Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Multigenerational Practice: An Innovative Infusion Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Multigenerational Practice: An Innovative Infusion Approach

Article excerpt

DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS WORLDWIDE signify an ongoing increase in the size and diversity of the older population. In the United States alone, there has been a 12-fold increase in the population age 65 or older since 1900. There are currently 35 million Americans in this age group and their number is expected to double to 70 million by 2030 (U.S. Administration on Aging, 2003). Elders of color represent 16% of the older population; U.S. Census projections estimate that this proportion will increase to 36% by 2050. Aging trends are even more pronounced in developing countries, where older adults are projected to double at more than twice the rate of elderly populations in industrialized nations (Wisensale, 2003).

These demographic changes are creating a heightened demand for social workers prepared to work with older adults from diverse backgrounds as well as their families. According to Strengthening Aging and Gerontology Education for Social Work (SAGE-SW), by 2020 as many as 70,000 gerontological social workers will be necessary to meet the needs of the diverse older population. This number represents a 10-fold increase in the number of gerontological social workers currently available. One factor in social work's limited preparation for aging-related practice is the lack of gerontological content in the curricula offered by schools of social work. As of 1997, aging content was completely absent in 25% of MSW programs, while 78% of MSW programs included no more than two elective courses in aging (Damron-Rodriguez & Lubben, 1997). Furthermore, as of 2001, only 16% of MSW programs offered a specialization in aging, representing a decline from 39% in 1997 (Berkman, Silverstone, Simmons, Volland, & Howe, 2001). Opportunities to specialize in aging are even more limited at the baccalaureate level, with only 9% of BSW programs offering an aging-related specialization (Damron-Rodriguez, Villa, Tseng, & Lubben, 1997). Indeed, "the primary source of specialty training in aging is continuing education, not social work courses" (Rosen & Zlotnick, 2001, p. 89). Curricular development that integrates gerontological content throughout all levels of social work education is viewed as critical to address the "disconnect" between social work education and the service needs of the burgeoning older population (Rosen & Zlotnik, 2001; Scharlach, Damron-Rodriguez, Robinson, & Feldman, 2000;Damron-Rodriguez & Lubben, 1997).

Several barriers to training social workers to work effectively with older adults have been noted, including: (1) the lack of faculty knowledge about gerontology (Hodges, 1996; Rosen & Zlotnick, 2001); (2) limited opportunities for faculty development in gerontology (Meredith & Watt, 1994); (3) the perception that curricula are already too full (Lubben, Damron-Rodriguez, & Beck 1992; Watt & Meredith, 1995; Olson, 2002); and (4) difficulties attracting students to gerontological practice (Damron-Rodriguez & Lubben, 1997; Olson, 2002). Social work students tend to be resistant to aging studies, reporting greater interest in pursuing coursework in mental health, child welfare, health, and family services, although gerontological social work intersects all of these practice areas (Scharlach et al., 2000). If we are to effectively reach social work students and educators, it is evident that we must develop new approaches to infusing related content into social work education, practice, and research. One such approach is the integration of a multigenerational practice framework.

A Multigenerational Approach

Multigenerational practice promotes health, development, and equality across multiple generations through interdisciplinary practice, education, research, and community-based partnerships (Fredriksen-Goldsen, 2005). The framework addresses not only an increase in older adults worldwide, but also the dramatic increase in the number of generations within a family. …

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