Great vision without great people is irrelevant.
– Jim Collins
Having the right staff is critical to the success of your shared site. It is important to put a lot of thought into hiring and retaining high-quality staff who are committed to the concept of intergenerational shared sites and possess the knowledge and skills needed to promote meaningful cross-age interaction.
There are a variety of staffing models that are employed by shared sites across the country. These may vary depending on:
- Whether one organization oversees services to both children and older adults, or separate organizations coordinate each program
- The size of the facility and the range of different program services (e.g., independent living, adult day care, skilled nursing, assisted living, child care, preschool, kindergarten)
- Financial resources
Regardless of your size or management model, the key question is: Who is responsible for planning and facilitating activities and fostering cross-age relationships?
6.1 Staffing Models
The following are different staffing models currently in use.
An Intergenerational Coordinator is hired to oversee intergenerational activities. Research and interviews with current shared site providers indicate that having an Intergenerational Coordinator will greatly increase the likelihood of successful intergenerational interaction. Responsibilities for a coordinator might include:
- Planning and facilitating the implementation of structured cross-age activities in conjunction with appropriate staff. This may include mentoring staff and students who share responsibility for facilitating programming.
- Creating opportunities for informal interactions
- Scheduling use of shared space, resources and equipment
- Coordinating staff meetings and conducting staff trainings
- Building collaborative relationships among staff of various program components
- Serving as the liaison with community partners
- Assisting with the selection of new staff
- Reporting progress and challenges related to intergenerational programming
- Introducing innovation to continually enhance programming
- Assisting with evaluation of intergenerational programs
- Assuming safety and supervision responsibilities
The Coordinator can be located within the child-care or adult services departments or at one of the organizational partners. However, it is imperative that they work closely with both older adult and child-care staff to ensure that activities are developmentally appropriate. The role of the Intergenerational Coordinator and expectations of staff regarding cross-age programming should be clearly communicated. It is best to build the Intergenerational Coordinator position into ongoing service provision funding rather than special grants that may not be sustained over time.
For examples of Intergenerational Coordinator job descriptions, click on the links below:
EXAMPLE: ONEgeneration, Van Nuys, CA
At ONEgeneration in California, the Intergenerational Program Specialist is located in the Adult Daycare department. She and another Adult Daycare staff member meet with classroom teachers for each age group once per month to plan activities. Each program (Child Care and Adult Daycare) is responsible for creating developmentally-appropriate activities on certain days of the week. The Intergenerational Program Specialist then finalizes a calendar for the month. The teams also discuss the efficacy of the previous month’s intergenerational programs and ways they could be improved. In addition to these formal monthly meetings, informal meetings between teachers and the Intergenerational Program Specialist occur regularly to address any questions/concerns.
Responsibilities are shared between child care and adult services staff in the same organization. Directors and/or key staff from the child care and older adult programs work together to plan and implement all intergenerational activities. In this model, it is important to include intergenerational responsibilities in the job descriptions of directors and staff, create a structure for ongoing communication and joint planning, and clarify when activities will occur and who will facilitate them.
EXAMPLE: Kingsley House, New Orleans, LA
At Kingsley House in New Orleans, the Program Directors for Early Learning Services and Adult Day Care, along with their leadership teams, coordinate all intergenerational activities and maintain ongoing communication to ensure the smooth flow of events. At least monthly, leadership staff from each program meet together to schedule formal intergenerational activities, coordinate program calendars, and work out logistics and expected outcomes for each activity. Lead staff for each activity varies, depending upon the expertise that each event or activity requires. For example, the planning and organization for a Friday morning intergenerational make-your-own-waffle breakfast would likely be facilitated by the Food Services Director. On the other hand, an activity that involves adults and seniors reading to young children would likely be organized by one or more of the Early Learning Services lead teachers, since this kind of intergenerational activity requires training and coaching of the readers to ensure their effectiveness with the children.
A staff person from either child care or adult services assumes primary responsibility for intergenerational programming. In some shared sites, one person is responsible for program planning, with input from other departments.
EXAMPLE: Kendal at Oberlin, Oberlin, OH
At Kendal Oberlin in Ohio, a variety of departments (e.g., Early Learning Center, Dining, Creative Arts Therapy, Nursing) all report to a four-person executive committee. Intergenerational activities are planned by Child Care staff, with input from Creative Therapy staff. Although they don’t have a clearly defined structure for working together, they do have a “culture of collaboration.” On an informal basis, Nursing staff lets Child Care staff know who from their department is interested in participating in activities and how. Every quarter, a small committee (including one resident and staff from Dining and Creative Therapies) meets to do some planning and identify residents and college students who could help with programming.
