Linda Jackson

Recipient: February 2009

Linda Jackson draws constant inspiration from seniors and their families: "They truly have taught me about life. Linda is the Director of Community and Ambulatory Programs at Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System in Toronto, which is one of the world's premier academic health sciences centres focused on aging. She was interviewed in advance of National Social Work Week which is being celebrated March 2-8, 2009 under the theme: "Social Workers Making a Difference in the Lives of Older Adults and Their Families".  She is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader during National Social Work Week.

In Linda's words, "seniors have enriched my life, with the wisdom that comes with age, with their strength, their resilience, and their diversity." She continues to be struck by the ageism that permeates society. She decries the lack of content in the social work curriculum around aging. She believes that it's time for social workers, social work students and educators to recognize the huge demographic shift that is rapidly coming upon us and the need to focus on this stage of life.

A fundamental principle of social work for Linda Jackson is that social workers always see from the client's perspective. She states as well: "It is a social work obligation to look at the person within the larger societal issues that will have a systemic impact - this is ingrained in the way we practice social work." She also underlines that social workers are skilled at maximizing people's own abilities. She points out that these strengths and skills are particularly valued and in evidence when working in the field of aging.

One of the reasons that Linda considers working with older adults and their families particularly rewarding is its interdisciplinary approach. She emphasizes that for any social worker interested in working collaboratively with other disciplines, there are many opportunities in this field to make a big difference.  As well, she believes that social workers are particularly suited to be leaders in this field, which presents them with opportunities to connect the individual (micro) with the systemic issues (macro).

Linda Jackson's greatest wish is for seniors to be involved in all aspects of care delivery and planning in the health care system. She urges all decision-makers to listen to the feedback from seniors, which has remained consistent over a long time. It is clear that seniors want a greater emphasis on community supports so that they can remain in their home for as long as they wish; when this is no longer possible, they need alternative options to be available within their own community and preferably offered in a culturally responsive manner. She notes that resources have not been significantly invested in the community until recently. She underlines the need to focus particularly on those most marginalized, those that do not have family supports. She says: "What I have learned in 25 years of practice is that it is possible to preserve dignity."

Linda loves the work that she does. She explains that her passion has developed over time due to many opportunities and to the risks that she has taken in taking advantage of these new opportunities. These have quenched her thirst for continuous learning. She encourages social workers to be open to taking chances and facing new challenges, as she has found it immensely rewarding. She notes that, unlike many social workers working with seniors and their families, she was not exposed to this stage of life in her youth. However, she emphasizes: "Social workers and students need to recognize that the people they will encounter in the fields of health and mental health will be seniors and their families." She has found that if students have early exposure to seniors in their life - either through family or volunteer opportunities - it really shifts their perspective and helps them to realize the meaningful opportunities presented by a focus on this large segment of our population.

According to Linda Jackson, she has always had incredible mentors who have offered her their insight. She believes in surrounding herself with people who are capable and excited about their work. She holds that social workers have much to gain from the wisdom of allied professionals, while demonstrating social work's unique skills.

Linda Jackson believes that good leaders focus on rewarding, recognizing and coaching, rather than critiquing. She has found that when social workers and other health professionals are supported, encouraged, and given opportunities to learn they give so much. She points out: "I draw inspiration from the people I work with."

It is Linda's hope to encourage students to think of a career working with older adults and their families, or pursue education, policy or research in this area. She asks: "Given the great opportunities and the desire to make a difference, why wouldn't you be involved?" She urges every school to provide a meaningful focus in their curriculum to issues of aging and the opportunity for contact with seniors and social workers working with seniors, as these would enable students to break stereotypes and to learn about this diverse group. Noting that social workers in this area are particularly passionate about their work, she concludes: "It can be very invigorating for social workers of any age."

Linda Jackson is an inspirational leader in the social work community - enthusiastic and hopeful, accomplished and ground-breaking. During Social Work Week, March 2-8, 2009, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference in the lives of older adults and their families.