states like South Dakota can average 2,000 miles of driving a month. This causes significant wear and tear on vehicles. In many parts of the state clients can only be reached using a four-wheel drive vehicle due to treacherous driving conditions. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is also purchasing vehicles for Saipan and Rota.
Beyond supplies, funding is moving toward innovations in data and case management systems. Connecticut is adding funding to build upgrades to the APS intake system. The new system supports softphones (software-based telephones) and a queue function. It will add important language routing features for English and Spanish callers. Other states are looking at enhanced data gathering through a new data system in Wisconsin and the development of data dashboards in Alabama. Funding is having an impact on future strategic planning as well with several states conducting studies to assist with APS’ programmatic improvement. Examples include West Virginia’s study on workload and operations, Colorado’s exploration of collaboration between state agencies addressing abuse, a number of reviews of cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, and several other APS programs conducting systematic review of their APS practice like Utah and Washington.
The US territories continue to do a great deal of work on their systems with little funding. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is beginning development of a full APS program including new statute. Guam is building their technology infrastructure and pursuing a research project on emergency shelter which could inform the territory as well as other state’s APS programs when facing emergencies.
Investment in the Community
At the broadest level, APS programs are making an impact and investment in the community. Public awareness campaigns are a frequent consideration for this funding, particularly with decreased reports during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. North Dakota is working to address this issue with commercials highlighting how abuse, neglect, and exploitation may be unseen and the importance of making a report. Nebraska’s campaign focuses on recognizing COVID-19 related scams and who to call for help.
Awareness campaigns are also being funded to meet gaps. Nebraska’s additional campaign is in collaboration with the Office of the Public Guardian to raise awareness of the work of that Office and recruit potential guardians. Similarly, Alabama is working on an awareness program around the adult foster home program. The program can help many adults stay independent but is not well known. Part of the campaign would be to recruit additional adult foster care providers.
To Be Continued…
As APS programs move forward with implementing their operational plans and other strategic efforts, there will be more investments and impacts to come. As local, state, and federal support continues, the field will continue to innovate and grow.
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