Each partner organization has a person who is responsible for intergenerational activities. When two separate organizations provide different services, each will likely want to designate a person on their team to oversee intergenerational activities. It is very helpful to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for both organizations to clarify roles and responsibilities, identify a structure for ongoing communication, and delineate expectations for staff training. Staff or administrative turnover at one or both of the partner organizations can present challenges in this model, so it is important to be mindful of this.
EXAMPLE: Mount Kisco Child Care Center, Mount Kisco, NY
At Mt. Kisco Child Care Center in New York, one staff person from each side (child care and adult care) is designated as a liaison. Together, they collect activity ideas from intergenerational teams, schedule and promote special programs (e.g., horticulture therapy, music), plan events, and create a common activity calendar. The two work together to create a trusting and safe environment where children and older adults can build long-lasting relationships through planned and spontaneous interactions.
No matter which staffing model you choose, collaboration is essential. Creating an environment in which the sharing of expertise and knowledge, regular communication across departments/ organizations, and joint planning of activities are EXPECTED is critical for all intergenerational shared sites.
“The key to success in an intergenerational shared site is creating a culture of collaboration.”
— Jeni Hoover, Kendal at Oberlin
6.2 Staffing Challenges and Strategies
Interviews with current shared-site practitioners revealed a number of challenges related to staffing. These include:
- Lack of engagement or sense of accountability
- Turf issues and a reluctance to share resources
- Lack of time devoted to training and onboarding new staff
- Discomfort interacting with either young children or older adults (particularly those with dementia)
- Lack of knowledge regarding meaningful cross-age activities
- Lack of time to invest in planning appropriate intergenerational activities
- High staff turnover
- Unrealistic expectations about what participants will or won’t do
Since each program component has its own staff members who are primarily concerned about the well-being of the people with whom they are working, communication and teamwork can be tricky. It is important to break down silos between departments, dispel misconceptions about certain populations, and identify best practices that will benefit all age groups.
How can you avoid some of the challenges listed above and ensure that you have staff who work together to create an “intergenerationally-rich” environment?
Embrace Intergenerationality as an Organizational Value
When an organization is not just able to adopt intergenerational programs but to incorporate intergenerationality (interaction between members of different generations) as one of its prominent values, then all staff understand that working intergenerationally is not an add-on but just a natural part of what they do.
An example of an organization that includes “intergenerationality” as a cross-cutting organizational value is Macrosad Intergenerational Reference Center, a shared site in Spain. When this site was launched in 2018, Macrosad managers and staff all fully embraced intergenerationality as a core part of their facility. (in Spanish)
Make Sure You Have Buy-in from Administrators
Support from the top administration will increase the likelihood that policies, procedures, and spaces that integrate, not separate, different populations will be put in place and key positions will be funded. Administrators need to be committed to ongoing training of staff who are engaged in intergenerational work. Discussing new trends and promising practices in the field, as well as regularly assessing the impact of your activities, are important to the success of your shared site.
Unfortunately, when there is turnover in administrators, the same level of enthusiasm and buy-in may not be sustained. This is also true if there is a leadership change in one of your partner organizations. It is critical to continually educate administrators about the value of intergenerational approaches to care and what it takes to be a successful, age-integrated facility. A formal onboarding process that captures the essence of the program is recommended during leadership transitions to ensure institutional knowledge is shared.
Hire the Right People
“If candidates aren’t excited about the intergenerational aspect of the job, they are not considered. We need to be clear that cross-age programming is not optional, it is a critical part of the job.”
– Joanne Thompson, Benevilla
Finding people who are comfortable working and interacting with children, adults, and seniors is very important. Don’t assume that everyone is excited about bringing children and older adults together. Take the time to develop clear job descriptions and interview questions that will help you assess if candidates are a good fit for your intergenerational site.
Job descriptions: In addition to skills, knowledge, and experience working in child care, before/after school care, or with older adults, it is important that staff members are committed to the shared-site vision and willing to learn about and work with multiple age groups. When writing job descriptions for staff working directly with older adults or children, include responsibilities related to intergenerational programming and make clear your expectation that every staff member must embrace the intergenerational concept.
Interviews: When interviewing potential staff for positions in child care or older adult services, consider including questions like:
- What excites you about working with both older adults and children?
- What concerns you about working with both older adults and children?
- What questions do you have about working with both populations?
- What do you see as your role in facilitating interaction between a child and an older adult?
- How would you help a child who is reluctant to participate in an activity with an older adult?
- How could you engage an older adult who would prefer not to interact with a child?
- What experiences have you had with young children and older adults?
