End-of-Life Care and Social Work Practice SOCW6210

Assignment: End-of-Life Care and Social Work Practice The death of an elderly individual may occur in a variety of settings and circumstances. For example, an individual may die painlessly at home surrounded by the support of many loved ones, or an individual may suffer severe pain for months before dying in a health facility with little social support. In addition, it is possible that many health and helping professionals may interact with the dying person and his or her family. For this Assignment, you consider a social worker’s role in end-of-life care. In addition to reading this week’s resources, conduct your own research and obtain at least one additional journal article that addresses how a social worker might support clients as they plan end-of-life care. Submit a 2- to 4-page paper that analyzes the role of the social worker in helping to plan end-of-life care. Include possible consideration of palliative care, euthanasia, hospice care, the living will and advanced directives, and other factors. Research and cite at least one journal article to support your analysis. Support your Assignment with specific references to the resources. Be sure to provide full APA citations for your references include additional journal entry per guidelines. Reference Bosma, H., Johnston, M., Cadell, S., Wainwright, W., Abernethy, N., Feron, A., & … Nelson, F. (2010). Creating social work competencies for practice in hospice palliative care. Palliative Medicine, 24(1), 79–87. Cagle, J. G., & Kovacs, P. J. (2009). Education: A complex and empowering social work intervention at the end of life. Health & Social Work, 34(1), 17–27.


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Original Article
Creating social work competencies for
practice in hospice palliative care
Palliative Medicine
24(1) 79–87
! The Author(s), 2010.
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0269216309346596
Harvey Bosma School of Social Work, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Meaghen Johnston School of Social Work, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Susan Cadell Lyle S Hallman Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University, Kitchener, ON, Canada
Wendy Wainwright Victoria Hospice, Victoria, BC, Canada
Ngaire Abernethy Mental Health Services for the Elderly, Brandon Regional Health Authority, Brandon, MB, Canada
Andrew Feron Parkwood Hospital, St Joseph’s Health Care, London, ON, Canada
Mary Lou Kelley School of Social Work & Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada
Fred Nelson Palliative Care Program, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Social workers play an important role in the delivery of Hospice Palliative Care in many diverse settings. The profession
brings a unique perspective to end-of-life care that reflects and supports the holistic philosophy of Hospice Palliative
Care. Despite the prominent and longstanding position of social work in this area, the role and functions of social
workers had not been clearly defined. A Canadian task group of social work practitioners and educators utilized a
modified Delphi process to consult front line clinicians nationally, and thereby achieved consensus regarding the identification and description of eleven core competencies in Hospice Palliative Care. These competencies are relevant for
social workers at different experience levels across care settings. They can be used to inform social work practice, as
well as professional development and educational curricula in this area.
social work competencies, social work practice, palliative care, end-of-life care, Delphi technique
Social workers play an important role in the delivery of
Hospice Palliative Care (HPC). In time, most social
work practitioners will encounter adults, children, and
families who are facing progressive life limiting illness,
dying, death, or bereavement. Such social work interactions occur not only in health care settings, but in all
locations where social workers practice. These include
hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, adult daycare, and
senior centers as well as non-health-care sites such as
child and family services agencies, income assistance
programs, schools, courts, and employee assistance
The profession of social work brings a unique perspective to end-of-life care that re?ects and supports the
holistic philosophy of HPC. It draws on an ecological
approach to problem-solving that considers the multidimensional impact of individual, family, and sociocultural in?uences in our daily experiences.2 This
approach ?ts well with the focus of palliative care,
which aims to alleviate su?ering and improve the quality of living and dying by addressing physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and practical concerns.3 Both
palliative care and social work re?ect philosophies of
caring that consider individuals in the full context of
their lives.4–7
As such, HPC is most e?ectively delivered by an
interprofessional team with relevant expertise in each
discipline.8 For social workers, the focus of practice
within this collaborative approach is centered primarily
on psychosocial needs at end of life and during bereavement.9,10 They bring to the team an expertise regarding
Corresponding author:
Harvey Bosma, School of Social Work, University of British Columbia, 2080 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z3. Email: bosmah@shaw.ca
health and social systems, individual and family
dynamics, cultural diversity, grief and loss, communication, advocacy, ethics, and interdisciplinary practice.1,8,11–13 As Brandsen11 points out, ‘social workers
are integral participants in developing and delivering
end-of-life care, and have been for quite some time’
(p. 58).
