Caring for an older adult can be a source of high stress, misunderstandings and conflict within families. The Association for Conflict Resolution has created a task force to help families deal with these issues instead of looking to the legal system to help resolve them.
NASW has been invited to be a part of the ACR Task Force on Eldercaring Coordination. NASW Senior Practice Associate Chris Herman will represent NASW and provide a social work perspective to the task force as it defines and develops its concept.
“Eldercaring coordination is important because it will provide a dispute resolution option for adults and families dealing with high levels of conflict,” Herman said. “Families often hold differing perceptions of vulnerable adults’ ability to care for themselves — for example, balancing an older adult’s desire for independence with the family’s concerns about safety.”
Eldercaring coordination will complement — not replace — other services, including mediation, psychotherapy and legal services, she said.
Sue Bronson, co-chairwoman of the task force, said ordinary conflicts in families caring for elders can escalate to a level where they reach the court system. And when people go to court, things often get worse instead of better. A goal of the task force, she said, is to develop a system that resolves these conflicts outside of the court system.
“A lot of little misunderstandings in families surrounding the care of an elder can keep escalating, and will wind up in court all the time,” she said. “It’s a highly litigious option to go to court to seek resolution. I don’t think the judges want to be doing nonlegal issues … With the option of eldercare coordination, courts can deal with what they can do best and those on conflict resolution can do what they can do best.”
NASW member Georgia Anetzberger, president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, is one of a number of social workers participating in the eldercaring coordination initiative. She said such programs also are designed to help prevent elder abuse, and are essential. However, dispute resolution is not appropriate for all elder abuse situations, and it does not replace other interventions already in existence to address this problem, she added.
“It is imperative to evaluate the program once it is under way,” Anetzberger said. “Too frequently in the field of elder abuse this has not occurred, and, therefore, we typically do not know what works and what does not work, and when. Obviously, this knowledge is fundamental to advancing the field.”
Although the term eldercaring coordination may change as the ACR task force develops the model, the goals are congruous with social work values, Herman said. The model will also draw heavily on a variety of social work skills.
“The eldercaring coordination role is a natural fit for social workers,” she said.
Dawn Hobdy, manager of NASW’s Office of Ethics and Professional Review, will also represent NASW on the task force’s advisory committee, which will provide information on specific questions and offer feedback on the task force’s work.
The task force brings together representatives from more than 20 organizations in the U.S. and Canada, and will continue its work over the next two years.
“It’s so important that people have an option to address what their current needs are,” Bronson said. “Court is such a poor option, but it’s what people turn to because they don’t know how else to get their needs met.”