Baby boomers reaching golden years
Need for geriatric social work grows
By Paul R. Pace, News staff
About 10,000 baby boomers in the United States will turn 65
every day until the year 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By
2020, one in six Americans is projected to be age 65 and older.
That means up to 70,000 geriatric social workers will be
needed to help address the aging needs of baby boomers.
Among their many roles, social workers are an important part
in helping family caregivers of older adults navigate through health and mental
health networks, according to the NASW Standards for Social Work Practice with
Family Caregivers of Older Adults. It notes that social workers are
well-positioned in helping older adults by using a strengths-based,
The good news is there are efforts taking place to meet the
anticipated demands of tomorrow’s aging workforce.
Social Work Initiative
One example is the Geriatric Social Work Initiative, which has
been funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation since 1999.
The initiative created the Council on Social Work Education’s
National Center for Gerontology Social Work Education, or Gero-Ed Center. It
promotes gerontology competencies in baccalaureate and master’s level social
work programs nationwide to prepare students to enhance the health and
well-being of older adults and their families.
Nancy Hooyman is the Hooyman Endowed Professor of Gerontology
at the School of Social Work at the University of Washington. She, along with
Darla Spence Coffey, president and CEO of CSWE, are the principal investigators
for the Gero-Ed project.
Hooyman noted the Gero-Ed has worked with more than 400 social
work programs throughout the country to infuse gerontology
competencies and content either in their required generalist curriculum or
The initiative is making an impact, Hooyman said, noting that
more than 75 percent of social workers end up working with older adults and
their families in some capacity, even though they may think they will never do
“It is important that every graduate have a generalist level of
competencies to work with older adults,” she said.
The overall impression of the curricular program has so far
involved more than 1,000 faculty and an estimated 10,000 students. Of that
number, 71 percent of students interacted with at least one older adult by the
time they graduated. Faculty respondents said nearly 50 percent of graduates
were prepared to work with older adults and families.
The Geriatric Social Work Initiative works in other positive
ways as well. It promotes systems of coordinating care by helping social
workers become better navigators for older adults and families when dealing
with an array of health care options.
In addition, the initiative promotes faculty leaders in
gerontological education and research through a faculty scholars program, a
doctoral fellows program and a doctoral fellows pre-dissertation award program.
Hooyman said Congress needs to take measures to address the
future needs of baby boomers by ensuring the solvency of Social Security,
adopting the recommendations of the federal Commission on Long-Term Care, and
supporting the workforce development recommendations of the 2008 Institute of
Medicine report “Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care
Social workers are in a strong position to address the social
determinants of health and play critical roles of care coordination and
transition management, she said.
Partnership Program for Aging Education
Another Geriatric Social Work Initiative is working to help
create 70,000 “aging savvy” professional social workers by 2020.
The Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education is led,
in part, by Patricia Volland, who is the director of the Social Work Leadership
Institute and a Visiting Distinguished Lecturer at Silberman School of Social
Work at Hunter College.
For the past 13 years, she has been the principal investigator
for HPPAE, which works to recruit and train the next generation of social
workers who specialize in aging by transforming how geriatric education is
taught at MSW programs nationwide.
Fewer than 3 percent of social work students currently
specialize in aging. The HPPAE model trains social workers to initiate and
maintain improvements in long-term, community-based care for older adults and
develops leaders in the field of aging to train future social work
It also uses partnerships between universities and community
agencies, and promotes a competency-based curriculum and a rotational field
education model that exposes students to the full spectrum of services for
All MSW programs already feature a field education model, and
the HPPAE is often an innovative improvement upon this model, organizers said,
which takes into account the trends and changes in the field of aging that
require social workers to be more familiar with, and skilled at, navigating the
different health care and social service systems available to older adults.
HPPAE has proved to be successful in recruiting students into
aging in 72 graduate schools in 33 states, according to Volland. As
of 2012, 2,600 MSW graduates have participated in the program.
“We are happy with how it has turned out. I am very pleased,”
However, one of the key challenges for social workers who
specialize in aging is salaries. Currently, the system lacks a financial
initiative for social work students to specialize in geriatrics.
“I think we need to address the salary issue,” Volland said.
Among her hopes for the future is for social workers to be
leaders in care coordination for older adults.
Social workers “should be leaders in recognizing and
supporting baby boomers’ desires to age in place and remain independent,” she
said. “We should be at the forefront of care coordination, which is part of the
Affordable Care Act.”
University Multi-disciplinary Gerontology Center
There are also social workers who are helping make a
difference in geriatric social work at the local level.
One of them is Sandra Edmonds Crewe, a social work professor
at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and director of the university’s
Multidisciplinary Gerontology Center.
The center focuses on the strengths and needs of
African-American and ethnic minority older persons and their families through
professional development meetings, seminars and workshops, speaking
engagements, and support groups. It also offers aging and caregiving resources
The center is a member of the D.C. Senior Service Network,
which comprises 20 community-based, nonprofit organizations that provide direct
services to the district’s older citizens.
Crewe noted that some of her recent presentations on aging
have taken place at hospitals, churches, nonprofit organizations and government
agencies. Her topics of discussion have included the African-American
caregiving experience, spirituality and caregiving, peers helping peers and
cultural diversity among older adults.
“The MGC also hosts a grandparent caregiver support group
that offers an opportunity for grandparents to exchange resources to assist
them with caregiving and the emotional support needed to cope with the
stressors related to caring for grandchildren,” said Crewe, who has authored
the AARP Report on Grandparent Caregivers and served as an expert panelist to
develop the NASW Standards for Social Work Practice with Family Caregivers of
“We are planning a second support group on campus for faculty
and staff engaged in caregiving,” she added. “This group will provide the
opportunity for faculty and staff to reduce stress of caregiving through a
brown bag lunch exchange.”
Crewe is also on the board of the African American Alzheimer’s
and Wellness Association and the Board of the American Association of Service
She noted that social work students at Howard are exposed to
content that highlights the strengths of older persons as well as the risk
factors related to wellness.
“Our students are prepared to work with older persons who are
vulnerable to the cumulative effects of aging, ageism, racism and sexism,”
Crewe said. “Also, students are invited to attend monthly seminars on various
aging topics. Our students are encouraged to present at these seminars.”
Crewe said one of the most important things Congress and the
president can do to help baby boomers as they age is to ensure that their
health care needs are met.
“Full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable
Care Act is a step in the right direction,” she said. “I am especially excited
about the provisions that expand mental health care. This is greatly needed to
ensure that the stigma and affordability do not conspire to create barriers to
Ph.D. in social work and gerontology
Another effort to expand the intersection of social work and
gerontology is taking place at Wayne State University School of Social Work in
Last fall, the school began enrolling students in its
first-ever Ph.D. in social work with a dual title in gerontology program.
Two gerontology students applied to receive the dual title
degree in its first semester, said Faith Pratt Hopp, associate professor at
WSU’s School of Social Work. Several more students have expressed interest in
the program as well.
The dual degree aims to build capacity for social work faculty
and researchers trained in geriatrics who can promote evidence-based practices
and serve as role models for future generations of social workers specializing
in the field.
“We are very excited about the opportunity available through
this program to prepare researchers and scholars to contribute to
gerontological knowledge, practice, and policy,” said Hopp. “This new program
will help social workers build on their knowledge of practice with older adults
to strengthen their research knowledge and competencies. This program increases
social workers’ access to Wayne State University’s accumulated knowledge for
helping urban communities address the challenges of the diverse and rapidly
growing population of older adults.”
From February 2014 NASW News. © 2014 National
Association of Social Workers. All Rights Reserved. NASW News
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