NASW Board Approves Family Caregiver Standards

The NASW Board of Directors in September approved new standards for social work practice with family caregivers of older adults.

“These standards are designed to enhance social work practice with family caregivers of older adults and to help the public understand the role of professional social work in supporting family caregivers,” the introduction to the standards states.

The standards address the following social work practice concepts as they relate to working with family caregivers: ethics and values; qualifications; knowledge; cultural and linguistic competence; assessment; service planning, delivery and monitoring; advocacy; collaboration; practice evaluation and improvement; documentation; workload; and professional development and competence.

Chris HermanChris Herman, the NASW senior practice associate who assisted with developing the standards, says social workers, regardless of their areas of expertise, need to be attuned to the needs of family caregivers.

“Although many of the concepts in the standards shouldn’t come as a surprise to social workers, the document goes into a level of detail that some might not have thought about if they are not accustomed to working with family caregivers,” she said.

Herman said the standards evolved from a document about social work practice with older adults and their family caregivers to a document focused solely on the caregivers themselves.

“We determined that focusing on the needs of caregivers was important because they deal with tremendous stresses,” she said. “Family caregivers provide most of the care to individuals with a chronic illness or life-limiting condition.”

The knowledge section of the standards calls social work with family caregivers of older adults “a specialized practice area requiring focused preparation and continuing education.”

In addition to promoting clients’ biopsychosocial well-being, social workers help family caregivers navigate health care and social service systems, access resources and identify service gaps and barriers on behalf of their loved ones.

The standards build on two previous works: the Council on Social Work Education’s “Advanced Gero Social Work Practice” and “State of the Science: Professional Partners Supporting Family Caregivers” — meeting proceedings published in both the Journal of Social Work Education and the American Journal of Nursing.

Work on the standards began a year ago with a survey of NASW members certified in gerontology to learn more about their interactions with family caregivers of older adults. NASW also convened a panel of social workers with expertise in working with family caregivers and older adults. The panel helped shape the draft standards, which were then posted to the NASW website and disseminated widely for public comment. NASW staff worked with the panel to review and incorporate public comments and prepare a final version for approval by the NASW Board.

NASW’s development of the standards is part of Professional Partners Supporting Family Caregivers, an initiative done in partnership with the AARP Foundation and the Family Caregiver Alliance and funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation. The goal of the initiative is to enhance social workers’ and nurses’ knowledge and skills in supporting family caregivers of older adults — whose ranks continue to grow.

In a 2008 report titled “Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce,” the Institute of Medicine predicted that family caregivers’ role 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 National Family Caregivers Association currently estimates 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.

Recognizing that adults with long-term care needs prefer to remain at home or in the community, Congress included several provisions to assist family caregivers in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The law expands the Geriatric Academic Career Awards program, formerly open only to allopathic and osteopathic physicians, to include clinical social workers and other health care professionals interested in academic careers in gerontology.

The law also creates a parallel Geriatrics Career Incentive Award program for master’s-level candidates and provides grants to foster greater interest among clinical social workers and other health professionals to enter the field of geriatrics, long-term care and chronic care management.

It expands funding of the Aging and Disability Resource Center Program, which assists older adults, people with disabilities and family caregivers access long-term care services.

In addition, the law enables the creation of a national long-term care insurance program financed by voluntary payroll deductions. Once established, adults who contribute to the program for at least five years will have access to money for community living assistance services if they need help with activities of daily living.

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 increases funding for the Administration on Aging by $108.4 million, of which $102.5 million is for the president’s new caregiver initiative to expand help to families caring for aging relatives and to support older adults and adults with disabilities trying to remain independent in their communities.

November marks the 11th annual National Family Caregivers Month, organized by NFCA and endorsed by NASW.

The Professional Partners Supporting Family Caregivers grant project was selected as one of three finalists for the prestigious 2010 Rosalynn Carter Leadership in Caregiving Award, to be presented at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving Summit in Georgia. The awardee had not been selected at press time.