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Such decisions require case managers to assign points for various risk factors and then produce a total score indicating whether the youth is eligible for secure detention, for a non-secure alternative detention program, or for release home, he said.

Case managers and social workers at DYRS both perform counseling functions, Mr. Walker said, which may include providing advice, instruction, skill development, process consultation or opinion to youths who have major life problems.

Both groups of professionals routinely engage in community organization, he added, including attempts to secure the highest services from specialists, organizations, agencies and the institutions within the D.C. metropolitan area and beyond.

Not in D.C. code

DYRS workers perform everything else in between including referral, advocacy, mediation, consultation, research, administration, and education referral,” he said. “All are defined by D.C. Code as social work practice. Nothing in the D.C. Code defines case management practice. But there is an occupation known as social work case management.”

Mr. Walker has testified before the Board of Social Work, to no avail. He said he confronted the DYRS director in 2005, Vincent N. Schiraldi, and Mr. Schiraldi said, “I don’t give a [expletive]. I just need people who can do the work.”

In 2009, DYRS implemented educational requirements for case managers, Mr. Walker said, after AFGE worked with DCHR to develop a standard that case managers could transition into — with training paid for by the agency — and eventually test to be grandfathered as “social work associates.”

That has not happened, he said, suggesting that time has come to convene a panel “to clarify the practice of social work in the District of Columbia before it creates serious liability questions for the workers, DYRS and the District government.”

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, the Ward 1 Democrat who oversees DYRS, did not take a firm position on professional licensing this week, but said he has concerns about a lack of youth services.

“The case manager-to-youth ratio is very much on our radar,” he told The Times. “We must invest in DYRS employees and their professional development as case managers, social workers and youth-development representatives. Employees must be properly supervised and given the opportunity to grow.

“Everyone must buy into this system in order for it to work,” he said, noting that DYRS follows a rehabilitative model that has been successful in Missouri. “We saw the importance of ongoing professional development in Missouri and the difference it makes in the rehabilitation system and the impact it has on the young people.

“If front-line workers feel respected by the system and feel a part of that system, that positive spirit filters its way to the young people.”