National Council on Aging: CADER and NCOA Develop Best Practices for Senior Center Staff

Best behavioral health practices for senior center staff

The Center for Aging and Disability Education and Research (CADER) at the BU School of Social Work (BUSSW) and the National Council on Aging (NCOA) launched a partnership in May 2023 to strengthen senior center staff by offering CADER’s Behavioral Health in Aging Certificate (BHA) to community-based organizations nationwide.

The partnership is based on a successful grant collaboration that resulted in training over 200 senior center staff in the Behavioral Health in Aging Certificate in three states. As NCOA and CADER continue efforts to bolster behavioral health training for the senior center workforce, the two organizations determined key takeaways to ensure staff participation and a sustainable commitment to behavioral health after the certificate is completed.

Excerpt from “Preventing and Identifying Behavioral Health Issues in Older Adults: Best Practices for Senior Center Professionals” by Jennifer Tripken and Kathleen Cameron, originally published by the National Council on Aging:

“To better understand the factors that contribute to the engagement in and sustainability of senior center staff in the BHA program, CADER and NCOA worked together to support the training of over 200 senior center staff members across three states. Focus groups were used to identify key strategies for recruiting senior center staff to participate in the training, ensuring program completion, and sustaining the program for future workforce training.

Focus group participants from the three senior centers in each state said staff completion of the behavioral health training could be bolstered by paying attention to:

  • Making time. The most important factor determining completion of the program was having the time to complete the coursework. Allowing staff to use time during the workday can address this challenge. Staff reported that having time at work to complete the program minimized distractions and increased motivation. Furthermore, when staff were able to use the computer room to work on the program in cohorts, they were more likely to complete the program.
  • Design of the program. An advantage of the BHA program is that it is online and self-paced. Staff can start a course, save their work, and resume at another time, thus allowing for flexible learning experiences. The courses also include a mix of case studies, videos, and readings that complement various learning styles.
  • Creating opportunities to share learnings. Allow space for staff to share new information learned from the program. Foster discussions about the content, including how to use it and reflecting upon its impact on older adults. Engaging in the content about current behavioral and mental health issues in older adults on an on-going basis allows staff to reflect upon their newly acquired skills and motivate them to act upon these skills in their daily work.
  • Seeking new opportunities around behavioral health issues. Offer new programs and services to allow staff to practice their newly acquired skills. Encourage staff to identify new ways to address behavioral health issues and to be part of an overall effort to increase awareness prevention, and early treatment for behavioral and mental health conditions in older adults. Making staff part of the solution will encourage others to take the program and to learn more about how to best serve older adults.”

Read the full article here.