Parent Angele Cade and a Los Angeles County service coordinator at the protest outside the NLACRC office in Van Nuys.

Angele Cade’s son Aundon was born prematurely at 23 weeks and three days, and has faced numerous health challenges. After his birth, he had to remain in the hospital for six months and underwent nine surgeries.

Today Aundon — now age 4 — is in preschool, is very active and is learning to walk. Cade credits his success to the early intervention and help she, her son, and family received from the service coordinator who arranged a plan of physical, occupational and speech therapy. The service coordinator helped guide them through the often difficult and cumbersome services petitions for disabled children.

Because she knows firsthand the impact these workers can make in a family’s life, Cade and several other parents joined coordinators and members of the Service Employees International Unit (SEIU), which represents these employees, at a protest outside the North Los Angeles County Regional Center (NLACRC) in Van Nuys, an agency that provides services to children for those with disabilities.

They were protesting the increasing number of cases service coordinators must carry, which they say hurts the quality of services and attention given to each family. They claim the NLACRC is not complying with the law that mandates a service coordinator for the developmentally challenged must hold a caseload that is less than one service coordinator to 84 clients. For the past two years, caseloads have exceeded 100 clients per service coordinator.

Maritza Campos is a coordinator who’s had a steady increase in her caseload. She’s helped families with disabled sons and daughters for more than 24 years, and said she’s now handling over 100 cases.

This hurts her ability to interact with them and guide them appropriately, Campos said.

“Families often have difficulties navigating the different government systems, and before we could advocate more for them,” she said.

The vigil held outside the NLACRC offices comes as the union that represents service coordinators and the county continue negotiations on a contract. Roshin Mathew, a SEIU representative, said the impasse isn’t as much as increased pay and benefits, but the caseload surge.

“This is affecting parents because they’re not getting the face-to-face interaction with their service coordinator, and that’s why they decided to join in the protest,” Mathew said.

That face-to-face interaction is something Cade valued very much in her case.

Shortly after Aundon’s birth, a service coordinator visited Cade’s home to meet with them and plan the services the child — the surviving son of twins — would need to improve his quality of life. That included occupational, physical and speech therapy, and “anything that could be a challenge.”

“She just guided us and helped us and educated us and was there for us all the way as we received those services,” Cade recalled. “Everything was looked at intricately with the help of our service coordinator.”

 Aundon “has done amazingly well,” his mother said.

“A lot of that is being able to have the services, and someone to guide you who has the insights of the foundation for this type of success,” Cade said.

But Cade worries other parents won’t receive the same services her family did.

“What is at risk right now is for new parents coming in not being able to experience the relationship that benefited our son. They’ve increased their caseloads by almost double,” she said.

“It was imperative that we were given that type of education, support and communication. It was more than just meeting you. It takes an entire team to really develop a strategy that was going to give my son the type of success my son required.”

But according to Mathew, the case overload impacts the help other families like the Cades are getting. She says the increase leads to longer wait times and follow-up for families, fewer and rushed faced-to-face meetings, a lack of advocacy and no proper monitoring of vendors who provide the services.

Cade concurs.