New Funding for BUSSW’s CADER Expands Behavioral Health and Aging Training for Senior Centers in Three States

Photo by Elien Dumon on Unsplash

Professor Bronwyn Keefe from Boston University School of Social Work’s (BUSSW) Center for Aging & Disability Education & Research (CADER) expands training and evaluation initiatives across the country with new funding from The Retirement Research Foundation (RRF).  The latest grant focuses on workforce training for senior center staff in Wisconsin, enabling CADER to expand its innovative training model beyond sites in Florida and Illinois.

Across the U.S., there are nearly 10,000 senior centers. Known in many towns and municipalities as the go-to place for assistance, senior centers are often the community front door and focal point for social and support services to older adults, families and caregivers. They also provide a touchpoint for identifying older adults at risk for behavior health concerns.

One of the greatest barriers to providing mental health and substance use services to seniors is the lack of a trained workforce. In response, CADER developed a targeted online training program for state senior centers, the first line of defense for many older adults, families, and caregivers needing social and support services. The online certificate program is built around key competencies in behavioral health treatment that help workers identify and respond to older adults with mental health and substance use concerns, increase resilience, and further suicide prevention.

“Since states do not mandate training or educational programs for senior centers in behavioral health, there is great variation across states and agencies on how to develop the important skills needed to identify mental health, substance use, suicidality, and dementia,” Keefe said.

The grants CADER received from the Retirement Research Foundation (RRF) aim to fill this gap, provide evidence, and offer best practices for training in this critical area. This work is a collaboration between the Center for Aging and Disability Education and Research (CADER) at Boston University School of Social Work and the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

Preliminary results in Florida and Illinois show that 94% of participants report they will be more effective in serving older adults with behavioral health concerns due to the training – showing progress towards the goal to promote the emotional well-being of older adults, decrease stigma related to topics such as suicide and substance use, and increase referrals to treatment.

The Presidents of the Association of Senior Centers in Florida, Illinois, and Wisconsin have identified increased rates of depression, substance use, and social isolation among the older adults that they serve, and further skill development of staff, as a pressing need. The training will be available at no cost to the participants or the senior center. CADER expects to train up to 250 staff at centers across the three states.

CADER received $115,333 from RRF in 2018 to launch the training in Illinois and Florida, and $78,966 in January 2020 to include Wisconsin.