- What brings you joy in your personal intergenerational relationships?
It is important to make it clear that staff will be held accountable for working effectively with both children and older adults, partnering with staff from the other program, and planning joint activities.
A number of intergenerational shared sites offer free or discounted child care or elder care for staff members. The turnover rate in these organizations tends to be relatively low. Facilitating quality training opportunities for staff about intergenerational work may be considered another incentive since opportunities for certified training in the field are still scarce.
6.3 Staff Training
Typically, the staff members you hire will have expertise in working with either children or adults, not both. They may lack knowledge about child or adult development and/or feel uncomfortable interacting with a new population. Staff who work with older adults may need to understand the challenges of a child with a speech delay or ADHD type behaviors. Child care staff may need to learn how to work with older adults who have dementia or aphasia.
Although most shared sites conduct training on policies and procedures related to working with children and/or older adults, often they provide little information about intergenerational best practices. Involving staff in orientation and training specifically focused on cross-age programming will increase buy-in and improve the quality of your program.
Research (Rosebrook and Larkin, 2003) suggests that professionals working in intergenerational programming should have the ability to:
- Work with individuals at many points along the age spectrum
- Plan age-integrated activities that are developmentally and functionally appropriate for participants
- Coordinate programs with other community agencies
- Design effective, sustainable intergenerational programs
- Facilitate intergenerational relationships between younger and older participants
- Link intergenerational practice to research and policies
A study in Spain (Sanchez and Pinazo, 2013) identified the following characteristics of practitioners implementing intergenerational programs:
- Skilled at promoting contacts, social relationships, interactions, and bonds
- Knowledgeable about the intergenerational field
- Skilled at managing the exchange of resources between generations
- Gifted with strong personal and social skills
- Familiar with the components of intergenerational programming
- Skilled at strengthening social networks and partnerships
Levels of Training
Engaging staff from various departments in both experiential and didactic training workshops will increase the likelihood that they will buy into the intergenerational concept and feel comfortable working with multiple populations. It is important to invest in staff development early in order to reap long-term benefits.
You can design varying levels and stages of training – orientation, pre-service training, in-service meetings, and/or online instruction.
Orientation/Re-orientation for all staff: Explain why connecting generations is important, how intergenerational programming aligns with the mission of your organization, and the role each staff member can play in fostering intergenerational interaction.
It is important to help people develop a personal commitment to the shared-site concept and an understanding of how they can help meet the overall goals. If you are adding an intergenerational component to an existing program, re-orient staff and get their buy-in early in the process.
Pre-service training for direct service staff: Ideally, you can train most of your staff before your facility opens. In addition to sharing policies and procedures for working separately with either children or older adults, it is critical to design training that focuses on the intergenerational aspect of your site.
You may want to combine in-person training with a requirement that staff complete The Ohio State University Intergenerational Course. The course can also be helpful if staff members are hired at different times and/or there is staff turnover. Read section 6.3 to learn more about the Best Practices in Intergenerational Programming.
The International Diploma in Intergenerational Learning (IDIL) offered by Generations Working Together in partnership with the University of Granada is a 7-week self-directed course is aimed at anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of intergenerational work, its purpose, impact and practical application to enable them to apply this within their own work. Click here to learn more about upcoming dates and registration costs.
In Spain, an intergenerational shared site is implementing ongoing training through WhatsApp slides that address key questions raised by staff and/ or by an external team of researchers.
Ongoing training: Regular in-service meetings with staff from the various programs will help to reinforce initial trainings and to learn as a team from real-life challenges that arise as staff implement intergenerational programming.
Training seeks to impact four main areas:
- Self-awareness/conceptualization (e.g., what does it mean to be an intergenerational practitioner?)
Training Topics and Exercises
The following are some topic areas and experiential exercises you might consider when designing your training.
Generational Awareness: These exercises are designed to increase staff awareness of generational differences and commonalities, as well as build a sense of community.
This fun, interactive activity is particularly effective in groups that are very age-diverse. Ask staff to place themselves in a circle from the youngest to the oldest, without saying a word to each other. Taking turns, ask each person to state their age. If participants are in the wrong spot, ask them to change places.
Depending on the size of the group, ask each person or several people in one age category, what they like best about being their age. Once you have gone around the circle, ask people to share what they find most difficult or challenging about being their age. Ask people to listen for commonalities and differences across age groups.
After participants have returned to their seats, ask them to share what they observed or learned. Some discussion questions are:
- Did anything surprise you?
- What did you learn about other age groups?
- What themes emerged in terms of commonalities and differences across ages?
