March is National Social Work Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the important contributions of social workers in our community. As CEO of Monmouth County’s oldest, private nonprofit social service agency, I am proud of our agency’s long and storied history in the field of social work. I am equally proud of our current team of social workers who help our clients “forge solutions out of challenges” everyday.
FCS launched its first social work program in 1910 when the agency was known as “The Long Branch Society for the Improvement of the Poor.” At that time, state and county welfare programs were non-existent. A group of 15 women, led by Florence Cubberly of Shrewsbury, (FCS President Emeritus 1958-1970) volunteered to go into the homes of area families to assess need, identify problems and collaborate with one another on how best to channel assistance. These humanitarian pioneers became actual case workers. Their work in child welfare, poverty and mental health help lay the foundation for many of our current social work policies and practices. The agency went on to hire its first professional social worker in 1914.
Today, I am privileged to work with a dedicated team of 16 professional social workers who assist hundreds of vulnerable clients throughout Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. Like their predecessors, our social workers help people deal with life’s most difficult challenges: abuse, neglect, exploitation, housing insecurity, and financial instability due to addiction and physical, developmental and mental health disabilities. Increasingly our clients are frail, elderly, and live alone, the result of a rapidly aging population. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the number of people aged 65 and over will double during the next 35 years to 83.7 million. In New Jersey, seniors now make up 14% of the state’s total population, an 8% increase over the past three years. Combine that with New Jersey’s high cost of living (the fifth highest in the nation) and decreased funding for many government-supported services and you have a looming crisis of care. Fortunately, our social workers are here to help.
Our Community Support Services department connects vulnerable clients to the resources they need to continue living safely and independently at home. Last year our social workers helped arrange home health and personal care assistance, respite care, transportation and home modification for more than 700 elderly clients. Unfortunately, a reduction in government funding sources has created wait lists for several of our programs, leaving our social workers to prioritize to meet the most urgent needs first.
Our Adult Protective Services Unit is here to protect those who have fallen through the cracks. Last year they responded to 717 cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation among vulnerable adults in Monmouth and Middlesex Counties, a number that continues to rise. Our APS social workers must investigate within 24 to 72-hours of receiving a referral. Depending on the nature of the case, they must coordinate with law enforcement, medical personnel and other social service agencies. Resolving a case can take weeks, months, or even years, while new cases are opened everyday.
Despite the obstacles in their path, our social workers remain dedicated to ensuring the safety and well-being of our clients. They are champion problem-solvers, fierce advocates and empathetic listeners who are often the last hope for a person in need. I am very grateful for their compassion and concern for all human beings.
Delly Beekman, CEO, Family & Children’s Service