Lydia Paterson

Care Guidance

The Role of Social Work in Residential Aged Care Facilities – Supporting the Transition and Beyond


Wednesday 12 October 2022

2:30pm – 3:00pm

Speaker Bio

Lydia has extensive policy and industry experience in the aged care sector. She has served as an adviser to the federal Minister for Aged Care and Disability before stepping away to help found Care Guidance, where she currently heads up the Hospital Social Work and Residential Aged Care Wellbeing Program. She is passionate about making aged care easier to navigate for families and about improving quality of life for older people living in residential care.


Social workers support older people and their carers via biopsychosocial-spiritual assessments, holistic counselling, case management, mediation, and strength-based interventions prioritising social connectedness. The discipline also promotes social justice and human rights, alongside professional integrity. During moments of increased vulnerability, the importance of social work is accentuated in its advocacy for people navigating complex health and social care systems. Social work facilitates preventative and early intervention services to support the overall wellbeing of older individuals whose physical and cognitive deterioration affects independence. However, the major transition older people face as they move into residential aged care lacks the routine and expert support that social workers can provide. This significant life change is associated with grief and loss for older individuals and their families. Research has highlighted the high rates of depression and anxiety amongst people living in residential aged care.

The recent Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care identified multiple systemic level challenges and gaps in providing appropriate standards of care, including the importance of mental health services essential to quality of life. The international literature demonstrates that social work has a well-established key role in residential aged care facilities by contributing to an integrated, person-centred, and holistic service delivery model. However, Australian residential aged care providers have not routinely included social workers as a core part of their services. As a result, there is an impact on the mental health, dignity, wellbeing, and quality of life of all people who live in residential aged care.

Care Guidance is a Melbourne organisation providing social work services via their Wellbeing Program to several residential aged care facilities. Collected data supports the benefits to residents, their families, and staff, with a potential to meet and exceed new Aged Care Standards. For residents, the holistic social work approach helps them to feel listened to, cared for, and better understood. They are supported on admission and throughout their stay, ensuring optimal communication, care planning, and service coordination. Their families are better informed, empowered, and supported throughout inevitable periods of deterioration and eventual end-of-life care. For the staff providing the care, witnessing and learning from the approach of social workers can improve the care they provide. Ultimately, older people deserve best-practice care, especially in residential aged care facilities. The omission of social work as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team warrants urgent attention… it’s up to us to achieve the necessary transformation for future care.

Social workers have the expertise to transform the experience of older people, families, and staff in Residential Aged Care Facilities.