- How can this information help you work more effectively with staff members of different ages? With older adults?
This activity can help staff members understand generational differences in work and communication styles. Break the group into generational cohorts (e.g., Silent, Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z).
Ask each group to brainstorm important historical and/or community events (e.g., Great Depression, Vietnam War, 9/11) that they experienced when they were “coming of age” (late adolescence to early adulthood). These may vary based on ethnicity, race, and other variables. Research suggests that these experiences have a lasting impact on one’s worldview.
Share first in a large group and then break into mixed-age triads to discuss how these experiences affect staff members’ views on work, their preferred communication styles, and their overall worldview.
Benefits of intergenerational relationships: Rather than just listing the benefits of cross-age connection, it is helpful to ask people to reflect on their personal experiences with intergenerational relationships and learning.
Exploring Significant Relationships
Ask staff members to think of an older adult with whom they had a significant relationship at any point in their lives. In pairs, discuss:
- What made this relationship special? How did it impact your life?
- What did you learn from that person?
- What did they learn from you?
Share answers in the large group. Discuss the importance of intergenerational relationships to children and older adults.
Concerns about working with a different age group: Often staff who are unfamiliar with frail elders tend to distance themselves from older participants. Providing a safe space for staff to examine their own assumptions and concerns about working with children or older adults can lead to a productive discussion about age-related stereotypes and misconceptions. You might ask staff to identify words that describe older people in the program or to share a negative interaction with an older person. Similarly, it is important to explore how staff may feel about working with young children,
Information about child and adult development: Basic information should be provided on the needs, competencies, and interests of each population involved in your program. It is helpful if staff have realistic expectations for people of different ages and abilities (e.g., the short attention span of young children, repeated questions from people with dementia).
6.4 Best Practices in Intergenerational Programming
The following are eleven best practices for intergenerational programming in sites involving young children and frail elders that were identified by Jarrott and DeBord. These best practices can be taught in a day-long, pre-service training, over a period of time through in-service meetings. You can use a variety of teaching tools to help participants understand these best practices and learn facilitative behaviors that will enhance the quality of cross-age interaction. In addition to discussing the content, consider:
- Role-playing some scenarios in which staff lead activities
- Creating case studies/scenarios that require participants to problem-solve
- Engaging staff in self-reflection about their own communication styles
Practice 1: Staff members of the adult and child programs collaborate to plan activities
Typically, staff who work with either elders or children only have training and experience with one age group. Meeting together, they can learn more about the competencies of each group, appropriate expectations of participant behaviors, ways to share the workload of program-planning, and also reflect on the effectiveness of specific activities.
Practice 2: Participants are involved in decision-making about the activity and during activities
Empowering participants can increase their feelings of self-worth and increase their investment in activities. Often, older adults and children have decision-making taken away from them. It is important to ask for ideas from participants about what kinds of activities they would enjoy.
Practice 3: Participation is VOLUNTARY
It is important for staff to be encouraging but not coercive. Both children and older adults gain personal power when they have choices and some degree of control in their lives.
Practice 4: Participants are prepared ahead of time and reflect on the activity afterward
Some children and older adults may feel anxious about engaging with unfamiliar people or feel concerned that they will not be successful. Sensitize older adults, children, and young people to the needs, strengths, and perspectives of other generations. Preparing participants will help staff understand participant interests and concerns. It is important to inform participants what an activity entails, why you think they would enjoy it, and then let each individual decide if they want to join.
Practice 5: Activities reflect interests, backgrounds, and social histories of program participants
Practice 6: Activities are age- and role-appropriate
It is important that activities help children gain social and academic skills to prepare them for school while also supporting the functional abilities of older adults. Ideas for appropriate roles include:
Practice 7: Activities support interaction among intergenerational participants
Practice 8: Facilitators skillfully stage the environment to promote interaction
Practice 9: Facilitators consider the social environment and the role of staff
When possible, it’s best for staff members to step back after introducing an activity and let participants interact.
Practice 11: Facilitators document and communicate experiences to build on in future activities
Collecting evidence to demonstrate the process of building intergenerational relationships is a powerful way to both evaluate and market your program. Examples include taking and posting photos, creating and sharing a notebook about activities with families, and recording stories told by older adults and children.
Review the evaluation section (Section 8) in this toolkit to learn more about how to measure improvements in individual functioning of adults and children, as well as other important growth, development, and well-being outcomes.
6.5 In-Service Training
Ongoing training is critical to the long-term success of your program. Many issues will arise once intergenerational programming has begun, and staff members are faced with real-life challenges. Regularly bringing together staff working with children and those working with older adults will provide opportunities for them to reflect on successes and challenges and examine ways to continually improve activities. It is important that in-service training also reflects the interests of staff. Getting input from staff about specific training topics they need/want is likely to increase their buy-in.
