Caring for an older, diverse population
Caring for an older, diverse populationOctober 30, 2002Margaret Costello Spillettmcostell@syr.edu
American society is becoming older and more culturally diverse. One in five Americans will be 65 or older by 2030, which is four times greater than the proportion of elderly 100 years ago, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Population Reference Bureau (PBR). Also, the percentage of elderly who are minorities is expected to grow from its current level of 16 percent to 36 percent by 2050, PBR reports. To examine these two major population trends, the School of Social Work will host its fourth annual Legislative Policy Day on Nov. 8 at the Onondaga County Legislative Chambers in Syracuse. “The conference provides opportunities for dialogue about how policymakers and advocates think about and frame policy responses to these challenges,” says event organizer Eric Kingson, a professor in the School of Social Work.
This year’s conference, “Rethinking Social Policy for an Aging, Multicultural Society,” is expected to attract about 120 undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Social Work. “Many students focus on clinical work and client care and don’t often consider policy issues,” says Anna Shuman, a second-year master’s student in social work and an event organizer. “The conference gives them an opportunity to see how policy affects their clients and why it is necessary to advocate for better policies. America’s aging, and that’s the population that will have the greatest needs in the future. That’s where the jobs are, and we need to spark an interest in young social workers to enter the field.”
National aging policy expert and former assistant secretary for aging in the Clinton administration Fernando Torres-Gil will deliver the keynote address at the conference, and Patricia P. Pine, director of New York State Office for the Aging, will report on her office’s priorities for state lawmakers. “The students have an opportunity to hear from people working on these issues at the local, state, and national levels,” says Rachael Gazdick, a doctoral student in social science at Maxwell and a part-time instructor in the School of Social Work. “As a field, social work has come from a history of grassroots advocacy, and it is important for students to know who to contact and how to advocate for the elderly.”
Each year, the event explores significant social issues of the day, including such topics as New York state’s welfare to work reforms, Rockefeller drug laws, and Kendra’s Law, which mandates outpatient treatment for some people with mental illness, regardless of the patient’s desire for medication. Gazdick says that message of “social workers as activists” is reinforced by the college’s decision to hold the conference at the county legislative chambers. “The students sit in the room where policies are addressed and made,” Gazdick says. “They are in a government building and can go knock on the legislators’ doors and take their education further. We hope the conference will spur them into action.”
The conference on aging is funded by a Hartford Foundation GeroRich grant administered through the University of Washington’s School of Social Work. The GeroRich grant supports programs at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work and 65 other projects across the country to strengthen geriatric social work education and attract more social work students into the field of aging in order to improve the care of an increasingly larger