Social Worker Specialist
The abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable populations by family members, caretakers and others is unimaginable to many of us. But it has been Grace Decker’s everyday reality for more than 25 years.
Decker is a social worker specialist for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services Adult Protective Services unit. It’s her job to investigate alleged abuses of vulnerable adults, defined as senior citizens and anyone over 18 who has a mental or physical disability.
Common abuses include financial exploitation by family members or hired caretakers as well as neglect, including self-neglect or failure of a guardian to take proper care of the vulnerable adult.
“If you live in California and your mother lives in Kansas and some repairman is scamming her out of money, certainly you would want someone to do something about that,” says Decker, a member of the Kansas Organization of State Employees.
The value of the public service she provides is like so many government services: People don’t appreciate its availability until they, or their loved ones, need it. Decker wishes more resources could be devoted to Adult Protective Services. After all, she notes, older people are the fastest growing population in the country.
“If grandma is living with two adult children and two adult grandchildren, and all four are scamming grandma, for example, you’ve got four perpetrators,” says Decker. “We have to interview banks, neighbors, doctors. So when we have unfilled positions, the work starts piling up. It really puts a pinch on us and our ability to do a good and thorough job for people in the community.”
There are a variety of actions Adult Protective Services can take, including providing assistance to people who have the capacity to make their own decisions; securing protection orders in abuse cases; and referring criminal matters to law enforcement. The bottom line is making sure the elderly and adults with disabilities are safe and their rights are intact.
Decker, who has worked in both child and adult protective services, calls the adult side, the “kinder, gentler side of investigations. In Child Protective Services, you are telling people that they are not doing a good job as a parent. With adults—they want us there. They want our assistance.”
Like many public employees, Decker wishes her salary were more competitive with salaries in the private sector. The personal re- wards, however, have kept her in public service: “I love what I do. I love working with the elderly and the disabled; and that is reward enough—making a difference in their lives.”