05/04/07 — County department tracking service to community

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County department tracking service to community

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 4, 2007 1:45 PM

Officials at the Wayne County Department of Social Services are examining how they've been doing business. They're looking at not only what services they provide and how many people they have processed, but also at how well those people have been served. And so far, county DSS Director Judy Pelt said, the results have been good.

"It's called leading by results," she said. "We're very, very good at providing statistics. We're not very good at taking those outcomes and showing how they're affecting lives.

"We decided we wanted to be able to show the results we were actually getting with the money provided by the county.

"The public doesn't want to hear that we took 2,000 applications for food stamps this month. That doesn't mean anything to them. They want to hear that we have X amount of people in Wayne County eligible for food stamps, how we're only serving a certain percentage of them and what we're doing to identify those others."

So, the DSS Board of Directors decided to participate in a voluntary statewide program designed by the North Carolina Association of DSS Directors that helps counties target certain indicators and set goals.

The program is now in its third year, with the end of 2006 marking the first year of actually measuring progress. The benchmarks for those 20 goals were set in 2005 and focused on four areas -- the health, safety and well-being of children, adults and families, obtaining the basic necessities of life, obtaining the highest level of social and economic self-sufficiency and an efficient and effective organization.

"Those four areas are what we're about, and we were real successful in many areas," Ms. Pelt said. "We feel really good about where we're at. We are saying to the county, the taxpayers and the state that we are doing a good job. We're measuring that and can show that we do a good job."

Among the areas where the department met its goals are: reducing the recurrence of maltreatment of children and aged and disabled adults who were victims of abuse by 1 percent each, increasing the number of eligible people receiving food stamps from 60.5 percent to 62.82 percent, increasing the number of Work First customers moving to employment from 204 to 221 people, increasing child support collections by 3 percent and increasing the amount of state and federal dollars received by 3 percent.

Among the goals that weren't met, were those involving foster care children -- reducing the number entering the system and increasing the number leaving -- increasing child support orders, increasing the amount of money recovered through fraud recovery efforts and decreasing the staff turnover.

Ms. Pelt explained that their problems meeting the foster care program goals stem in large part from the increase in the number of children needing to be taken out of homes due to domestic abuse and substance abuse problems, while their ability to meet their fraud recovery goal is heavily reliant on people reporting suspected cases to them.

But it's their staff turnover that's one of her biggest concerns.

In 2005, the department saw a turnover rate due to resignations and terminations of 11.17 percent. In 2006 it was 15.42 percent, but those numbers do not take into account the employees who changed jobs in-house. When those numbers were included, the rates went from 33.01 percent in 2005 to 34.33 percent in 2006.

The hardest hit section of the department was child welfare.

"It's hard, stressful work and it's long hours," Ms. Pelt said. "It takes very, very special people with different talents to be successful in child welfare."

But with a new program in place through the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, she is confident they will be able to reduce that turnover rate, and since the end of the year, Ms. Pelt explained that they have been looking back at their successes and failures, adjusting their goals for 2007 and adding new ones, including a focus on customer satisfaction.