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Elise Hernandez, MSW ’14, left Miami to begin her education at U-M in 2011. She came to Ann Arbor to better understand intergenerational family relationships, social support and well-being among marginalized older adults. As with many researchers, she has a personal connection to her area of study. “I was drawn to this topic while visiting my great-grandmother in the hospital,” Hernandez explained. “We would pack three generations of family into the hospital to visit her and would often get kicked out because there were too many of us, but I noticed so many other patients were alone.” Hernandez has focused her research on how values and circumstances shape social support for older adults, and how the quality of that support impacts formal social service seeking patterns. Hernandez’s grandparents didn’t want to be in an institution and her family wasn’t sure how to manage both older parents who were ill. The family wanted to honor the wishes of the grandparents, but the caregivers also had jobs and families of their own to manage. A large extended family could help with the ailing parents, but eventually the grandparents moved into their children’s homes. “There was no way to honor all of my grandparents’ wishes, but my family kept them in their home for as long as they could, and moved them in with family rather than into a facility for older adults,” Hernandez said. Hernandez’s dissertation: “Social Support and the Paradox of Familismo among Older Latina/os: Profiles, Quality, and Social Service Use across Sociocultural Characteristics” is intended to better understand the ambivalence and evaluation of family and how it relates

to the prediction of their use of social services. “The overall concept is that Latina/o families are happy and that they take care of themselves, but not everyone has that, or even a variation of that,” Hernandez said. “We want to see what predicts that variation.” Initial research shows differences among elderly born outside the U.S. versus those born in the country, which involve contradictions about the reliability and sympathy of family support. According to Hernandez, the Latina/o mindset of older adult care is more collectivist and yet it can also be challenging for the family members who provide the care. “I hope this leads to more research on Latina/o older adults,” Hernandez said. The more I find, the more questions I have. I’d like this to lead to some sort of intervention with older adults and their families. It would be great if this research could lead to policy evaluation and reform to address the needs of this underserved group with some cultural specificity.” Hernandez suggests a solution to the challenges of older adult care involve increased social services and programs to meet Latina/o needs. “Many Latina/os are hesitant to use social services because they think it is the family’s responsibility,” Hernandez explained. “The point of my research is to get families talking about what they can do for one another, and then cater social services to that need.” Hernandez is interested in pursuing an academic career to teach and train future social workers in working with older adults, and in policy and evaluation work with organizations focused on gerontology issues.

ONGOING · Summer 2016 · 27

Ongoing 2016 Spring  

Published biannually by the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

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