To Age Strong in Boston, Delinois-Zephir Turns to CADER

Mental health training is essential for caregivers working with older adults.

Peninna Delinois-Zephir has a simple formula for career success: take advantage of every CADER training you can. Director of Constituent Services for Boston’s Age Strong Commission, the city agency that enhances the lives of people 55+ with meaningful programs, resources, and connections, Delinois-Zephir has completed more than 70 hours of CADER training. She encourages her staff to do the same and invest time in their professional development through CADER programs.

“Things change all the time, and keeping up to date is very important—especially within the last two years with COVID, when things have been changing overnight,” says Delinois-Zephir, who oversees a team of 11 community advocates and five housing specialists. “CADER has been such a good learning tool.”

Focusing on Behavioral Health Training

Right now, her staff is working towards completing CADER’s Behavioral Health in Aging certificate, which Delinois-Zephir made mandatory. “It’s important that my team understands and is able to identify when our seniors are dealing with behavioral health concerns,” she continues. “I did an earlier version of the CADER certificate in 2013 but things have changed, so it was good to complete this new one.” And even though as a supervisor she wasn’t required to complete the certificate, Delinios-Zephir said she “found it important to send the message that if I’m going to convince my staff to do it, then I need to do it, too.”

Over her eight years with Age Strong, Delinois-Zephir has found that the CADER materials are full of relatable scenarios and situations that help her do her job better. “For example, mental health is an area that I’ve always been passionate about. And pre-CADER, I thought I understood mental health broadly. However, through these courses, I came to see that I did not understand mental health when it came to older adults. Something as simple as when seniors have a UTI, they can present with mental health symptoms. I didn’t know that, and I never would have connected the two. I thought of a UTI as a medical issue that has nothing to do with behavior.”

Leading the Way

By taking multiple CADER courses with her staff, Delinois-Zephir feels that CADER has made her a better leader, “I’m showing that I don’t know everything and that I’m willing to learn,” she notes. Delinois-Zephir’s team is seeing plenty of growth as well. “I have staff with different skill levels. In one staff member, who is almost done with the Behavioral Health certificate, I definitely see pride and enthusiasm when she’s able to use something she’s learned in the training. In fact, I’ve gotten good feedback from everyone who has done the Behavior Health in Aging certificate.”

Delinois-Zephir supports her teams in maintaining and continuing their professional development. “I encourage staff to block out hours during the day to do the CADER courses,” she says. “I tell them this is not a burden that they take home with them. I personally have blocked a chunk of time on Thursday from 10 to 12 for training. I encourage them to schedule time to do the courses like they would schedule a meeting. Learning is so important. We need to have the right skills so we can serve our seniors better.”

For her own professional development, she credits CADER training with helping to advance her career, “They’ve helped give me a better understanding of how to do my job. I’ve been promoted twice in eight years I think because my skills have improved—and they continue to improve because I go out of my way to take these classes and continue learning.” 

Delinois-Zephir also has sage advice for the type of experience and training she believes is necessary for successful career advancement. “I think anyone who’s working with seniors needs to have ongoing behavioral health training. I don’t think there’s enough—not enough training on substance use, domestic violence, bullying, social aggression. I think there’s a myth that certain things don’t happen to seniors. I tell people that seniors are like everyone else. Whatever happens to regular populations happens to seniors. So I think we as a society need to realize that whatever training you give to providers who work with adults or children or families, you need to also give to providers who are working with seniors, because they are experiencing the same issues. It’s just not being discussed.”

Building Pathways for BIPOC Workers

In addition to training, Delinois-Zephir is particularly passionate about creating a social services workforce that resembles the people they are helping. She is hopeful that CADER training programs could make that vision a reality. “When you look at the social services field and see who is in leadership positions, it’s mostly white males or white females because they’ve had more opportunities,” she explains. “If we want things to change—if we want a more diverse human services workforce—we need to help people who are hungry to help their communities.”

“I think the reason we don’t have enough black and brown social workers is because many of us didn’t have the opportunity to go to college and get a four-year degree. It would be great if CADER could be a platform for Black and Brown human service workers to advance their education and get closer to an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. If you had a program where you could count CADER certificates toward a degree, it would be one way to help Black and Brown people earn their degrees faster and get them out there to serve people who look like them,” she concludes. “At the rate we’re going, it’s not going to happen unless we think outside the box when it comes to our educational system.”

You can find the ADRC certificate, Care Transitions course and other CADER offerings in our Learning Catalog on The Network for Professional Education website