Guest Blog: Making Aging a Priority in the Social Work Practice Area

By August 21, 2013Aging in Place

Today’s LivHOME guest blogger is  Joel L. Rubin, MSW, ACSW, CAE, who has served as Executive Director of the 7,000 member Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) since October 1999. Today he will discuss the need for more social workers in the aging sector.


Here’s Joel:


The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest professional association of social workers. As executive director of the NASW Illinois Chapter, which has close to 7,000 members, I am in contact with a wide range of social work constituencies, students, emerging professionals, seasoned social workers, private practitioners, and more. I regularly ask any group I am speaking to or presenting for what their specific practice area of concentration covers. Unfortunately working with older adults does not receive a high response rate. Social workers who work with older adults make up about five percent (5%) of the nation’s half a million social workers. They can help older adults and their families maintain well-being, overcome problems, and achieve maximum potential during later life. Social workers serve as advocates for older people, providing a vital link between older individuals and the services they need. Indeed, a key function of geriatric social workers is to promote independence, autonomy, and dignity. Suffice to say we need more social workers working with older adults.


There are many reasons why social workers may not go into this areas of practice. They think, “I am not interested in working with individuals who are just too old to change,” or “I would rather do something cutting edge or creative rather than work with people who about to die,” or even “I can’t work in a nursing home.” These are just some of the stereotypical answers, but these are incorrect perceptions about working in the aging field.


Here in the state of Illinois and specifically within our association, we have tried to promote the need for social workers to work with older adults. The NASW Illinois Chapter has a very active Older Adults Shared Interest Group (SIG) whose purpose is to promote social work leadership and values in the development and delivery of services to older adults in Illinois. The group also works to recruit and attract social workers to specialize in the development of policy and practice with older adults. The SIG’s activities over the past three years have been focused on professional development (especially regarding workforce issues of social workers working in nursing home facilities), reaching out to social workers in other practice areas outside of the field of aging, advocacy, and informational posts on our chapter website.


The rollout of the Affordable Care Act will require an even more active role from geriatric social workers. It will require them to focus on adding training and education in health and wellness, as Forest Hong notes in the national NASW Aging Practice section.


I encourage social workers to enter into this rich and challenging practice area.


Joel L. Rubin, MSW, ACSW, CAE, has served as Executive Director of the 7,000 member Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) since October 1999. He has over twenty-five years of nonprofit management and fundraising experience including extensive work with boards of directors, committees and volunteers, and advocacy around a wide variety of social work, human service, and international political issues. Joel is a graduate of the Wexner Heritage Fellowship Leadership Program and a current adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work as well as Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work. He can reached at


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