Gerontological Social Workers
Gerontological social workers are experts at meeting the biopsychosocial needs of older adults. Part of the job is connecting the elderly with community resources. Social workers coordinate care for individuals who need a number of services and who will, over a period of months, years, and sometimes decades, require care at different levels. They help elderly individuals and their families examine their needs, and determine how they will be paid for. They assist them in applying for needed services and dealing with problems as they arise. They may help seniors fill out various other kinds of paperwork, including advance directives.
Gerontological social workers may need to assess clients’ functional capacity. They have some expertise in recognizing the difference between normal and abnormal aging processes and will refer clients to medical professionals when necessary.
Geriatric social workers often serve as discharge planners, making sure that community-based services will be in place when seniors step down from hospitalization to less intensive care. Clinical social workers offer therapy to elderly adults who are experiencing depression or anxiety.
It’s not all about loss of function, though. Social workers also assist older adults who have very active lives, like those who have been thrust back into parenting roles: caring for their grandchildren.
Work settings are varied and can include referral centers, rehabilitation centers, long-term care, outpatient health services, adult protection services, governmental agencies, faith-based agencies, and private practice. Social workers are employed by area centers on aging, providing direct services and advocacy.
How to become a Gerontlogical Social Worker: Education and Training
Gerontological social workers may enter the field at either the bachelor’s or master’s level. The scope of practice may be different, depending on a professional’s education and level of licensing.
Fordham University’s top-ranked School of Social Work offers an online MSW program that prepares students for relevant, integrated practice with all populations. GRE scores not required.
Capella University is now offering an online Master of Social Work that is in CSWE candidacy status. The MSW program helps prepare students to enter the general or clinical practice role (in most states). Capella also offers an online Doctor of Social Work.
Social work programs include core courses that are applicable to multiple populations and settings. However, it is possible to do a concentration in gerontology as early as the undergraduate years. It’s also possible to specialize later – there are options clear through to the PhD level. (At this level, the job is more likely to include policy and research.)
Continuing education is important for staying connected, and professional affiliations can be useful as well. The Geriatric Social Worker Initiative has lots of resources to help geriatric social workers develop their expertise and stay connected. The National Center for Geriatric Social Work Education, although largely geared toward those who educate social workers, has a section with resources for students.
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Licensing and Certification
Licensing is in a broad category. Baccalaureate social workers generally all have the same license (if the state does indeed license at this level). There may be more than one license for master’s social workers, but specialty is still defined broadly. The highest level of practice – independent licensure – requires a period of post-master supervised practice.
Some social workers pursue voluntary specialty certifications through the National Association of Social Workers. The Social Worker in Gerontology – SWG credential is bachelor’s level. Candidates must have either completed a concentration in gerontology or completed 20 hours of relevant continuing education. They become eligible after putting in three years (4,500 hours) working under supervision with older adults.
Master’s level gerontological social workers may pursue the Advanced Social Worker in Gerontology (ASW-G) credential. The requirements include two years of experience and completion of relevant continuing education. Social workers at either level comply with NASW Standards for Social Work Services in Long-Term Care Facilities.
As the American population ages, there is increased need for health workers with expertise in the aging process. The BLS projected 25% growth in jobs for social workers in the 2010 to 2020 decade. The greatest growth (34%) was expected to be in the healthcare arena; the aging of the Boomer generation was cited as a contributing factor.