Despite the prominent and long-standing position of
social work in HPC, the role and functions of social
workers have not been clearly de?ned. In
Brandsen’s11 literature review of the social work profession’s involvement in end-of-life care, she found that
empirical documentation of social workers’ roles and
responsibilities was weak. This gap was also identi?ed
in pediatric palliative and end-of-life care.14 The lack of
a clearly de?ned identity has contributed to other professionals’ confusion about what social workers actually do in HPC, and, consequently, other professions
often have inadequate knowledge about the complexity
and value of social work practice in this area.5,10,15 The
resulting ambiguity has contributed to boundary and
role issues between social workers and other health care
professionals, particularly nurses and physicians.12,16
Furthermore, without a clearly articulated role, social
workers have questioned their adequacy and competence to provide professional care to individuals and
families during the dying process and after death.15
Therefore, it is crucial for the social work profession
to coherently identify and outline its roles and competencies so that social work practice can be advanced in
HPC, and adequate education and training be developed and o?ered to current practitioners and new students. Recently, e?orts have been made to address this
gap. For example, in the United States, an outcome of a
social work leadership summit on end-of-life and palliative care was a description of competencies for social
work practice in HPC, which became the source for
national standards for social work practice in palliative
and end-of-life care in America.1,17,18 Jones14 also produced a report of best social work practices for care of
children and their families at end of life based on a
survey of over 100 pediatric oncology social workers.
Until now, similar endeavors have not occurred in
Canada, although the Canadian Senate Committee for
Palliative and End of Life Care has underlined the
importance of national standards and competency in
end-of-life care, and the need for speci?c training for
all professions to achieve these.19,20 The call to develop
evidence-based norms and standards of professional
practices in HPC was strongly reiterated by the
Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition21 in light of the
prediction that the number of deaths in Canada is
expected to increase 33% by the year 2020. In response
to this call, a national task group of social work practitioners and educators came together to identify
Palliative Medicine 24(1)
competencies that are essential to social work practice
in HPC (Appendix 1). The group members recognized
that a clear description of basic practice competencies
was imperative to the development of professional
practice standards and social work education in this
area. This need was further underlined by the fact
that other disciplines involved in HPC had already
established descriptions of professional competencies.22,23 Therefore, the task group successfully applied
for funding through Health Canada to accomplish this
The task group adopted a Delphi technique to identify
and describe the competencies required for social work
practice in HPC. The Delphi technique is a structured
method that has been broadly used in the health
sciences.24 Its aim is to synthesize a diverse range of
expert opinions about a particular topic, until a consensus is achieved. The Delphi technique is an iterative
process that typically comprises two to three rounds of
anonymous questionnaires. Information is collected
from a panel of experts (people who are able to o?er
credible opinions) during each round. Responses are
then analyzed and re?ned into a new questionnaire
for the subsequent round with the same panel.25
Panel sizes usually range from 15 to 35 members with
the expectation that 35–75% invitees will actually
Originally a postal method, the Delphi technique has
been adapted to electronic mail. Consequently, experts
from a large geographical area can easily participate.
Another advantage of this technique is that it provides
an opportunity for participants to con?dentially present and respond to ideas without reacting to the
group dynamics that sometimes impede face-to-face
interactions. Moreover, it allows time for re?ective consideration of the questions at hand.
