April 12, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 14

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    New SSA program designed to meet needs of the elderly, aid social workers

    By William Harms
    News Office

    The School of Social Service Administration is establishing the Chicago area’s first academic program in social work designed to meet the special needs of the elderly.

    The Older Adults Studies Program, which will be launched in the fall, is an effort to advance the preparation of social workers specializing in gerontology and strengthen the quality of care for a growing older population.

    “We will prepare students to practice in an evolving health care environment and increase the potential for partnerships between the school and the aging services networks in the field,” said Edward Lawlor, Dean of the School of Social Service Administration. “Additionally, we will be in a better position to prepare students for an emerging job market.”

    Currently, SSA students do fieldwork assignments in agencies serving the elderly. Other agencies have contacted SSA asking about the availability of graduates with gerontology training, and applicants to SSA also have begun inquiring if the school has special training for social workers interested in working with older adults, said Cheryl Peek, Director of Field Instruction for SSA.

    The new effort comes at a time when the number of older adults is increasing. Today, 13 percent of the American population is 65 years old or older, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. That share of the population will grow to 22 percent by 2030. In 1994, there were three million people over age 85. By 2050, the Census bureau predicts there will be 19 million people 85 or older in the country.

    The program will have three required courses: one on the biopsychosocial aspects of aging; a course on policy and larger systems issues; and a course on mental health issues in aging. During their second year, students will take part in field placements in settings that address older adult issues. Enrolled students also will take an integrative seminar that will emphasize the application of theories to work in the field.

    SSA currently offers a wide array of courses that touch on the issues of the elderly. The Later Half of Life, for instance, focuses primarily on normative, or typical, psychosocial processes. Another course, Loss, Recovery and Resilience, addresses end-of-life issues and the impact of death and other traumatic losses for survivors.

    The new program follows a series of meetings and discussions among the faculty at SSA as well as its Visiting Committee. And experts from around the country have visited SSA to address faculty and students about current issues concerning the elderly.

    The Nathan Cummings Foundation has provided support for a three-year examination of the needs of the elderly and the relationship of those needs to the work done by social workers, and the Council for Jewish Elderly has provided field placement opportunities for students.

    One of the students placed at the Council for Jewish Elderly last year, Jennifer Meade, said the experience changed her outlook on the needs of older people.

    “People are used to approaching age from a custodial position and making decisions for older adults,” she said. “A lot of us tend to treat the elderly like adult children. However, we need to preserve their capacity to make decisions and to respect the ones they make.”