Social work with older people must be revived to meet ageing challenge, says College report

Gerontological social work vital to improving quality of life for older people and saving public funding yet at risk of being lost, warn academics

Picture posed by model (Credit: WestEnd61/Rex Features)

The ‘increasing disappearance’ of specialist social work with older people must be reversed to meet the challenges of an ageing society, warns a study published today by The College of Social Work (TCSW).

Reviving gerontological social work was vital to the efficiency and effectiveness of health and social care and to ensuring improved wellbeing for the increasing numbers of older people with multiple and complex needs, said the report.

Social work with older people: a vision for the future was written by eight academics specialising in older people’s social work, known as the G8, who described it as a “call to arms” to revive gerontological practice.

Though not necessarily reflecting the views of TCSW, the College has issued it today, along with several other reports, to make the “moral and financial case” for government to invest in social work with adults.

A specialist branch of social work

The G8 report said gerontological social work was a specialist branch of the profession, whose practitioners’ knowledge base included understanding of the ageing process, health conditions in later life, end of life issues and helping people to manage change.

It said that many social trends supported the case for greater investment in gerontological social work, including the increasing number of older people with multiple and complex conditions; the high number of older people who were carers; the growing number from socially disadvantaged or marginalised groups, including black and minority ethnic and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older people; and the challenges faced by older people with complex needs in managing personal budgets.

The report said social workers were particularly well placed to respond to these trends in ways that improved older people’s quality of life and helped prevent the need for acute health and social care services, saving money for the public purse.

The G8 said social workers were uniquely skilled in assessing the full range of older people’s needs, mobilising family and community resources around them, helping build social and psychological resilience and building trust among marginalised older people to encourage them to engage in services.

They were also well-equipped to help people to manage the transitions involved in older age such as bereavement, changes in their physical abilities and accommodation moves.

‘Profoundly marginalised’

However, the report warned that gerontological social work had been “profoundly marginalised in practice and [was] at risk of disappearing altogether”. It attributed this to the rise of care management and the focus of social workers on the “administrative task” of determining eligibility, and the lack of social work involvement in preventive services, resulting in a lack of evidence for practitioners’ impact in supporting people with lower-level needs. Also it cited the “limited” level of investment in research into gerontological social work and its impact.

As well as reviving gerontological social work practice, the G8 called for a stronger focus on ageing and older people’s issues in social work education and for investment in research that demonstrated the impact of social work with older people.

Alongside the G8 report, the College today published separate business cases for the roles of approved mental health professional lead and of principal social work within adults’ services.

It also published a paper from Angela Jenkinson and John Chamberlain of the Centre for Quality Assuring Public Services at Kingston University, setting out a these proposed a definition of statutory social work with adults.

As reported in Community Care last year, this asserted that professionals’ role was to make best-interests decisions with vulnerable adults to empower and protect them and balance their interests against those of the community, rather than simply arrange services for them as with care management.

In a separate paper, Jenkinson and Chamberlain said their proposed definition of social work, and the strong support of practitioners for it in a consultation they undertook, supported TCSW’s business case by identifying the value that social workers – as opposed to non-qualified staff – brought to services.

The ‘G8’

The G8 group of academics are:

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One Response to Social work with older people must be revived to meet ageing challenge, says College report

  1. Edna April 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    How curious. The consultation on giving powers of entry to homes of elderly persons not lacking mental capacity highlighted something these academics would rather not know. Most elderly people and their families are increasingly voicing a greater fear of social workers interfering in their lives than concerns about being abused. Many families note that social work services do not safeguard or deal with allegations well.

    Someone is getting it wrong and it is not older people like myself.