by Jim H. Smith
A new program called Supervisory Leaders in Aging, launched last fall with a $1 million, three-year grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation, aims to help National Association of Social Workers (NASW) chapters in New York, Maryland, Illinois and Florida significantly improve the delivery of healthcare and social services to older adults. The program has grown, in part, due to the involvement of Daniel B. Kaplan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social Work, who serves as co-investigator on the grant.
“My passion is for clinical social work,” Dr. Kaplan said. “My interest is in geriatric mental health. While I was directing the counseling program at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, I became increasingly aware that many older people with dementia and their families were not getting the care they needed because providers lacked necessary skills and knowledge.”
Determined to do something about that problem, he enrolled in the doctoral program at Columbia University School of Social Work. There, in his first semester, he met Barbara Silverstone, Ph.D., a leading figure in the field of service for older people and those with disabilities. The two began collaborating on the pilot projects in New York, between 2009 and 2014, that later became the Supervisory Leaders in Aging program.
Dr. Kaplan and Dr. Silverstone developed a series of gerontological social work supervision professional development workshops that are currently underway in each of the four NASW chapters involved in the current demonstration project supported by the Hartford grant. The two collaborators manage the program’s implementation, develop the curriculum, identify faculty members and evaluate results.
“Through those four chapters, we will enroll a total of 160 supervisors,” explained Dr. Kaplan. “They are master’s-level social workers, all of whom supervise staff who serve older adults. These participants will each complete a 10-module training program that covers both gerontological social work and leadership skills.”
The 2.5-month program will run each year in the four sites. “The participants will put their training to immediate use as they support the estimated 1,280 staff [collectively] who report to them,” explained Dr. Kaplan. “All of those social workers serve older adults—more than 100,000 clients every year. Thanks to Supervisory Leaders in Aging, we can expect them to be providing a much higher level of service.”
The aim then is to roll out the program through NASW chapters nationwide. Making big change in society is hard, Dr. Kaplan noted, and it takes time. “That’s why I’m so excited about this program,” he said. “Supervisory Leaders in Aging is not just training. It’s also mentoring. Each cohort of trainees will help others in their service to older adults. Thousands of social workers nationwide will be better equipped to serve older adults.”