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A research project: Gerontological social work responding to complex needs of older adults (GERIT)

Funding: Ministry of Social Welfare and Health (2021-2022)

Due to the ageing of the Finnish population, a growing number of older people are in need of social services in our society. It has been noted that the knowledge base, work methods and organisation of gerontological social work may not be sufficiently developed to be able to recognise and deal with their needs. This research project explored the emergence and development the challenging life situations of older people, and how the service needs are recognised within the service system and the methods of gerontological social work. The project drew on previous research and theories regarding social exclusion, precarity and inequalities in later life.

Research questions were:

  • How do various life situations lead to the need for special support among the older adults?
  • How are such needs recognised in different (institutional) environments?
  • How are the older people in need of special support directed to gerontological social work services?
  • To what extent are the work methods of gerontological social work suitable for working with people with complex social problems?

The project was implemented by a consortium of three universities, in which University of Eastern Finland focused on service management in gerontological social work, the University of Lapland approached the financial difficulties of older adults and the University of Helsinki explored the accumulation of social problems in the lives of older people. The data consisted of client documents from gerontological social work and interviews and focus groups with older people in need of services, social workers and representatives of the NGOs. The aim of the project was to produce knowledge that can be used in developing services and work methods in gerontological social work.

Processes of service management in gerontological social work (University of Eastern Finland, Elisa Tiilikainen)

This work package approached gerontological social work from the perspective of how clients are directed within the system of social work. The specified research questions were:

  • How are elderly people are recognised as clients in need of special support by social work?
  • How does the service needs assessment process work from the perspectives of clients and social workers?

Financial difficulties of older adults (University of Lapland, Minna Zechner)

The work package focused on the life situations of the elderly in need of special support with a particular emphasis on livelihood and financial issues. The specified research questions were:

  • What role do financial issues play in older people’s need of special support?
  • How do older people with financial problems become gerontological social work clients?

Social work and the accumulation of social problems in older people’s lives (University of Helsinki, llkka Pietilä)

This work package explored how accumulated social disadvantage arises in the lives of those in need of special support, and how the problems may be intervened by means of social work. The specified research questions were:

  • What new complex forms of disadvantage appear in the lives of clients of gerontological social work?
  • What specific methods and practices are being used in working with aged clients?