- Report Published -
|Special Advocates for the Elderly (SAFE): Volunteerism in Aging|
|Secretary of Health and Human Resources|
|HJR 137 (Regular Session, 1994)|
|House Joint Resolution No. 137, passed by the 1994 General Assembly, requested the Department for the Aging to study the feasibility of implementing a Special Advocate for the Elderly (SAFE) Program of volunteer advocates or coordinators to assist senior citizens during times of crisis. The study examined informal community volunteer initiatives and a formal advocacy program with legal standing for its volunteers' activities.|
Older adults, both nationally and in Virginia, are the fastest growing segment of the population. There are more than 950,000 Virginians age 60 and older, representing almost 15% of the Commonwealth's total population. One of every three older Virginians is over age 74. This ever-increasing segment of the population is also more likely to have functional limitations in their activities of daily living. Therefore, they often require some assistance to remain independent. In addition, more than 30,000 older Virginians reside in long-term care facilities. Some of these persons may not have access to family and friends. Many suffer from some type of memory impairment, including dementia.
A survey of Virginia's 25 Area Agencies on Aging indicates that there is a wide range of volunteer services available to older persons throughout the Commonwealth. Many of these services are focused on prevention and empowerment. They help older persons remain independent for as long as possible. There are fewer volunteer programs focused on serving persons in long-term care facilities.
This study examined the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program as a means to enhance volunteer services to the elderly. It was concluded that CASA presents a potential model for using volunteers to assist the elderly in special circumstances requiring legal authority.
The study findings identified some of the critical elements and concepts of implementing a community-based volunteer advocacy program. Volunteers provide a vital resource for many human services and are essential in bolstering informal support networks of family, friends and churches. Volunteers play an important role in advocating for and helping empower persons in need of assistance. Resources for recruitment, training and supervision are needed to support a sustained volunteer initiative. Volunteers can provide an effective foundation for advocacy for older persons in the community and in long-term care facilities. Local resources currently exist to promote volunteer initiatives such as the proposed SAFE Program.
The study conclusions recognize the need for continued exploration of ways to use volunteers more effectively through initiatives utilizing available community resources such as churches and civic organizations. The conclusions also indicate the need to form linkages between formal and informal volunteer efforts to enhance volunteer management and promote recruitment, training and placement opportunities.