Consider asking these questions:
- In structured activities and informal interactions, what are we doing to encourage communication and connection between children and older adults? What works and what doesn’t work?
- What else could we do to build trusting relationships?
- Are we engaging participants in designing activities that build on their strengths and reflect their interests? What more could we be doing?
- Are there ways we could better use or modify our physical environment that would enhance relationship-building across generations?
(Adapted from training designed by Ebenezer Ridges)
When planning staff training, it is important to pay attention to both cross-training and reciprocal training (Sanchez, Campos and Rodriguez, 2021):
- Cross-generation training: practitioners need to gain more expertise in the different generational groups at the shared site, not just the main group they are involved with every day.
- Reciprocal training: practitioners from one section (e.g., adult day services) should exchange knowledge with colleagues in the other section (e.g., nursery school).
Some topics for In-service meetings:
- Understanding strategies for involving people with dementia in intergenerational activities
- Understanding challenges related to working with children with special needs
- Dealing with Loss and Grief
Dealing with Loss and Grief
Dealing with loss and grief is one of the most important issues to address during in-service training, particularly in settings where there are many vulnerable older adults. Most staff members are not prepared to help children and/or older adults process loss. The following are some helpful suggestions to support children:
- Keep statements simple and concrete.
- Choose words carefully. Be honest without giving disturbing details when answering questions about a participant’s death.
- Let children know it is okay to be sad and express their feelings.
- Encourage children to talk about the person and remember good things.
- Communicate with the parents of the children to let them know of a loss.
- Consider holding a memorial service for the older adult or planting something in their honor.
At Grace Living, when a resident dies, children share memories of that person with their teacher and then create a book of memories that is given to the resident’s family.
Suggestions for helping older adults deal with the death of a child include:
- Make a social worker or counselor available to talk with participants.
- Volunteer to accompany an older adult to the child’s funeral.
- Check in with older adults a few weeks later to see how they are doing.
- Consider holding a memorial service for the child or planning something in their honor.
6.6 Building Your Team
In addition to holding regular in-service meetings to enhance knowledge and skills, it is important to create opportunities for staff from various programs to get to know each other and build trusting relationships.
Relationships – whether between staff members or children and older adults – are at the core of intergenerational shared sites.
Here are some ideas for building your intergenerational team:
- Create a space where staff from different departments can hang out informally. One shared break room can also save money.
- Focus on building a culture of shared responsibility and collective competence.
- Allocate time for joint staff training, program planning, debriefing (right after each activity),, and evaluation.
- Distribute a calendar of intergenerational events to all staff (including maintenance, food service, and administrative staff) and invite them to stop by.
- Highlight successful cross-departmental partnerships and the contributions of staff members in site newsletters.
- Discuss how to handle advice given by older adults regarding “discipline” issues. Staff in the older adult program may need to understand which child behaviors are and are not appropriate and then explain that to older participants.
- Celebrate together (e.g., an annual family picnic, holiday events, teacher and nurse appreciation weeks).
- Provide opportunities for staff to spend time in each other’s programs and activities.
- Be clear about your expectations for staff members working with children and older adults (e.g., supporting residents to get to the activity area, setting up chairs for the activity, writing a reminder of the activity on the schedule board). Here is a list of expectations from ONEgeneration.
- Share common words and phrases used in classrooms. It is important that staff working with older adults understand classroom rules and how to communicate with children. It is also important to explore how to talk about people with dementia and/or those with disabilities. Language matters!
The following is a list of phrases used in the Ebenezer Ridges child care center.
- Put a bubble in your mouth: practice being quiet
- Walking feet: do not run in the halls
- Criss-Cross-Applesauce: sit on your bottom with your legs crossed in front of you
- Use your inside voice: speak softer, do not yell
- Friends: refers to all children
- Sad Choices: refers to a child making poor choices and is used in giving them a warning regarding their behavior; encourages redirection to a better choice of behavior
- Turn your listening ears on: to prepare and practice listening
- Gentle Touches: to be soft and gentle in any engagement with friends and “grandfriends”
- Calm your body: to take a deep breath, slow down, and decrease your energy level
- Use your words: to say how you feel instead of acting it out
Building a solid team will not only make the planning and implementation of intergenerational programs easier but can also increase the retention of staff. Staff turnover is a common challenge for shared sites. When staff members feel they are part of a team in which they can learn and contribute, are valued and respected for their expertise, and share common goals, the likelihood of retention is greater.