The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Social Work Practitioners and Cross-Disciplinary Community Hoarding Task Forces

Friday, January 18, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Christiana Bratiotis, PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Boston University, Boston, MA
Recently, cases of hoarding have engendered a community-level response such that 85 hoarding task forces have formed in communities large and small, urban and rural, throughout the US and Canada.  Qualitative data about these task forces provides information about their formation and operation. These data include information about the role of social workers in three primary hoarding task force activities: education, case consultation and direct intervention.  The findings from this research can inform practice and guide next research steps with regard to the viability, longevity and outcomes of hoarding task forces and offer insights into linking social work with these community intervention response mechanisms.

Using a grounded theoretical framework for the social construction of problems and comparative case study methodology, five hoarding task forces sites were selected for detailed study.  These sites were chosen for their diversity of purpose, approaches to hoarding intervention and community geography, composition and resources.   Multi-method data collection strategies included semi-structured interviews with key informants, analysis of documents, small group interviews of task force members and investigator attendance at task force meetings to engage in participant observation.  Data was deconstructed, analyzed, reconstructed and interpreted using gross thematic categories that emerged during analysis.  Prolonged engagement with task force sites, triangulation of data sources, writing research memos and mentor debriefing helped to establish trustworthiness in analysis.

Reflecting the complexity of hoarding disorder which spans personal, private, and public domains, this study captures the perspectives of public and private sector service providers representing mental health, housing, social services, public health agencies, and private family service agencies.  In addition, community enforcement organizations, including police, fire, legal systems and animal control were also represented. In fact, hoarding problems appear to provoke a surprising breadth of agencies and organizational involvement, marking hoarding as a uniquely challenging problem from a community perspective. 

Findings address the process by which task forces organize and operate, as well as the practice and policy changes that emerge from such collaboration. For the five sites studied, the task force mission, membership composition and intervention approaches contributed to the construction of hoarding as a social problem in communities where task forces were developed.  Surprisingly, despite their primary functions of case consultation, advocacy and brokering, hoarding task forces rarely included social workers in leadership roles.  The formation of task forces appears to be a useful multi-sector practice and policy mechanism for addressing social problems and advancing community policies to protect and support both hoarding sufferers and affected others (family, neighbors). Challenges for complex problems such as hoarding are pronounced in requiring communications across numerous agencies in order to identify individual, family and community service needs and methods for providing those. Implications of these findings for feasibility, construction and durability of task forces will be discussed.  The durability and longevity of hoarding task forces and the applicability of the hoarding task force model for practice and policy responses to other social problems is examined.