Competencies for Social Work Practice with Older Adults and Families from a Lifespan Perspective
University of Michigan's School of Social Work (U-M SSW) is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation (COA), of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Accreditation is a system of recognizing educational programs as having a level of performance and quality that gain them the confidence of the educational community and the public. You can read more about the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards here.
At U-M SSW, each pathway has specialized competencies that describe the knowledge, values, skills, and cognitive and affective processes that comprise the competency in each pathway area.
1. Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior
Social workers demonstrate the ability to apply ethical social work principles and critical thinking to products and work produced. Social workers understand the role of emotional intelligence and professional resilience in professional and ethical practice. Social workers understand the role of other professionals when engaged in interprofessional teams within their areas of specialization. Social workers recognize the importance of life-long learning and ways that supervision and consultation can support continued development.
- Utilize supervision and consultation to guide professional decision-making.
- Demonstrate emotional intelligence in practice and professional situations.
- Utilize effective communication strategies appropriate to context.
2. Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice
Social workers in gerontology understand the impact of discrimination and oppression on older adults and their caregivers and identify the intersectionality of age with multiple characteristics of diversity and structural inequities throughout the life course. Gerontological social workers practice cultural humility and effectively work with diverse, older adults and their caregivers, groups, and communities.
- Appraise their own values related to diversity in aging.
- Analyze how diversity and oppression impact older adults and families.
- Address the cultural and spiritual histories, values and beliefs of older adults and families.
- Defend the impact of structural inequalities and the value of diversity among older adults as part of their roles on interprofessional teams and in organizations and communities.
3. Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice
Social workers work to advance human rights and social and economic justice for older adults and their caregivers. They incorporate the historical context and the physical and social environment, including experiences of trauma and micro aggressions, which may create barriers to social, economic, and environmental justice for older adults. Practitioners in aging critically and objectively analyze how policies and programs promote or inhibit justice and use story and narrative to impact change at the micro, meso, and macro levels. As members of interprofessional teams, they engage other disciplines to recognize such contextual and environmental barriers and ensure that older adults are aware of their rights. Aware of ageism and other institutionalized biases, they practice cultural humility and address discriminatory policies, practices, and language by utilizing culturally and linguistically appropriate measures and evidence-informed services and interventions.
- Engage older adults, their caregivers, and other constituencies to become aware of their rights to available resources and how they relate to social, economic, and environmental inequities.
- Participate in system changes at all levels to promote well-being for and among older adults.
- Empower individuals and groups within local communities, including older adults themselves, to advocate for social, economic, and environmental justice for all older adults and their caregivers.
4. Engage in Practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice
Social workers in aging value their essential role in using knowledge and evaluating research. They identify critical gaps and promote the adoption of evidence-based practice in organizations working with, and on behalf of, older adults and their caregivers. They integrate social behavioral approaches to aging research with knowledge from their practice. Gerontological social workers recognize factors that affect the inclusion of older adults’ participation in research and understand how evaluation processes within organizations can contribute to broader knowledge-building within social work and aging.
- Understand and build practice knowledge central to maximizing the well-being of older adults and their caregivers.
- Adopt, modify, and translate evidence-based practices that are most appropriate to particular aging-focused practice settings and populations.
5. Engage in Policy Practice
Social workers understand how to analyze, formulate, and advocate for policies that advance human rights and social, economic, and/or environmental justice through the application of critical thinking skills. Social workers are able to identify how current events are linked to policy issues, how to critically analyze and understand policy implications, and apply strategies to engage in policy practice that effect change and advocate for clients.
- Identify how current events are linked to policy issues impacting clients and client systems.
- Analyze the implications of policy across service systems.
- Identify strategies to engage with policy to advocate for clients and client systems.
6. Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
Social workers in aging engage older adults, caregivers, and related systems by understanding and applying a range of appropriate theories. To foster this engagement, gerontological social workers interpret the diverse life courses (including resilience, contributions, and strengths) of older adults and consider cohorts and contexts in which they have lived. They also recognize how their own life trajectory influences their engagement with diverse older adults and their constituents.
- Understand and use knowledge central to maximizing the well-being of older adults and their caregivers.
- Adopt, modify and translate evidence-based/informed practices that are most appropriate to particular aging-focused practice settings and populations.
7. Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
Practitioners in aging utilize ecological-systems theory, a strengths-based and person/family-centered framework to conduct assessments that value the resilience of diverse older adults, families, and caregivers. They select appropriate assessment tools, methods and technology, and evaluate, adapt, and modify them, as needed, to enhance their validity in working with diverse, vulnerable and at-risk groups. The comprehensive biopsychosocial assessment takes into account the multiple factors of physical, mental and social well-being needed for treatment planning for older adults and their families. They develop skills in interprofessional assessment and communication with key constituencies to choose the most effective practice strategies. Gero social workers understand how their own experiences and affective reactions about aging, quality of life, loss and grief may affect their assessment and resultant decision-making.
- Conduct assessments that incorporate a strengths-based perspective, person/family-centered focus, and resilience while recognizing aging-related risk.
- Develop, select, and adapt assessment methods and tools that optimize practice with older adults, their families, caregivers, and communities.
- Use and integrate multiple domains and sources of assessment information and communicate with other professionals to inform a comprehensive plan for intervention.
8. Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
Practitioners aim to promote wellness, build aging-friendly communities, empower older adults to manage their chronic conditions, optimize elders’ productive contributions to families and communities, and ensure their quality of life, including reducing social isolation, suicide, and elder mistreatment. Gero social workers address ageism and discrimination at the individual, group, community, and policy levels and aim to reduce inequality based on life-long disparities. Practitioners in aging build on comprehensive biopsychosocial assessments to plan and implement effective and culturally appropriate interventions, including peer support. They are knowledgeable about, critically analyze, and apply evidence-informed interventions as well as emerging practices. Gero social workers value and draw on strengths-based and person/family-centered approaches to ensure that interventions are consistent with mutually agreed-on goals at the individual, family, group, organizational, and community levels. They use technological resources, where appropriate, to improve quality of care. Practitioners in aging advocate to improve access, coordination, and quality across a continuum of medical, community, and social services.
- Promote older adults’ social support systems and engagement in families, groups, and communities.
- Provide person-centered and family-directed interventions that take account of life course disparities and are targeted to diverse populations, groups, organizations, and communities.
- Assess for quality and access a range of services, supports, and care options, including groups and technology, for older adults and families to assure optimal interdependence.
- Monitor and modify interventions as needed to respond to individual, family, and environmental challenges.
9. Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
Social workers integrate sources of knowledge—including gerontological and social work theories and research, input from constituencies, and awareness of broader societal trends—within evaluation processes. They value the role of older adults and their caregivers as contributors to evaluation and adapt research designs and measurement tools to fully include them across diverse practice settings. Practitioners in aging communicate evaluation findings and implications for improvement (e.g., financial, operational) across micro, mezzo, and macro levels of aging-focused practice and policy.
- Plan and conduct evaluations to continuously improve programs, policies, and practices impacting older adults and their caregivers.
- Use and translate evaluation outcomes to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of programs, policies, and practices for an aging society.