Caregiver Standards Begin to Take Shape

Nora O’Brien, Sandra Edmonds Crewe and Joann Damron-RodriguezSocial workers participated in an expert panel convened by NASW recently to develop standards for social work practice with family caregivers of older adults. Among the participants were, from left: Nora O’Brien, Sandra Edmonds Crewe and Joann Damron-Rodriguez.

NASW seeks members’ comments on draft standards for social work practice with family caregivers of older adults. Members can expect the draft standards in May and will have 60 days to submit comments.

Development and dissemination of the standards, made possible by a grant from the AARP Foundation, is part of a three-phase initiative of the John A. Hartford Foundation to enhance social workers’ and nurses’ skills and knowledge in working with family caregivers of older adults.

The standards development process began last November with a survey of NASW’s aging specialty certification holders on existing social work competencies related to aging and family caregiving. All of the survey respondents counted family caregivers among their clients.

In late February, the association convened a panel of social work experts in aging and family caregiving to review the competencies and survey results and to discuss content for the standards.

Chris Herman, NASW senior practice associate, is helping develop the standards. “The panel affirmed that attention to the contributions, strengths, needs and goals of family caregivers of older adults is integral to social work practice and worked to ensure that the standards reflect that central principle,” she said.

NASW staff will continue to work with the expert panel to refine the draft standards, which will be posted for member review and comment in May. NASW will release the final version of the standards, incorporating member feedback, this fall.

Like other NASW practice standards, the standards for social work practice with family caregivers of older adults will address domains such as ethics, assessment, care planning and service delivery, cultural and linguistic competence, advocacy and collaboration.

The National Family Caregivers Association says that more than 50 million Americans each year provide 80 percent of all long-term care for a family member, friend or neighbor — services valued at $375 billion. The role and number of family caregivers undoubtedly will grow as more baby boomers advance in age and more people live with chronic illness.

A recently released report of the National Alliance for Caregiving, done in collaboration with AARP, underscores the social work role in supporting family caregivers. According to “Caregiving in the U.S. 2009,” family caregivers named health care professionals — including social workers — as their top source of information to help them with caregiving. An executive summary is available.(PDF)

While a number of previously released studies demonstrate the costs of family caregiving to both individuals and employers, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging have found that caregiving employees report poorer health and more chronic disease, costing employers more than their non-caregiver counterparts.

Another report, released in February and prepared for the NAC and MetLife’s Mature Market Institute, identified an 8 percent differential in increased health care costs between caregiving and non-caregiving employees, potentially costing U.S. employers each year an extra $13.4 billion.

One way to contain costs, the report suggests, is to incorporate counseling into primary care medical visits. “For example, where the same entity provides insurance and medical care, such as Kaiser Permanente, the physician doing a routine visit can ask if the patient is also a family caregiver and a social worker can then join in to ask if there are work/life balance issues,” the report said.

To read the report, go to: The MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs. (PDF)

The Obama administration is paying attention. The president’s Middle Class Task Force, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, recently recommended financial relief for caregivers of older adults.

The result was $102.5 million to fund an Administration on Aging caregiver initiative that would help caregivers of older adults with such things as respite care, transportation and assistance with activities of daily living and an expansion of the Dependant Care Tax Credit in the president’s fiscal year 2011 budget request.

“These proposed policies support social workers’ suggestions and experience in working with families who care for their older relatives,” NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark said in a letter to the vice president, commending the task force’s work.