Social Services Department supplying assistance to 20,000 Rowan families

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
An estimated 20,000 Rowan County families are now receiving some form of assistance from the county Social Services Department.
Based on U.S. Census figures, more than a third of the estimated 52,000 households are now getting help.
Sandra Wilkes, Social Services director, told county commissioners this week demand on the agency is “absolutely at an all-time high.”
The department currently has 27,000 active cases, primarily in Medicaid and food assistance.
Wilkes said many of the applicants, particularly those seeking food assistance, are coming to the agency for the first time.
In a recent case, a person who had operated a restaurant came in to seek food assistance. The economy had forced the restaurant to close.
Wilkes said people are getting beyond the negative connotation once associated with the “welfare department.”
She said applicants are waiting until the last minute, unaware it takes 30 days to get anyone on the food assistance program.
Wilkes thanked Chairman Carl Ford for his gift of food and challenge to others to provide food for the pantry. The plea helped stock the agency’s pantry, which provides food to help until assistance kicks in.
Wilkes’ comments came at the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ retreat at the Tadlock South Rowan Library in China Grove, where department directors outlined needs and goals.
Discussing the impact of the poor economy, Wilkes said it is putting stress and strain on parents and increasing the potential for child abuse and neglect.
She cited an immediate need for four full-time caseworkers in food and Medicaid assistance.
And Wilkes urged the board to begin the process of switching to an electronic document management system to eliminate copies of client files.
The department has to maintain files of all cases ó active and inactive ó filling hundreds of file cabinets and creating a storage nightmare.
Thousands of inactive case files are now being stored off-site at a county maintenance facility.
Wilkes said the management system will allow different program caseworkers to access the file, print or update as needed, instead of having to find the file, make copies, update copies and return the files.
Several counties including Davie, Cabarrus and Alamance already use the system.
After the initial year it would take to get the system online, Wilkes said it would save 50 percent of staff time. Where caseworkers are now handling 300 cases, they would be abe to handle 600 cases.
The document managing system is estimated to cost $700,000. The project is eligible for federal funds.
Commissioners indicated support for the document system, suggesting it would a good time to do the conversion with the department scheduled to move to new quarters on Faith Road early next year.
Social Services is seeking a total of 10 additional positions. The state would pay 60 percent of the costs.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.