There are di?ering forms of the Delphi technique
and few researchers use a uniform method.27,28 The
task group developed a modi?ed Delphi process to
meet the goals of this project. Instead of starting the
?rst round of the process with a set of open-ended
questions, the task group identi?ed and described a
number of competencies (Table 1) themselves, which
they then presented to a panel of national experts for
feedback. Because the Delphi technique can generate
large volumes of data, the presentation of pre-existing
information based on previous literature reviews or
focus group data is an e?cient way of using a technique
that can be very time consuming otherwise.28–30
The template for the competencies was modeled on
the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association’s31
Norms of Practice and a related conceptual framework
H Bosma et al.
Table 1. Task group competencies
Care delivery
Care planning
Community capacity building
Decision making
Education and research
Information sharing
Interdisciplinary team
Self-reflective practice
regarding levels of competency developed by the
Victoria Hospice.31 The initial description of the competencies was based on a combination of the knowledge
and skills of the task group members and a review of
publications and websites of various HPC and oncology organizations in Canada and the United States
regarding current practice standards.33–38
The task group members worked in pairs to develop
a description of each competency. When a version of a
competency was completed, it was circulated to two
other members for further review and input. The resulting framework of each competency provided speci?c
details that included an overall description of the core
competency, and the required attitudes and values,
knowledge, and skills most pertinent to it.
The task group then identi?ed and invited social
work practitioners and educators across the country
to review these competencies through two rounds of
questionnaires. The goal was to establish consensus
regarding the relevance and description of each competency, and to identify any other core competencies that
should be added and developed. In the initial stage of
recruitment for the panel, the task group sent out a
general call to the British Columbia and the Canadian
Social Work/Counseling HPC Interest Groups for participants for this project. They also identi?ed a number
of social workers and counselors currently working in
the area of HPC. Two research assistants (RAs: HB
and MJ) sent each social worker a letter of invitation,
which was followed by a phone call as needed to determine whether or not the individual was able to participate. Completion of the initial request served as consent
for Phase One and also for agreement to participate in
the second round of the Delphi process.
Several of these respondents also suggested other
individuals for the panel, who were then contacted as
well. The use of both purposive and snowball sampling
techniques ensured a panel with diverse experience and
expertise in social work practice in the context of HPC.
A deliberate e?ort was made to include participants
from di?erent practice settings and all regions of
Canada. Thus, participants on this panel worked in a
variety of locations such as hospitals, hospices, longterm care facilities, cancer care centers, community
agencies, and universities in British Columbia,
Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland, Nova
Scotia, and the Yukon.
Data collection was done by email. This approach
had both positive and negative aspects. Certainly, the
electronic transmission of information and questionnaires facilitated e?cient communication with panel
members during each round of the study. However,
di?culties occurred during the ?rst round when the
questionnaire was transferred into an Adobe format.
Speci?cally, some participants did not have the computer software to enter responses directly into the document, and they were only able to access the document
as a ‘read-only’ version. This required the participant to
print out and manually complete the document, and
then fax or mail the completed questionnaire to the
research o?ce. To address this problem, the Adobe
format was discontinued in Round Two and the questionnaire was reformatted as a Word document, permitting easy data entry and electronic transmission.
The task group employed several strategies of data
generation consistent with the consensus building process of the Delphi methodology. Task group members
identi?ed and developed the ?rst version of the 11 core
competencies. This was followed by a peer review process whereby all competencies were reviewed by two
other members. The RAs read all the ?nal comments
and incorporated the edits for each competency for this
initial process and the subsequent panel rounds; they
consulted with two members of the task group (SC and
WW) as needed. The RAs, who were doctoral students
and research trainees with two CIHR New Emerging
Teams (NETs): Transitions in Pediatric and End of Life
Care and Palliative Care in a Cross-Cultural Context,
also had relevant clinical social work experience in
HPC. The study extended over a period of 10 months
and involved two phases of data collection and
Round One
A response rate of 66% (20/30) was achieved in the ?rst
round of this research study. One emailed questionnaire
was not received and was designated as missing data.
