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Center Plays Key Role in Social Work Education

Growth of the person-centered/participant-directed (PC/PD) model in health care presents questions for training social workers, says Kevin Mahoney, director of National Resource Center for Participant-Directed Services at Boston College. The center’s new partnership with the Council for Social Work Education, he says, will seek to provide answers. (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Dec. 2, 2013

A national center headquartered at the Graduate School of Social Work has formed an innovative partnership to help prepare social workers for a rapidly expanding area of care for the elderly and people with disabilities.

With support from the New York Community Trust, GSSW’s National Resource Center for Participant-Directed Services (NRCPDS) will work with the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) and its National Center for Gerontological Social Work Education (GSWE) to aid GSSW and eight other social work programs in developing and implementing classroom and fieldwork curricula on person-centered and participant-directed services and supports.

The person-centered and participant-directed (PC/PD) model — in which individuals and families have greater control over the design and delivery of health care and related services — is an increasingly popular one, according to GSSW Professor Kevin Mahoney, the NRCPDS director.

In the past decade, he notes, the number of PD programs has more than doubled — to almost 300 — as has the number of individuals utilizing PD services and supports, to some 810,000. All states have at least one long-term services and supports program that gives participants the authority to hire, fire and manage their own health care workers; 45 states also allow participants to manage their service budgets. Studies have shown many positive and encouraging results from the PC/PD approach, he added.

“PC/PD growth presents a challenge for social workers: It’s very likely they will have the job of coaching someone to understand his or her own needs, and how to find the resources he or she needs,” said Mahoney. “But the approach is to focus on the person’s life, not just services, and to make use of informal supports whenever possible.

“So now we need to ask: What basic competencies will social workers need to function in this PC/PD environment? And can you infuse the training for those competencies in social work education? This partnership, thanks to the New York Community Trust, will seek to answer those questions.”

The three-year $886,300 award to NRCPDS and CSWE will fund a project in classroom and fieldwork curricula at GSSW and social work schools or programs at Southern Connecticut State University, University of Maryland, Plymouth State University (NH), Hunter College-City University of New York, University of Portland (Ore.), University of Vermont, University of Washington and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

By the end of the project’s third year, Mahoney explained, each school will devise modules for incorporating PC/PD into its core classes — one clinical, one macro — and one advanced course of the school’s choice. Schools also will collaborate with a local aging and disability resource center or similar agency that will review the curricular resources and supervise student field placements.

“Social work education encompasses both classwork and fieldwork — they are equally vital,” said Mahoney. “Through the work of our center, GSSW has accumulated a great deal of knowledge about the PC/PD model. CSWE has the expertise on how to integrate that knowledge into the curriculum. So this is an ideal partnership.

“When you add the presence of a state agency that can provide a feedback mechanism for the schools’ progress, and aid in identifying field placement opportunities, you have that important fusion of the academic and practice components which is integral to social work.”

Results of the study will be shared with other social work schools and program across the country, said Mahoney, who will collaborate as co-investigator with the grant’s recipient, Nancy Hooyman, a principal investigator with GSWE. She is the Hooyman Professor in Gerontology and dean emeritus at the University of Washington School of Social Work.