A social worker can support a palliative care patient and their loved ones in numerous ways. From providing customised advice to offering ongoing emotional support, the social worker operates behind the scenes to achieve a myriad of non-medical-related outcomes.

In this post, we’ll define palliative care and outline how a social worker can help make the process more manageable.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a specialised type of healthcare reserved for patients with progressive, life-limiting illnesses.

The overarching aim is to enable patients to live as long and comfortably as possible while optimising their quality of life. Palliative care may incorporate physical, psychosocial, and spiritual components and often involves supporting loved ones.

Palliative care is commonly administered in four different settings:

  • At home
  • A hospital
  • A hospice
  • An Aged Care facility.

The type of care administered varies depending on personal requirements and the current phase of palliative care:

  1. Stable care: the patient is in a stable condition, and symptoms are managed in a comfortable manner.
  2. Unstable phase: the patient’s condition is rapidly deteriorating and requires urgent attention.
  3. Deteriorating phase: the patient’s condition is gradually worsening and requires ongoing adjustments.
  4. Terminal phase: the patient’s death is imminent, and treatment focuses on pain management.
  5. Bereaved phase: the patient has passed away, so support shifts towards counselling their loved ones.

While doctors and nurses treat the physical symptoms, the social worker provides background support to make the process more manageable for patients and their loved ones – helping explain the process and coordinate services.

The roles of a social worker in palliative care

So how does a social worker help in palliative care?

The social worker plays a crucial role by providing social, and emotional support to the palliative care patient and their loved ones and by connecting them to services.

The palliative care social worker can help identify the patient’s physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs. The worker advocates on the client’s behalf to ensure these needs get addressed in the best possible way.

To do so, the social worker may conduct home visits, provide advice on effective at-home palliative care, or recommend government facilities, programmes, and grants. The social worker may also liaise with medical providers to resolve pressing care-related needs.

Hospice and palliative care social workers perform similar roles at times, especially when a palliative care patient is in the terminal phase. Shared responsibilities may include planning end-of-life care, evaluating and advocating for medical treatment plans, and providing emotional or familial support. The social worker can also play an advisory role, connecting patients and their families to government-funded financial support services.

Examples of how a social worker can help you and your loved one in palliative care

The palliative care social worker supports patients and their loved ones by empowering them to confront mortality and the grieving process. The worker enables clients to come to terms with a terminal illness or impending death.

Many recipients feel the service is extremely valuable.

Support from social workers in palliative care comes in numerous forms. The social worker may:

  • Work with the patient to co-create a list of realistic goals and expectations
  • Empower the patient to make decisions regarding their treatment
  • Provide ongoing emotional, social, and psychological support
  • Encourage loved ones to take an active role in the caregiving process
  • Advise the patient or loved ones on available public resources
  • Connect the patient or loved ones with financial support services
  • Empower the patient to address unfinished business and make any last goodbyes
  • Refer the patient to spiritual support services (if desired)
  • Relieve isolation by scheduling regular visits
  • Advocate the patient’s wishes and needs to their family and/or caregivers
  • Organise accommodation such as an Aged Care Home, hospice, or hospital
  • Provide grief counselling to bereaved family members.

How do I find a palliative care social worker?

End-of-life care is a daunting prospect for everyone involved. But the process becomes much more manageable when you have a qualified palliative care social worker on your side.

Ask your palliative care provider for a recommendation of a suitable social worker in your region. Failing that, the government funded CareSearch or Palliative Care Social Work Australia may be able to help.

Home Care Packages and Palliative Care

Home care packages are crucial for many receiving palliative care, providing tailored services to support patients in the comfort of their own homes. Social workers play a pivotal role in coordinating these services, ensuring they align with the patient’s and family’s needs.


If you have any further questions, call CareAbout today and speak to one of our Care Experts. Our guidance is free for you and your family and can save you hours of time researching options.