Are you interested in aging, working with older adults and their families, and leading change efforts for an aging world? Then a master’s degree in social work with a specialization in Aging Services and Policy may be a good fit for you.
Through specialized coursework and field experiences tailored to fit your interests and career goals, this pathway will prepare you to practice across the continuum of services that promote quality of life and independence for older adults and their families. Social workers interested in aging provide clinical care in health, behavioral health, memory care, community and residential settings. Additionally, social workers intervene in social justice issues impacting older adults through educational, management, program development, advocacy and policy work. This concentration emphasizes culturally responsive practice needed for the increasing diversity among older adults locally, nationally and internationally.
The Aging Services and Policy Pathway includes focus areas such as:
- Healthy-Aging Focus: Prepare for a career within medical settings, hospice agencies, long-term care, behavioral health settings, adult protective services or community outreach organizations, for example.
- Policy and Program Development Focus: Prepare for a career working within organizations or government as a policy analyst, researcher, program director or program innovator, for example.
- Intersectional and Social Connection Focus: Apply your knowledge to increase social connections between and with diverse older adults through services that promote intergenerational connections, serve older refugee and immigrant adults, older persons of color and older LGBTQ+ adults, for example.
Your Career Options
Social work jobs serving aging adults are plentiful, and geriatric social work is among the nation’s top 20 careers in terms of growth potential. With an MSW specialization in Aging Services and Policy, career options include:
- Counseling and care management in hospice, community mental health centers, long-term care and private practice settings
- Serving as a first responder to crisis situations such as homelessness, elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation
- Conducting program development, planning and evaluation of aging services in government agencies and nonprofits
- Building aging service models to focus on wellness, quality of life, meaning and community
- Advocating and innovating aging services to promote social justice for all older adults
Intergenerational Justice | SOWK 4240
In this course, you’ll engage in the conversation, scholarship and social work practice issues related to how social justice is promoted across age groups and generational cohorts, from Baby Boomers to the Millennial generation. You’ll explore the ways that families, communities, states and nations link age to power, decision-making, funding and access to resources and examine issues of injustice and inequality.
Aging Policy | SOWK 4650
This course provides an overview of social policy and service delivery issues in gerontology. It includes a critical review of rapidly developing policy issues and an overview of U.S. health care and social service delivery systems serving older adults. The course will encourage you to participate in critical analysis of issues and develop and analyze innovative proposals to improve policy and programs for older adults.
Grief & Loss Across the Life Span | SOWK 4741
This course will prepare you to understand social work roles and practice (engagement, assessment, intervention and evaluation) in working with those experiencing loss across the life span. Whether the loss is related to health or functioning, family system, developmental stage or an actual death, this course will help you to become culturally responsive to diverse perspectives and bereavement needs. You’ll learn theoretical models of grief and loss and how to effectively evaluate the needs of grieving individuals, families, communities and their support systems.
Social Work Assessment and Interventions in Aging | SOWK 4445
This course focuses on biological, neurological, psychological, social, spiritual and environmental aspects of late life as a foundation for the delivery of assessments and interventions to older adults, with specific attention to elder wellness. You’ll explore demographic projections, population trends and theoretical perspectives that inform gerontological social work practice. You will also learn about the continuum of care services for older adults, the interdisciplinary nature of helping services, and the dynamic nature of aging for vulnerable older adults, such as those facing institutionalized oppression.
Assessment of Mental Health Across the Lifespan | SOWK 4338
This course focuses on the assessment of psychological, social and biological contributors to mental health disorders in children, youth, adults and older adults. You’ll examine the strengths and weaknesses of the DSM-5 classification system in the context of social work values and ethics and learn about symptoms, theories of etiology, treatment interventions and prognosis within each diagnostic category. You will also learn about assessment tools in the context of gender identity and expression, ethnicity, cultural diversity, sexual orientation and historically oppressed and/or disadvantaged populations.
Planning and Program Development | SOWK 4535
This course will prepare you to engage in strategic planning and program development roles and practice within a social work community, organizational or policy practice setting. You will gain knowledge in the principles of planning, social enterprise, the engagement of stakeholders in planning processes, community collaboration and the elements of designing and implementing programs. You’ll put this knowledge into practice by developing a comprehensive program proposal, applying strategic thinking, planning and critically evaluating research-informed practice and practice-informed research.
Chandra Matthews, MSW ’00, Director, Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center, Jewish Family Service of Colorado Read More
My Aging Policy class tied policy learning to what was actually happening in the Denver older adult community. [The professor] helped us make professional connections, which continue to serve me well today.
Explore some of our field education locations with a focus on Aging Services and Policy
Administration on Aging
The federal Administration on Aging funds programs for older people under the Older Americans Act. The Region VIII office works directly with tribal organizations, grantees and agencies for aging in six states to ensure that older Americans have the opportunity to age with dignity, have choices in managing their own lives, and remain active and independent within their communities. Each internship is tailored to student interests in areas of gerontology, social policy and administration.
Dignity Hospice provides hospice services primarily to geriatric patients but has the resources to treat any adult. Interns provide psychosocial assessment, develop social work goals and interventions on the plan of care, evaluate care plan effectiveness and make home visits. As a collaborative member of an interdisciplinary team, the social work intern offers a unique perspective on patient care.
Masterpiece Living provides the resources and expertise necessary to promote healthy lifestyles that result in a successful aging experience. Interns work with senior living communities to support enhancement of successful aging cultures. Opportunities include developing trainings, initiatives, support materials and communications designed to support aging populations.
Denver VA Medical Center
The Denver VA Medical Center is a major referral hospital that provides comprehensive medical, surgical, neurological, rehabilitation and psychiatric care to veterans. Medical social work interns work in the inpatient medical and surgical units, the physical rehabilitation unit and a 60-bed nursing home unit, where they complete psychosocial assessments, educate and assist veterans with advanced directives, make referrals for community and VA resources and benefits, facilitate discharge planning and participate in family meetings. Interns also have the opportunity to work with veterans receiving dialysis or hospice care, and with the spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury multidisciplinary teams.
Denver Campus Info Sessions
We offer 1-hour, virtual and 3-hour, in-person information sessions for our Denver Campus MSW programs. During these sessions, we will discuss the MSW program, admissions process and financial aid options. There will also be a Q&A where you can chat with current students about their experience at GSSW.
The in-person information sessions include a tour of GSSW and the surrounding University of Denver campus. After the tour, prospective students and guests will receive tickets for a complimentary lunch at DU's Community Commons.
Upcoming Final Application Deadline: Summer 2023 Denver Campus Advanced-Standing MSW Program