MSW Student Jenna Abrams Found Love for Geriatric Social Work, Opportunity to Manage New Initiative in First-Year Field Placement

Jenna Abrams at her desk at Family and Children's Agency.
Jenna Abrams at her desk at Family and Children's Agency.

Jenna Abrams, MSW '20, admits she was disappointed last August when she learned she would be working with older adults in her first-year field placement, which the School assigns to provide new students a foundation of social work practice skills within a generalist perspective. “I thought to myself ‘What? This is not what I wanted at all,’” Abrams said. “But after one day with my geriatric clients, I fell in love with the population.” Now, Abrams not only works directly with older adults but she also manages a new, grant-funded initiative that makes resources available to their family caregivers.

Since Abrams started as an intern in the home care department at Family and Children's Agency in Norwalk, CT, in fall 2018, she has served as a case manager for three Fairfield County residents in their 80s and 90s, who are able to remain safe and independent in their own homes thanks to the services the agency provides. Abrams coordinates her clients’ care and visits them in their homes weekly, assessing their well-being and helping them process their feelings.

After Abrams quickly proved adept at her case management responsibilities, she told Social Work Supervisor Megan Haque, her field instructor, that she had the capacity to do more. When the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging (SWCAA) awarded Family and Children's Agency a $15,000 grant in late 2018 to provide an information and assistance program for family caregivers of Southwest Connecticut’s older adult population, Haque tapped Abrams to implement it at the same time that she continues to serve her case management clients.

According to Abrams, many family caregivers do not know how to access services and benefits for their aging relatives – or even what is available to them. “A lot of times, the agency would get calls saying my mom, my grandma, or my dad needs help, and we didn’t have the capacity to connect them to what they needed. This grant-funded program fills that gap.”

Starting in January 2019, Abrams did extensive research, under Haque’s guidance, and compiled a resource guide including information, eligibility criteria, and applications for countless programs, services, and sources of government aid ranging from Meals on Wheels to Alzheimer’s support groups to Medicare Savings Programs. Now, when family caregivers call the agency seeking guidance, Abrams is able to explain their loved ones’ options and send them information so they can access the resources available. On the rare occasion a caller asks about something Abrams isn’t familiar with, she tracks it down and adds it to the guide.

Even without a massive marketing campaign behind the program, Abrams gets dozens of calls a week. “It’s all word of mouth,” she said. “If the caller’s family member isn’t being served by our agency, they might have gotten a referral from a social worker at another agency or even from a friend.”

The only disappointment, Abrams said, is that her field placement ends in May, before the grant period is over. “The good news is that I have laid the groundwork for the program to continue to thrive once I leave, and to potentially be renewed for years to come.”

Abrams will also continue to fulfill her new-found passion for geriatric social work through her participation in a working group, led by Assistant Professor Ernest Gonzales, which is focused on structural ageism. Dr. Gonzales, who is co-lead of the national Grand Challenges for Social Work’s “Advancing Long, Healthy, and Productive Lives” challenge, was Abrams’s Human Behavior in the Social Environment 1 (HB1) professor, and he inspired her with his integration of gerontology in the course material. “Both my field placement and HB I section were fortuitous,” Abrams said. “Working with older adults is not what I would have chosen to pursue, but I love it and it’s what I want to do.”