Older Americans Act Amendments of 2006
Comments of National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
Submitted to Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee
On behalf of the 150,000 members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), thank you for the opportunity to provide comments regarding the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2006. Founded in 1955, NASW seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families and communities through its work and advocacy.
As Americans age, they face a combination of psychological, physiological and social changes, as well as living longer with chronic illnesses. The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics (2004) has predicted that by 2030, our country will have roughly 71.5 million people over the age of 65. In addition, the number of adults age 85 and over is expected to double and the number of those 100 and older is expected to triple. With the changing demographics of our older population, our nation will face many challenges in meeting the needs of older adults. Social workers are uniquely suited to address these changing needs.
From area agencies on aging and mental health facilities to veterans’ service programs and adult day care facilities, social workers provide services to older adults living in their communities and those living in institutions, as well as family care givers. This is because social workers use a biopsychosocial approach, which examines the person, group or community in the context of their environment and facilitates appropriate problem solving in such a framework.
With that background, NASW offers the following comments:
- NASW is pleased with the insertion of “older individuals with limited English proficiency” within the legislation. NASW believes that language is a communication tool that expresses one’s culture and is one way that individuals interact with others in their families and communities across different cultural groups.
NASW recommends that cultural competence language is included in the legislation.
- Social workers have a long history of experience serving in adult protective services. Social workers need a prominent role in the Office of Elder Abuse Prevention and Services, the appropriate and interested parties of the interagency coordinating committee, and the multidisciplinary committee partnerships. Social work is a distinct profession with rigorous, specialized education and training requirements, state licensure, certification, and ethical standards.
NASW recommends that social workers be included on all necessary panels, committees and partnerships.
- Social workers form an important link between older adults and the services designed to help them live with independence and dignity and to achieve maximum potential during later life.
NASW recommends that social workers be included in the list of service providers and the list of eligible partners in the multidisciplinary community partnership.
- The NASW is concerned about the supply of social workers in the United States. In March 2006, NASW released its ground-breaking report, Assuring the Sufficiency of a Frontline Workforce: A National Study of Licensed Social Workers, and a special report focused on social work services for older adults. While the special report focused on the supply of gerontolgical social workers, what is driving the shortage is the predicated increase in demand for social work services caused by the aging of the U.S. population. Some of the key findings of the report are as follows:
- The social work profession is a significant, experienced provider of frontline services to older adults and their families.
- Gerontological social workers bring increased knowledge, experience and a sense of efficacy to their work with older adults.
- Gerontological social workers provide an important safety net of services to the most vulnerable older adults.
These findings illustrate the important connection between older adults and the social workers who provide services to them.
NASW recommends that scholarships and loan forgiveness programs be established to encourage social workers to enter the specialized field of gerontological social work. NASW also recommends that social workers be eligible for training and continuing education opportunities related to serving older adults.
- NASW is glad that the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2006 provides grants to Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCU), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI), Hispanic Centers of Excellence in Applied Gerontology, and other educational institutions that serve the needs of minority students. Schools of Social Work are an excellent place to attract people of color and train new social workers in cultural competence and aging.
NASW recommends that special grants be awarded to schools of social work at HBCUs and HSIs to train the next generation of gerontological social workers.
- NASW is pleased with the inclusion of mental health care in the language of the bill. Nearly 20% of seniors have mental health needs. Clinical social workers are the nation’s largest providers of mental health and therapy services and provide services in both rural and urban settings.
NASW recommends that specific mental health language is included in the legislation.
- NASW is pleased that the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2006 expands the definition of child to include adopted children.
NASW recommends that adopted children language is included in the legislation.
- NASW is concerned with the use of trained volunteers. Not all volunteers are trained and equipped to provide necessary services for older adults due to the complexity of their needs. Social work with older adults focuses on the physical, psychological, social and economic aspects of daily living.
NASW recommends that social workers be used instead of trained volunteers or that social workers are utilized to train and supervise the volunteers.
Social work services are provided not only to the older adult, but also to his or her family members and other caregivers in conjunction with other providers so the older adult’s independence and well being are maximized. The ultimate goal of social work services for older adults is to reinforce their strengths and capacity.
Thank you for considering our input. You can find our study on workforce issues, Special Report: Social Services for Older Americans at:
We look forward to partnering with you on this important legislative initiative. To discuss any of these issues in detail, please contact Ikeita Cantu’ Hinojosa, Associate Counsel Legislative Affairs, at 202-408-8600 x 278.
Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. (2004) Older Americans 2004: Key Indicators of Well-Being [online]. Retrieved from http://www.agingstats.gov/chartbook2004/population.html.
National Association of Social Workers, Assuring the Sufficiency of a Frontline Workforce: A National Study of Licensed Social Workers - Special Report: Social Work Services for Older Adults; March 2006.
National Association of Social Workers, Choices: Careers in Social Work Where Commitment & Opportunity Meet, 2006, pg 24.