By David Liebler.
When Adult Protective Services specialist Kimberly Ingram talks about San Diego County’s protocols to help protect acutely vulnerable adults, her eyes well up. She knows that these innovative protocols are making a difference – and saving lives. That’s a major reason why this program was honored in 2015 with CSAC’s “California Counties Innovation Award.”
The protocols’ roots stem from tragedy; in 2010, a developmentally disabled local man tragically died because of severe neglect by family members. The County’s Adult Protective Services staff vowed to do everything they could to ensure that a similar tragedy never occurs.
The individuals this program focuses on are those who can’t function by themselves due to severe cognitive or communication deficits. “They can’t speak for themselves; sometimes they can’t even identify they are being abused or neglected,” Ingram explains. “These are individuals who can’t make their own decisions. They don’t have the ability to speak out and often are completely isolated.”
And so San Diego County’s Adult Protective Service staff set out to develop protocols specifically geared toward this group. Key program components that have been developed include an enhanced assessment tool, creation of a regional, multi-disciplinary team, development of a unique “safety-focused outcome measure,” and comprehensive follow-up at defined intervals to ensure the client’s safety continues.
“The cornerstone of this program that’s really different in the field of Adult Protective Services is we follow up even after we closed the case,” explains Chris Alire, Adult Protective Services Program Manager for the county. “One to three months after, we follow up with some of the involved partners, the family, whoever it is, to make sure the plan we put in place, that we worked so hard to do, is still working.” And what the County staff finds is that the plan isstill working – and often the vulnerable adult is even doing better and their safety is enhanced.
The protocols just don’t focus on the acutely vulnerable adults, but on their caregivers as well; often, the caregivers – usually family members — aren’t providing adequate care because they just don’t have the knowledge or experience.
“We’ve really focused on helping the whole family,” says Alire. “There have been some good stories and positive outcomes for the whole family.”
Data tracked by the county shows the protocols are working as an increased number of acutely vulnerable clients are now in stable environments.
“It’s really gratifying to know we can make that type of difference,” Ingram explains. “Something positive has come out of something so tragic.”