On the Edge of a New Frontier: Is Gerontological Social Work in the UK Ready to Meet Twenty-First-Century Challenges?

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  1. Sally Richards*,
  2. Mary Pat Sullivan,
  3. Denise Tanner,
  4. Christian Beech,
  5. Alisoun Milne,
  6. Mo Ray,
  7. Judith Phillips and
  8. Liz Lloyd

  1. Sally Richards is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology, Social Work and Public Health, Oxford Brookes University.
    Mary Pat Sullivan is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Health Sciences and Social Care, Brunel University. Denise Tanner
    is a Lecturer in the Institute of Applied Social Studies at the University of Birmingham. Christian Beech lectures in Social
    Work at Swansea University. Alisoun Milne is Reader in Social Gerontology and Social Work at the University of Kent. Mo Ray
    is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Public Policy and Professional Practice at the University of Keele. Judith Phillips
    is Professor of Gerontology at Swansea University and director of the Older People and Ageing Research and Development Network
    in Wales (OPAN Cymru). Liz Lloyd is a Senior Lecturer in Social Gerontology at the School for Policy Studies, University of
    Bristol. The authors are all members of Gero 8, a collaboration of social work academics engaged in research and teaching
    in gerontology and gerontological social work.
  1. *Correspondence to Dr Sally Richards, Department of Psychology, Social Work and Public Health, Oxford Brookes University, Jack
    Straws Lane, Marston, Oxford, OX3 0FL, UK. E-mail: sallyrichards{at}brookes.ac.uk
  • Accepted March 2013.

Abstract

This article explores the readiness of gerontological social work in the UK for meeting the challenges of an ageing society
by investigating the focus on work with older people in social work education and the scope of gerontological social work
research. The discussion draws on findings from two exploratory studies: a survey of qualifying master’s programmes in England
and a survey of the content relating to older people over a six-year period in four leading UK social work journals. The evidence
from master’s programmes suggests widespread neglect of ageing in teaching content and practice learning. Social work journals
present a more nuanced picture. Older people emerge within coverage of generic policy issues for adults, such as personalisation
and safeguarding, and there is good evidence of the complexity of need in late life. However, there is little attention to
effective social work interventions, with an increasingly diverse older population, or to the quality of gerontological social
work education. The case is made for infusing content on older people throughout the social work curriculum, for extending
practice learning opportunities in social work with older people and for increasing the volume and reporting of gerontological
social work research.

Key words

  • Ageing and older people
  • gerontological social work research
  • gerontological social work education

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