Case Study

Addressing the psychosocial needs of older adults during periods of crisis: Irish Association of Social Workers model of practice during covid-19

Aging In Place
Crisis Settings

At the start of the covid-19 pandemic, the IASW recognized a growing need for psychosocial support among long-term care residents in lockdown. The organization developed guidance for social workers to meet this need. 

The focus: The IASW developed a model of practice that guides social workers as they respond to psychosocial needs, facilitate communication for residents and families, support the rights and needs of residents and family members, and provide—when needed—palliative and bereavement care.

How it works: Beginning in April 2020, the IASW worked with nursing homes to develop new practice guidelines for social workers in long-term care settings. The guidelines were modeled on widely successful guidelines in palliative services. The IASW convened social workers with residents of nursing homes and their families to learn what psychosocial support they needed during this time. Practices include the Beyond the Door visualization method—to remind older adults of their connections with loved ones through affirmation that they are just “beyond the door” in the older adults’ living spaces—and communication that ensures that residents and families receive complex and distressing information in an empathic and sensitive way from a consistent, supportive professional. The model has been implemented by social workers in hospitals and nursing homes throughout Ireland.

Enabling environment: The covid-19 pandemic accelerated faster than governments could respond, and in the absence of a national policy, the IASW took it upon itself to create valuable resources for use around the country. Support from the IASW for both social workers and the individuals they serve were key to success. Oftentimes the needs of older adults in Ireland are seen through a medical lens, neglecting the psychosocial needs of long-term care residents. Social workers alleviate the burden on healthcare workers and ensure older adults feel connected to their families and communities. Ireland was the first country to be declared “age-friendly” by the WHO based on its national and local policies, recognizing a national culture that values older adults and respects their rights and needs. 

Impact: The IASW’s evaluation of the new guidelines will take time, especially given the current barriers to conducting research on vulnerable populations. The model has led to notable improvements in how social work is practiced during the current pandemic. The National Public Health and Emergency Team has taken note of this work and committed to funding it in the future.

Sources Include

Sources include: 

IRELAND’S SOCIAL WORK RESPONSE TO COVID-19 [Internet]. International Federation of Social Workers. Available from:

Covid-19 Resources [Internet]. Irish Association of Social Workers. Available from:

EIU communication with members of the IASW. December 2020.