What do social workers need to know about working with elders and their families in order to approach their job competently? The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), based in Alexandria, Va., distilled answers to this question from 945 completed questionnaires yielded by a national survey the organization conducted in the winter of 2000. The study was part of CSWE's Strengthening Aging and Gerontology Education for Social Work (SAGE-SW) project funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation.
According to the survey report, "The viability of the social work profession in a growing aging population is related to having a clear understanding of what competent practice actually is and who needs which competencies." The researchers added, "Obtaining this information also can impact development of social work curricula; it can enhance the availability and quality of resources and suggest models for enhancing the preparation of social workers to meet the needs of a growing aging population; and it can help practitioners seek out the knowledge and skills they need."
Beginning with a thorough review of the professional literature in social work and interdisciplinary practice in aging, the survey team developed a 65-item questionnaire. The researchers mailed the eight-page survey tool to a pool of social work practitioners and academics including both specialists in aging and those who were not. The CSWE/SAGE-SW project also collected data from focus groups and outreach meetings with stakeholders in social work in aging to assess the current state of preparing social workers to meet the needs of the growing aging population in the United States.
One key finding was that there is more interest among social work students in acquiring knowledge and skills related to aging than expected, though these students generally do not want to specialize in gerontological practice. Also, according to the study, "Student interest is not encouraged, in part because most social work faculty have little knowledge or interest in aging." An impediment to change is that many students and social work faculty "do not have a clear picture of the range of services and settings that have need for gerontology-competent social workers."
The study results also demonstrated that infusing gerontology content into the basic social work curriculum is "an effective method of preparing all social workers" to serve this population. …