AARP-Funded NASW Survey Will Examine Aging, Health

NASW has begun work to develop standards of practice for social work with family caregivers. The initiative, funded by a grant from the AARP Foundation, constitutes the second phase of a three-part project to enhance social workers' and nurses' knowledge and skills in supporting family caregivers of older adults.

To launch the initiative, this month NASW is surveying its aging specialty certification holders to gather information about the knowledge and skills needed for social work practice with family caregivers of older adults.

In early 2010, the association will convene a panel of social work experts in aging and health to review the survey results and existing social work competencies related to aging and family caregiving. The panel will develop the standards, and NASW will post a draft for public comment next spring. The completed standards will be disseminated in fall 2010.

According to the National Family Caregivers Association, which works to improve the quality of life for family caregivers and their loved ones, 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.

And the role of family caregivers will continue to expand as the U.S. population ages and a greater proportion of public resources are directed toward home- and community-based care, the Institute of Medicine noted in its 2008 report, "Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce."

The IOM report asserts that improving relationships between health care practitioners and family caregivers can benefit not only caregivers, but also older adults.

Social workers play a key role in supporting family caregivers, said Chris Herman, NASW senior practice associate, one of the staff working on the initiative.

"Many individuals find themselves providing extensive physical, emotional and even financial care for a loved one with little or no experience in, or training for, this challenging work," Herman said. "Social workers help family caregivers fulfill that role while helping caregivers take care of themselves."

She added that just as social workers assess the needs of older adults, so too are they cognizant of family caregivers' needs.

"With their person-in-environment perspective, social workers are trained to assess the needs of family caregivers and to support them in caring for older adults. The practice standards will guide social workers in working with family caregivers."

Herman said that the format of the standards will resemble that of NASW's existing standards. "The caregiving standards will address domains such as ethics, assessment, intervention, cultural competence, advocacy and collaboration."

November marks the 10th annual National Family Caregivers Month, organized by NFCA and endorsed by NASW.

"Strengthening families is a social work priority, which is why NASW is proud to endorse National Family Caregivers Month," said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark. "Family caregivers deserve national recognition, and they need more flexible support from employers, communities and the government."

As part of National Family Caregivers Month, NFCA is holding a free national teleclass/Webinar titled "Safe & Sound: How to Prevent Medication Mishaps," on Nov. 12 from 2-3 p.m. EST.

For more information about National Family Caregivers Month and to register for the teleclass/Webinar, go to "National Family Caregivers Month."