By the year 2020, the National Institute of Aging estimates that the country will need nearly 70,000 social workers to help aging baby boomers cope with the issues of old age. The need reflects a 40 percent increase over the current number of practicing geriatric social workers.
To meet future demands for geriatric services, the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University has received a three-year grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation to initiate a field placement model.
Four first-year students at MSASS—Lauren Brasse, Sally Perry, Mary Ann Schell and Kathryn Vandersall—were selected to participate in the CollAge program (Collaboration in Aging) this fall. This rotating field placement program will introduce them to a range of services available to older adults.
The students will be based at Fairhill Center for Aging, a collaborative campus which provides programs for older adults. Services at Fairhill in which the students will be involved include the School for Care-givers, the Senior Guest House for homeless elders, as well as Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and Wellness and Wisdom programs. The students will also be involved with the Computer on Wheels program which brings computers into individuals' homes and teaches them how to use them to enhance their lives.
MSASS has contracted with agencies to provide rotation sites. McGregor Home in East Cleveland, Center for Therapy in the Arts, Visiting Angels, Alzheimer's Association, Menorah Park, Foley Elder Health Center, Recovery Resources, and Hospice of the Western Reserve, will offer additional learning opportunities for the CollAge students.
During the first semester, and in addition to their Fairhill assignments, the students will shadow a social worker at one or two other sites for a half or full day depending on the organization's availability and the students' areas of interest.
"The agencies are excited about this new program that educates students about the many possibilities and opportunities to work with older adults," said Marjory Klein, the Project Coordinator for the grant.
Rotating field experience is the hallmark of the new program, according to Zoe Breen Wood, Director of Field Education at MSASS.
The new model differs from the current field placement arrangement where MSASS students are placed with one organization for one year of their two-year program. All MSASS students are expected to apply what they have learned in the classroom to the real life challenges found in local communities.
Most of the 4 students in the MSASS CollAge program entered school having already been committed to working with the elderly through experiences with grandparents or volunteerism, according to Klein. However, "Many begin the program with a limited knowledge of the services available to the aging population,"
She added that students often think in terms of caring for adults with end-of-life issues but are not aware of the many social work options which are open to them - from working with the very ill, to providing services to healthy and active senior citizens.
Each of the participating graduate students, who underwent several interviews in the selection process, will be paired with a Mentor, who is a geriatric social worker with many years of experience and can offer professional support and education during their field placement. The Mentor will meet with them on a regular basis throughout their educational experience. For this position, MSASS has drawn upon the talents of retired social workers Dorothy Hokenstad, Carol Dayton and Marty Kelly as well as Linda Elliot, Director of the Benjamin Rose Adult Day Program.
Rounding out their experiences, the four CollAge students as well as other Aging Concentration MSASS students will attend integrative seminars where they will learn from nationally recognized faculty and experienced professionals in the field of gerontology.
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