Caregivers – How to Work More Effectively with Social Workers


July 24, 2022

Healthcare social workers specialize in case management, educating patients and their loved ones about health issues and treatment options, counseling, and connecting or referring patients to community resources. These professionals collaborate with patients, their family, and other members of their interdisciplinary team (including physicians, nurses, therapists, etc.) in order to promote physical and mental health and functionality following an illness, hospitalization, or other medical event.

Social workers are trained to partner with both the caregivers and the care recipients, helping to address concerns and answer questions. Social workers are uniquely skilled at identifying both the client’s needs and ensuring the wellbeing of their entire support system. This includes offering family members with self-care strategies to help prevent burnout.

Caregivers often ask…

  • How can I learn from social workers?
  • How can social workers help me advocate for my loved one?
  • What will happen to my care recipient if their needs become too great for me to manage?
  • Does my loved one qualify for community support programs?
  • We live out of state and cannot travel at a moment’s notice when there is a medical crisis. What options do we have?
  • How can I help my aging loved ones prepare for the possibility of illness, hospitalization, and death? I don’t know how to have this conversation, but I know it is important.
  • I am at my breaking point, being spread too thin between the family members for whom I provide regular support. How can I cope better with the stress of being a caregiver?

When initially speaking with a social worker, determine…

  • Are they asking questions to gain a holistic understanding the older adult patient, and your needs and goals as a caregiver?
  • Are they aware of more than one option for your loved one?
  • What are their experiences with older adults and their needs for support?
  • Are they developing a care plan that meets everyone’s needs and wishes? Plans might include:
    • Counseling on strategies to manage stress,
    • Facilitating a conversation about end-of-life care and concerns,
    • Suggesting financial assistance programs, and/or
    • Referring them to community supports and resources.

Working With a Social Worker

A helpful way to approach working with a social worker is to view it as a collaborative partnership. The older adult and family are the experts in their own lives, challenges and preferences, while the social worker has the expertise to address needs associated with aging, stress, and improvement in quality of life. 

It is often standard practice for older adults and their family caregivers to work with a social worker in:

  • hospitals,
  • outpatient medical clinics,
  • and public housing settings.

These professionals can also be found in primary care practices, rehabilitation and long-term care facilities, and community agencies that serve the older adult population. In many of these settings, an individual must be referred to or request a meeting with a social worker. 

a.k.a. Hospital Discharge Planners

Social workers are assigned to a patient on admission to a hospital and often called “discharge planners.”

Although they may sincerely care about your loved one as an individual, their main role is to help develop a plan for discharge either back home, back home with home health care, to a rehabilitation facility, or to another facility.

With as many options that now exist in most communities (rehab, nursing homes, assisted living, memory care) these social workers may not be able to keep up with all the options. If no referral is made in an outpatient setting, ask for one. This is a critical first step toward resolving any concerns you may have. 

Another option may be geriatric care management. This is self-pay service. Assessment, planning, and support may range from $75-$100 per hour, depending on the individual or the area where you live.

Source:, Cassandra Spies, LICSW (a clinical social worker), and other sources. 

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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