Engaging Social Workers to Prevent and Address Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation

by Chris Herman, MSW, LICSW, Senior Practice Associate, National Association of Social Workers

As World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) approaches, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is planning a variety of activities to engage social workers in preventing, identifying, and addressing elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

With a membership of 132,000, NASW is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the United States. The national office, where I work on aging issues, is located in Washington, DC. However, the association has 55 chapters—one in every state, plus a chapter in the District of Columbia, New York City, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. This means that NASW provides services and conducts advocacy at both the national and chapter levels.

Since its founding in 1955, NASW has had a dual mission. We work to advance the social work profession, fostering the professional growth and development of social workers throughout their careers. Equally importantly, we advocate for social justice, advancing social policy that improves the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities. Moreover, NASW research has found that most social workers interact with older adults in practice, even if they don’t specialize in aging. Thus, action to prevent and address elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation—and to highlight and enhance social workers’ role in elder justice efforts—is integral to NASW’s dual mission.

In recent years, NASW has taken many steps to address elder abuse. Sessions on the topic were included in our 2012, 2014, and 2016 national conferences, and an archived Webinar on the topic remains available to members of our Specialty Practice Sections. The Hartford–NASW Supervisory Leaders in Aging initiative includes a three-hour workshop dedicated to elder mistreatment, including self-neglect. As a member of the Elder Justice Coalition and the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, NASW advocated for passage of the Elder Justice Act, and we continue to work with those coalitions to implement this landmark legislation. NASW has also advocated for elder justice through its efforts to reauthorize and fund the Older Americans Act, in its comments regarding the 2015 proposed rule to reform requirements for long-term care facilities, and in its comments to the 2015 White House Conference on Aging. Last, but not least, NASW has promoted WEAAD to social workers, using a variety of online and print media.

WEAAD 2017 provides an excellent opportunity to engage social workers in addressing elder abuse. NASW is planning a number of related activities:

     •Using the reframing techniques suggested by FrameWorks, NASW will update its issue brief on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The revised publication will be available to NASW members in June.

  •      •The 2017 NASW Virtual Conference, Aging Through the Social Work Lens, which takes place on June 14 and 15, will feature two sessions addressing elder abuse: Moira O’Neil of the FrameWorks Institute will present the Reframing Elder Abuse toolkit, and social worker Georgia Anetzberger (a member of NCEA’s advisory board) will present on ethical issues related to self-neglect among older adults.

NASW looks forward to educating social workers about these resources and opportunities. As we do so, we hope to learn from social workers of their efforts to promote WEAAD and to address elder abuse.

Chris Herman, MSW, LICSW, is a Senior Practice Associate at the National Association of Social Workers, where she works on a variety of aging-related practice and policy issues. Prior to joining the NASW national staff in 2007, Chris worked with older adults in multiple roles and practice settings.