A conversation with Dr. Jennifer Pabustan-Claar

May 12, 2023

Dr. Jennifer Pabustan-Claar is currently the Managing Director for Riverside County’s Office of Integrated Services. She is responsible for coordinating the work of a multi-disciplinary leadership team to plan, implement, and evaluate the countywide Integrated Services Delivery Initiative for health and human services.

Previously, she was the Managing Director for the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) for three years, where she oversaw operations and planning for human services in the nation’s tenth largest county. Dr. Pabustan-Claar also headed Riverside County’s Adults Services, which included Homeless, Adult Protection and In-Home Supportive Services programs.

Dr. Pabustan-Claar received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Riverside and obtained her Master’s and PhD degrees in Social Welfare from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Pabustan-Claar was a Title IV-E Program graduate and currently serves on the CalSWEC Advisory Board.

Where did you grow up and can you describe your journey and motivation to pursue a career in social work?

I’m a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines and came to the U.S. when I was 12 years old. As a young person, I remember seeing huge disparities between the haves and have-nots. My father was a very active advocate for farm workers who were among the poorest in the Philippines and I think that was my first exposure and inspiration toward impacting positive change through community service and social action.

What were your professional goals when you started your career and how have your professional goals evolved over time?

While finishing my undergraduate degree in Sociology, I was already working in a non-profit agency serving teen moms and high-risk youths. I knew that I wanted to continue working with youths and also pursue an advanced degree. The Title IV-E Program offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue a MSW degree with a very generous financial assistance. As a young adult, I did not really know what it meant to become a social worker with special training in public child welfare. There was a very supportive learning environment and focused preparation through the IV-E Program. While my initial plan was to complete my MSW, fulfill my 2-year work commitment in child protective services (CPS) and pursue a clinical license to become a therapist, my leadership career took me through a different path.

After completing my MSW from UCLA in 1995, I started my social work career in Santa Clara County’s child protective services (CPS) agency before joining the County of Riverside as a CPS supervisor.

How has the Title IV-E Program helped you achieve your professional goals?

Without the IV-E Program, I probably would have taken a very different career track. I knew very little about social work and working in child welfare when I completed my undergraduate and looking into a graduate program. Besides the financial assistance, the IV-E Program created a clear and focused path to pursuing a career in public child welfare. I found that having an MSW degree provided a great deal of flexibility and readiness to pursue a direct practice or clinical-focused career and for entering into management/leadership positions.

What populations, issues, and settings has your work focused on to date?

After 15 years focusing on child welfare services since receiving my MSW, I have spent nearly the past 10 years working with other vulnerable populations—aging and disabled, homeless, and low-income populations receiving public assistance (Adult Protective Services, Homeless, In-Home Support Services, Self Sufficiency Programs). As a managing director for Riverside County, I am currently leading the countywide effort for Integrated Services Delivery Initiative focusing on a seamless service delivery model that provides better access to both health and human services.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of working at Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (RivCo-DPSS)?

We are one of the largest counties in California with a fast growing and diverse population. Nearly half of the residents are eligible or receiving public assistance which indicates the rate of poverty in our community. Like many other places, the growing needs of our community stretch beyond our financial and human resources. As social workers and leaders, this presents both as a big challenge and a rewarding opportunity to redesign and be innovative in how we do our day-to-day business. The best part of doing this work is that we have willing partners from all sectors, public and private. There is a genuine commitment and eagerness to lift the community and improve the health and well-being of our residents.

As a member of the California Social Work Education Center’s Advisory Board (CalSWEC), what are your priorities and what do you hope to accomplish on the board?

I know firsthand the positive impact of CalSWEC. Now more than ever, we need CalSWEC’s leadership to be at the forefront of producing the workforce that can meet the myriad of challenges we face today. Statewide, we are looking for well-trained social workers as direct practitioners and leaders. Social work degrees both at the undergraduate and graduate levels need to be more accessible. We need to create flexible entry points for all ages and provide opportunities for those in various stages of work experience to choose social work degree as part of their career path.

What kinds of self-care are important to you as a social worker? What do you do to take care of yourself?

It is very easy to get fully immersed in the pressures and crisis of our daily work. It took me a long time to fully understand the need to prioritize self-care to be an effective professional. For me, self-care takes as little as five to ten-minute breaks throughout the day, to be able to walk away from what I’m doing, to breathe deeply, and be able to clear my mind. I recharge during the weekend by conscientiously not thinking about work and distracting my brain and keeping busy on other things I enjoy doing.

What do you hope to do next?

I love what I do—leading the county’s Integrated Services Delivery Initiative. Designing an integrated health and human services delivery model for our county is the capstone of my social work career. I could not have imagined that I would be in a leadership position where I can influence social work practices and policies at a large scale.

Any advice for MSW students who are entering the social work field?

There will always be a high demand for MSW graduates with a rewarding and flexible career opportunities. To be successful in social work, we have to believe in our client’s abilities and strengths.

What do you enjoy doing during your spare time? Any interests or hobbies?

I love gardening and going to see gardens.

Dr. Jennifer Pabustan-Claar

Dr. Jennifer Pabustan-Claar
Managing Director for Riverside County’s Office of Integrated Services