Caregiver Connections: A Caregiver Support and Continuing Education System

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  • Connie McKenna Madden, PhD,*President, INTERgeneration LINKS,Inc, 2576 Nicky Lane,Alexandria,Virginia 22311;Tel: (703) 931-3922;Fax: (703) 931-7320;

    Elsie Fetterman, PhD,Vice President,INTERgeneration LINKS, Inc,Amherst,Massachusetts 01002

    *Author for correspondence


    Caregivers providing long-term careand supervision for the frail elderly oradults with disabilities may be familymembers, friends, or paid care pro-viders. Caregiver Connections offerscontinuing education to help maintainand improve the quality of their work.Paid care providers in most state andlocal social service programs are re-quired to have 6 to 12 hours of con-tinuing education annually. Lack ofappropriate training opportunities andcosts for course fees, transportation,meals, and respite care for the personsfor whom care providers are responsi-ble make this difficult.

    A major void is a lack of consistenttraining of the care providers.1,2 Notall states that have a requirement forannual inservice education provide it.In recorded presentations and publica-tions, adult family care researchers, su-pervisors, and administrators have sup-ported the need for external educationsources for providers.Their commentsinclude the following: Providers areasked to do a difficult job, often withvery limited resources, particularlywhen serving low-income or othervulnerable populations. Typically,providers of small at home facilities,such as adult family care, have littlebackup.3 Ongoing continuing edu-cation regarding elder care and rurallong-term care should be available tomaintain continuing competence ofcare providers.4 Both agency and careprovider focus groups, in sessions priorto the National Adult Family Care Or-ganizations second annual conference,expressed frustration with the lack of

    opportunity and/or access to inserviceeducation.*

    INTERgeneration LINKS con-ducted focus groups to determine thetraining needs of adult family careproviders in Idaho, Massachusetts, Ne-braska, and Virginia. Separate focusgroups were conducted with agencysupervisors and care providers. Focusgroup discussions probed training indepth. What was working? What wasnot working? What would be idealtraining opportunities if funding werenot an issue? An external evaluator an-alyzed the audiotaped interviews ofthe eight focus groups and presentedthe results in 11 tables and summaries.For example, 100% of the careproviders own telephones, 96.2% ownVCRs, and 96.2% own televisions andradios. On a 5-point scale, trainingmethods most liked were video cas-settes (3.6) and questions answered(3.52), followed closely by printedhandouts (3.5) and sharing own ex-periences (3.4). These and relatedfindings provided the bases for thefunding that supported the develop-ment of Caregiver Connections.


    Caregiver Connections will provideappropriate, accessible, and affordableeducation through readily availabletechnology or print media to bringcontinuing education to care providersin their own homes.This makes con-tinued learning convenient and lessexpensive in terms of energy, time, andmoney. It will also provide support tohelp overcome the feelings of isolationso often experienced by long-termcare providers.


    Caregiver Connections was created byINTERgeneration LINKS, whichworks in partnership with the US De-partment of Agricultures (USDAs)/

    Food and Nutrition Service.Thanks tothe vision of Martha Poolton, a nutri-tionist in the USDA FNS Office ofAnalysis, Nutrition and Evaluation,INTERgeneration LINKS also estab-lished working relationships for thenutrition education content with staffof the Eat 5 A Day campaign, the di-rector of the USDA Food Stamp Pro-gram, staff at the USDA Center forNutrition Policy and Promotion, andothers. Caregiver Connections, a careprovider support and continuing edu-cation membership system, promotesinformation and provides continuingeducation through the following:

    1. A toll-free telephone number fea-turing a knowledgeable, experi-enced, and empathetic person tolessen care provider isolationthrough access to knowledge andadvice.

    2. An Internet Webpage, which in-cludes(a) A monthly newsletter, with

    each issue containing a briefarticle on one or more spe-cific educational topics, suchas Seniors! Take AnotherLook at Food Stamps! andthe Eat 5 A Day campaign,current information, and in-spirational items.

    (b) Care provider networking, sothat care providers can sharesuccess stories or ask ques-tions of Caregiver Connec-tions members. Successes,questions, and responses areshared with all members.

    (c) Fact sheets, such as eligibilityrequirements for the FoodStamp Program (Figure).

    (d) Legislative activity pertinentto adult family care providersand persons in their care.

    All items noted above are in hardcopy for care providers withoutconvenient access to computers.

    3. Learn at Home courses with avideo component for self-learn-ing, with continuing educationhours awarded on satisfactorycompletion of the evaluationcomponent.


    GEM NO. 346

    Caregiver Connections:A Caregiver Support andContinuing Education System


    *Authors notes from focus group interview ses-sions conducted as part of USDA grant #97-35401-4561, which funded a research componentof the annual conference of the National AdultFamily Care Organization, October 30, 1997.


    Care providers employed by socialservice, developmental disabilities, andmental health agencies may find it in-creasingly difficult to meet requiredcontinuing education hours unlessexternal sources provide help. Budgetreductions may result in agencies pro-viding even less continuing educationthan they do now. Some nutritioneducators may not be familiar withthe ways of learning preferred by careproviders. Caregiver Connections, aunique, comprehensive care providersupport and education system provid-ing information, inspiration, commu-nication, continuing education, andfeedback, provides core nutritioncontent available wherever careproviders or their training staffs needit. This system uses various types ofcommon electronic media, such as atelephone,VCR, and computer, to ex-pedite and improve continuing edu-cation by making it appropriate, ac-cessible, and affordable as well asinteresting.

    Care providers involved in thelong-term care of dependent adultscan purchase Caregiver Connectionsmemberships, including all compo-nents described above, for $75 peryear.Agencies and other educators canpurchase or contract for selected com-ponents of the Caregiver Connectionssystem for their care providers, such asthe newsletter or Learn at Homecourses, to provide supplementarysupport and continuing education.Caregiver Connections can be a wel-comed partner by contributing to theimproved quality of care for the frailelderly or adults with disabilities wholive in family homes where they re-ceive long-term care and supervision.


    INTERgeneration LINKS, Inc, re-ceived Phase I and II USDA/SmallBusiness Innovation Research grants.Phase I determined the feasibility ofdeveloping a prototype for a compre-hensive technology-enhanced train-ing, monitoring, communication, and

    feedback system for care providers inadult family/foster care programs inrural communities in four US geo-graphic regions. Phase II provided fordeveloping Caregiver Connections( based on thetechnology used by care providers andtheir content and training methodpreferences. Contracted external eval-uation for Phase II is in process.


    1. Hudson J, Dennis D, Nutter RW,Galaway B, Richardson G. Fosterfamily care for elders. Adult Resi-dential Care Journal. 1994;8:65-75.

    2. Folkemer D, Jensen A, Lipson L,Stauffer M, Fox Grage W. Adult Fos-ter Care for the Elderly: A Review ofState Regulatory and Funding Strategies.Vol 1.Washington,DC: Intergovern-mental Health Policy Project of theGeorge Washington University(funded and published by AARPPublic Policy Institute);March 1996.Publication No. 9604A.

    3. Benson WF. Remarks from theDeputy Assistant Secretary on Ag-ing [script of video presentation].In: Southwest Conference on AdultFoster Care. Longview, Tex; March6, 1996:1415.

    4. Rowles GD, Beaulieu JE, MyersWW, eds. Long-Term Care for theRural ElderlyNew Directions inServices, Research and Policy. NewYork, NY: Springer PublishingCompany; 1996.

    S66 McKenna Madden and Fetterman/GEM NO. 346

    Figure. Caregiver Connections uses an identifying logo for Food Stamp Programitems in newsletters as well as in this fact sheet.