In Round One, 16 participants (80%) agreed that all 11
competencies listed are essential to social work practice
in HPC. Two of the competencies were listed as nonessential by three participants: one participant identi?ed community capacity building as non-essential, and
two participants identi?ed education and research as
Six additional competencies were suggested as essential to social work practice in HPC. Cultural competency was suggested twice as essential and the
Palliative Medicine 24(1)
following ?ve new competencies were suggested once:
(1) competency in understanding the multidimensional
nature of health and wellness; (2) competency in understanding the social determinants of health; (3) adaptability to work environment; (4) spirituality of self, team, and
others; (5) counseling and treatment planning (Table 2).
Round Two
All responses were carefully reviewed by the RAs and
compiled into a new questionnaire and emailed to the
20 respondents of Round One. The Round Two questionnaire included a list of the original competencies as
well as all of the changes suggested in Round One
regarding their descriptions. All changes were highlighted in red within the body of the 11 competencies.
The list of additional competencies that were suggested
by some panelists for further development was also
The participants were asked to complete three tasks
for Round Two: (1) to state whether they agreed with
the suggested changes to the competencies; (2) to indicate how essential each competency was to social work
practice in HPC; (3) to indicate whether the six new
competencies should be developed further. Panelists
indicated their responses by clicking on an appropriate
answer from a drop down menu as described below.
They also had opportunities to enter additional
remarks in comment boxes along the way.
Nineteen responses (95%) were received via email
and fax. In the ?nal analysis of the data, the total
number of respondents ?uctuates for several competencies as a result of missing data. Inclusion of missing
data as part of the total sample translates statistically
to assuming that the response was ‘no.’ After careful
consideration by the task group as a whole, it was
determined that the management of missing data
according to the purpose of consensus building
deemed it appropriate to have a ?uctuating sample.
Table 3 displays the consensus levels for the description
of each aspect of each competency.
In the Round Two analysis, the RAs incorporated
content changes to the competencies when the majority
Table 2. Suggested competencies for future development
Cultural competencya
Supporting spiritual needs
of self, team and othersb
Understanding social
determinants of healthb
Suggested twice.
Suggested once.
Adapting to work environmentb
Understanding multi-dimensional
aspects of health and wellnessb
of participants agreed with the proposed recommendations. For some competencies, a minority of participants suggested changes. The RAs incorporated these
suggestions when such changes did not alter the overall
meaning of a particular point, and, from their perspective, helped to clarify the point. For example, under
the interdisciplinary care competency, the RAs agreed
with the suggestion to remove the quali?er ‘good’ from
‘good psychosocial care’ as it was deemed that in
the context of core competencies, ‘good’ care is implicit
to ‘psychosocial care.’ The reviewers did not incorporate minority suggestions that signi?cantly altered
the meaning of a point. To include such changes
would warrant a third round to provide an opportunity
to all participants to respond to the recommended
In addition to reviewing the suggested changes,
participants were asked to rate how essential each competency was according to a six-point Likert scale:
absolutely essential, very essential, essential, somewhat
essential, not essential, and unsure (Table 4).
Participants were also asked whether the new competencies that had been suggested in Round One should
be developed further as stand-alone competencies.
Participants were asked to consider whether or not
each competency should be added, whether it was
already included in an existing competency, or whether
they were unsure about the suggested competency
(Table 5).
The Delphi method has facilitated an e?ective process
to establish consensus among social work clinicians and
academics across Canada regarding core competencies
Table 3. Achieved consensus for descriptions of competency
Care delivery
Care planning
Community capacity building
Decision making
Information sharing
Interdisciplinary team
Self-reflective practice
H Bosma et al.
Table 4. Scale rating results of 11 competencies
Care delivery
Care planning
Community capacity building
Decision making
Education and researcha
Information sharing
Interdisciplinary team
Self-reflective practice
One person rated ‘education’ (essential) and ‘research’ (not essential) separately.
Table 5. Response rating of adding suggested competencies
Do not add
Already included
Cultural competency
Multi-dimensional nature of health/wellness
Social determinants of health
Adaptability to work environment
Spiri …
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