Taskforce tackles social isolation

A newly created social isolation taskforce, led by Benetas, is looking for examples of programs and initiatives that demonstrate best practice in combating social isolation among the elderly.

Above: Social inclusion in action (photo courtesy of Benetas)

By Yasmin Noone

A new taskforce of 30 aged, community and health care organisations around Australia has been created to identify the country’s most effective social inclusion programs, determine the social isolation strategies that work and influence government policy that addresses the needs of older people.

The taskforce, a Benetas initiative, has a defined role, terms of reference and an immediate goal – to find out who is working to eradicate social isolation in Australia’s older population, what is working best, and how it is being achieved.

The group is calling on aged and community care providers and other interested parties and agencies to participate in the project by nominating a ‘good practice’ program that either they do or they are aware of, that is achieveing success – or conversely hasn’t achieved success – in reducing solical isolation among elderly people in the community.

Benetas’ manager of research and development, Alan Gruner, said the taskforce is interested in hearing about social isolation programs that successfully and simply connect people with each other, and with local communities.

“We don’t want to duplicate things already happening so what we need to do is identify good practice, showcase these examples and hopefully meet with the government and influence policies in terms of the findings,” said Mr Gruner.

“So we are asking people to use their networks and send in what they know about good social inclusion programs in their local areas.”

Participation in this project, he said, “really boils down to just looking after your neighbour”.

“If you are really interested in your local community and want older people to connect to with each other, then let’s get out there and really help those who are socially isolated and really struggling.”

Mr Gruner explained that an ideal ‘good practice’ program promotes social inclusion outcomes and provides evidence of success.

“For example, there is one program operated by the Brotherhood of St Lawrence where volunteers and paid staff worked with older people to identify those at risk of social isolation.

“They then found out what their particular interests were, drew up a list of interests and formed groups around these interests. If some activities were already operating in the area, the Brotherhood organised transport for [older people] to attend.

“The project brought older people out and helped them to mix, socially.”

Maintaining the focus 

The taskforce was created as a result of Benetas’ national social isolation forum in August last year.

“During the forum, we identified the social participation barriers for older people and tried to look at some strategies to address them.

“But, we didn’t want to have a forum and then let [the issues] die.

“So we talked about what would be the best follow-up. The best way to do that was to form a group of people interested in promoting social inclusion.”

The taskforce aims to identify and explore examples of good ‘social inclusion’ practice; create a data-base/clearing house of these examples; publicise positive findings; and work with government to create and encourage the implementation of effective social inclusion policies.

Organisations represented in the taskforce include the Brotherhood of St Lawrence (Vic); Baptist Community Services (NSW), the Australian Men’s Shed Association, Centre for Cultural Diversity, Knox City Council (Vic), Department of Veteran’s Affairs (NSW), Southern Cross Care (WA) and the Primary Health and Ambulatory Care (Townsville Health Service, QLD).

Mr Gruner said the group will soon meet with a representative of the federal government’s social inclusion unit to discuss possible ways to work together and move forward. 

“Social inclusion is important for everyone but particularly, for older people,” he said.

“Some people don’t want to be connected but most people do seek relationships with other people. If they are socially excluded it can effect their whole quality of life, physical and mental health.

“…There are a whole load of reasons why people become isolated from their community- transport, ill health or the person may find it hard to get around because of frailty so they might need assistance with mobility.

“And it’s hard to recognise these people because they are hidden, particularly older people as they might not have any family.  Often aged care providers and community groups come in contact with these people.
“So we’d really like people to contact us if they have examples of programs that are really working to assist people to become socially connected.”

Do you have a good example of an initiative to address social isolation among elderly people in the community? 
To discuss whether or not a program fits the taskforce’s best practice criteria or for more information, contact Bentas’ social inclusion coordinator, Steve Power, on email: spower@benetas.com.au

Tags: baptist-community-care, benetas, brotherhood-of-st-lawrence, centre-for-cultural-diversity, knox-city-council, mens-shed, social-inclusion, social-inclusion-taskforce, social-isolation, southern-cross-care, townsville-health-service, veterans-affairs,

1 thought on “Taskforce tackles social isolation

  1. Steve, I read with interest your efforts with regard to addressing social isolation, I would like to introduce HealthComms and MyHomeReach. We are working with Care organizations to deliver solutions in the area addressing social isolation and are currently engaged with Caring for Carers Ireland rolling out MyHomeReach to their client, this initiative was started on the back of a report highlighting social isolation of both carer and care recipient. I would, if you have time like to have a teleconf to discuss in more detail who we are and what we are focusing on. our website is at http://www.healthcomms.com Rgds Tom Byrne CEO

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