Eldercaring coordination helps address conflicts

The number of people age 65 and older is growing. And that growth adds the potential for increased cases of family conflicts in addressing an older person’s care and well-being.

A newly developed practice modality, eldercaring coordination, can help families and older adults address those conflicts.

The Association for Conflict Resolution Task Force on Eldercaring Coordination developed the process, during which a coordinator assists elders, legally authorized decision-makers and others who participate by court order or invitation to resolve disputes with high conflict levels that impact the elder’s autonomy and safety.

Sue Bronson“Eldercaring coordination is really for the high conflict families where the conflict is no longer about substance — it’s about the conflict itself,” said Sue Bronson (photo right), co-chairwoman of the ACR Task Force.

The task force has outlined the eldercaring coordination process and foundational ethical principles in its recently released Guidelines for Eldercaring Coordination.

They include qualifications of and training protocols for eldercaring coordinators, as well as standardized forms and assessment tools that courts may use to pilot eldercaring coordination projects.

With the release of the guidelines, pilot sites are being sought to test and refine the proposed practice. Because courts will likely generate most eldercaring coordination referrals, at least one judge will be required to participate in each pilot site.

Georgia AnetzbergerSocial workers can take the lead in encouraging pilot testing in their locale and work with interested stakeholders to secure foundation or other funding to make local testing a reality, said NASW member Georgia Anetzberger (photo left), former president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, who served on the Task Force on Eldercaring Coordination.

Practitioners of various professional backgrounds, including social work, may serve as eldercaring coordinators. Completion of training in both elder mediation and family mediation is a prerequisite for participation in the training.

Social workers are well suited for the role, Anetzberger noted.

“Social workers stress individual rights and freedom, which also are underscored in the ethics of eldercaring coordination and at the very core of its practice,” she said. “The emphasis in social work on empowerment is echoed in the attempt by eldercaring coordination to strengthen families and give them better information and skills to negotiate and resolve disputes and to work cooperatively and effectively in the interest of vulnerable elderly members.”

In addition, the knowledge essential for these coordinators has been integral to becoming a social worker for older adults, including knowledge surrounding elder law, capacity considerations, family dynamics, elder abuse, resources and professional supports, and cultural competency, Anetzberger said.

Bronson agrees, noting that social workers are often called to address the concerns of an older person who may be experiencing abuse or coercion.

“Social workers are often there at that moment when a person is being discharged from a hospital, helping with decisions on next steps,” she said. “They identify what the needs are and what the resources are in the community. They are key players.”

NASW Senior Practice Associate Chris Herman represented NASW on the Task Force on Eldercaring Coordination during the first 18 months of its work. Dawn Hobdy, director of NASW’s Office of Ethics and Professional Review, also represented NASW on the task force’s advisory committee.

“NASW is pleased to have been one of 20 national organizations, from both the U.S. and Canada, involved in the development of eldercaring coordination as a new role for social workers and other professionals,” Herman said. “By helping to resolve family conflicts, eldercaring coordinators can improve older adults’ well-being, strengthen family relationships, and facilitate greater linkages with community resources — while promoting elders’ self-determination to the greatest extent possible.”

Herman and Hobdy will continue to support the project in advisory roles as it enters its second phase, which includes developing and implementing a curriculum to train eldercaring coordinators and helping local sites initiate eldercaring coordination pilot projects.

To get involved in a pilot site or to become trained as a coordinator, contact ACR Task Force co-chairwomen Sue Bronson ( and Linda Fieldstone (