Older and wiser? Social work with older adults

By Faith Gatsby

When we think of front line social work practice, the first thing that immediately comes to mind is the important work that is carried out on behalf of vulnerable children and their families. I want to however draw on a population group within our current society that is equally as vulnerable and is often left forgotten. The field of practice that I am referring to is the role of a social worker with older adults

Within the current context of New Zealand, it is evident that our population is ageing and therefore social workers alongside other professionals need to provide the appropriate services to enhance and maintain the quality of life in order to address the specific issues that older adults face. In order to meet the demand for these services, it is essential that social work education reflects the changing role of what social work looks like within this field. We can do this by raising more awareness about the various social work roles with older adults that exist in order to ensure that social work students are not misguided in their perception that child protection is one of the few potential areas of social work practice. The fact that there are currently less social work students willing to pursue  social work practice with older adults poses a threat for the future as social work practitioners play such a vital role to enhance the quality of life for this particular population of older adults.

The positioning of older adults within our society is riddled with potential facets of vulnerability which is a cause for concern as they are easily taken advantage of in their age. Elder abuse is a very current and relevant issue which could stem from a range of stakeholders in positions of power in regards to the care of older adults. The most common source of elder abuse usually comes directly from family members through emotional or financial manipulation but occasionally could occur with the professionals associated with managing the day to day duties of care within residential facilities for instance. When the media portrays that practitioners within the field are taking advantage of elder adults, this can be very detrimental to the public perception of the role. Hearing such shocking stories within the media causes major barriers for social workers as the general public will inevitably be less willing to develop trust in order to meaningfully engage with geriatric social workers. It is important to ensure that appropriate systems are put into place to avoid older adults being taken advantage of by the very people who are meant to be caring for them.

In New Zealand, the national organization Age Concern provides support services for older adults within the context of their own communities. As future social work practitioners, I believe that it is important for us to effectively engage with this population group as it is evident that throughout the developed world, people are living to be older and wiser and social work practice should endeavour to do the same.


Davey, J. (2017, May 18). Aged care services- future demand and other conundrums [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://acnzonresearch.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/aged-care-services-future-demand-and-other-conundrums/

Ingrao, C. (2015, February 10). Gerontological Social Work: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://socialwork.simmons.edu/gerontological-social-work-meeting-needs-aging-population/

McNicoll, A. (2012, November 1). A very practical guide for social workers working with older people [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.communitycare.co.uk/blogs/adult-care-blog/2012/11/a-very-practical-guide-for-social-workers-working-with-older-people/

Smith, R. (2013, September 23). Social worker jailed for stealing over £31,000 from elderly clients [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.communitycare.co.uk/blogs/social-work-blog/2013/09/social-worker-jailed-for-stealing-over-31000-from-elderly-clients/

Willis, A. (2016, January 13). Social work with older people is as important as child protection [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/social-life-blog/2016/jan/13/social-work-with-older-people-is-as-important-as-child-protection


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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