The demographics of modern aging society are changing in contemporary society. This is because the aging society is increasing in population. This increase is due to improved healthcare, and the impact that healthcare has on individual longevity. It is critical for social workers to be well-equipped to manage the expanding aging population. According to the research of the Institute of Medicine, the social work force is not prepared to manage this aging demographic: “The overall pattern here is that older Americans account for a disproportionate share of professional health care services but, in spite of this demand, the number of geriatric specialists remains low.” (Institute of Medicine”, 2008). Therefore, the deficiency must be addressed with education and preparation to deal with a geriatric community larger in number than ever experienced.
Elder Abuse and Social Work Aging Specialists
There are different cut-offs, as to what is the age that one is considered an elder. The age is different in each state as to what age a person is protected by elder abuse law. The age of 50 is the youngest age that a person is considered an elder. In Oklahoma, the age is 62 years of age that a person is considered an elder and is protected by the elder abuse laws, (Social Work Guide, 2016). One consideration that the National Association of Social Workers takes into account is that: “By 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older is expected to double, rising to 70 million. This growing population of older adults will create an unprecedented demand for aging related programs, policies and services.” (NASW, 2016). With the rising population is the corresponding rate of elder abuse.
There are six types of abuse that are classified as elder abuse by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: physical, sexual, neglect, exploitation, emotional abuse, and abandonment, (Felton & Polowy, 2015). The category of neglect can be external, stemming from caregivers or family members, but it also includes self-neglect, (Felton & Polowy, 2015). The role of the aging specialist social worker is to report suspected abuse and to remain vigilant for signs of abuse.
Aging Specialty Licensure in Oklahoma
There are five main types of licensure in Oklahoma. Four of these types require a MSW: “A minimum of a”bachelor”s degree in social work (BSW)”is required to become an”licensed social work associate (LSWA)”in the state of Oklahoma.” (Social Work Guide, 2016). This degree must come from an accredited school by CSWE. Moreover, in order to have an LCSW license and an aging specialty it is recommended that the social worker obtain a credential known as CSW-G (Clinical Social Work in Gerontology). This credential is to assist social workers who must be knowledgeable about any community programs, laws, policies, or social programs that are unique to the aging population. The social worker must have 30 contact hours of post degree continuing education with the elderly. Additionally, the aging specialist will have documentation that they have over 3,000 hours of paid clinical social work that manages the aging population. An overriding obligation for all social workers is to adhere to the NASW code.
Evolution of Aging Specialty in Social Work
It is estimated by the NASW that there is going to be an exponential increase in the aging population: “By 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older is expected to double, rising to 70 million. This growing population of older adults will create an unprecedented demand for aging related programs, policies and services.” (NASW, 2016). Therefore, the need for aging specialists has correspondingly increased. The NASW established the Aging Initiative in order to educate and inform. The aging specialty in social work has evolved in response to the growing demographic need. Additionally, the Eldercare Workforce Alliance was developed early in 2009. This is a coalition of 25 organizations that advocate for elders in the workforce.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Dedicated Aging and Elder Abuse Areas
The disadvantages to having a specialty area are being in accordance with all additional licensure and having the staff to handle the elder abuse area. However, without having a specialty area, many cases will go unhandled, or intermingled with other types of caseloads: “” only a small percentage of professional health care providers specialize in geriatrics, in part due to the high cost associated with the extra years of training as well as the relatively low pay.” (Institute of Medicine”, 2008). It is, therefore, more of an advantage to have the specialty, however, the specialty carries with it a liability.
Elder abuse areas also provide detractors for those who might be potentially abused. The presence of a specialty unit is added assurance that the elderly population is being looked after by the professional social workers. These workers are astute in their observations of the elderly. (Felton & Polowy, 2015).; therefore, the advantage of a dedicated aging specialty is that the specialist will observe things that a more general social worker might miss.
The Aging Specialty and the Impact on Elder Abuse
Prior to having a specified aging specialty, there was little recognition of elder abuse in its many forms. The aging specialty has, simply in its existence, shed light on a social problem that has previously been unexamined, as evidenced in the forming of the coalition: The Eldercare Workforce Alliance, (Felton & Polowy, 2015). The aging specialty has provided a safety net for the masses of population that are getting older and feel vulnerable. The Aging Specialty has implemented programs to assist the elderly in remaining autonomous.
The aging specialty has provided the necessary support for the number of people who are getting older: “”the population of seniors grows to comprise approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population, they will face a health care workforce that is too small and critically unprepared to meet their health needs.” (Institute of Medicine”, 2008). Moreover, the younger population recognizes that there are specialists who are protecting the elder population currently; the inference is that when the younger population ages, they too will have the protection of aging specialists in social services.