CSSW connection: Jeanette Takamura served as the School of Social Work’s dean, the first woman to do so, from 2002 to 2016. She is now a professor at the School in addition to being dean emerita, teaching courses on federal policy.
Path to political involvement: Though she began her career as a practicing social worker serving youth and families, Jeanette Takamura was soon called to serve in government first at the state, and then at the national, level with the goal of advancing policies and programs in aging, health, and related areas. In her native Hawaii, she became involved in Hawaii state government, serving as the chief operating officer of the Hawaii State Department of Health and then as the Director of the Executive Office on Aging within the State of Hawaii’s Office of the Governor, covering aging, health, and long-term care programs for the state.
In 1997 Takamura was appointed by then President Clinton to serve as Assistant Secretary for Aging at the Administration on Aging within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, led by Donna Shalala—a post she held until 2001. During her tenure, Takamura established the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP), which was enacted and signed into law in 2000 as a part of the reauthorized Older Americans Act. The creation of the NFCSP served to heighten the nation’s awareness of the invaluable informal support that family members provide to frail and vulnerable persons while also calling attention to the fact that the needs of family caregivers have yet to be adequately addressed. Also during her tenure, Takamura was a key contributor to an Executive Branch-wide planning effort to establish a cross-cutting federal aging agenda for the 21st century, taking into account the challenges and opportunities presented by the coming of age of the baby boom population.
Takamura is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lucy Stone Award from the White House for her advocacy on behalf of elders and caregivers; the Social Work Pioneer Award from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Foundation for her contributions to the establishment of social policies and human services programs; and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, for her outstanding contributions to the promotion of social welfare policies and programs and the status of Japanese Americans. In 2020 ADvancing States (formerly the National Association of State Units on Aging), which represents the nation’s state agencies on aging and disabilities, established the Jeanette Takamura Award for outstanding leadership in caregiving policy, in recognition of Takamura’s leadership in developing the NFCSP. As the first recipient of her namesake award, Takamura said she intended to share the honor “with all the incredible professionals who worked on the team with me to propose, advance, and see to the enactment of the NFCSP.”
In an interview with therubins.com, a senior advocacy website, Takamura said:
My visits to various parts of the country over the past two years have demonstrated the tremendous love, strength, and will of family members who are caring for their older loved ones. From Florida to Alaska, my staff and I have met hundreds of family caregivers who have shared their most challenging and emotional experiences in providing care to their mothers, fathers, spouses, sisters and friends. What has been pointed out in news, in professional journals, and other articles in the popular press is that these family members give so much of themselves to care for their loved ones and that they wouldn’t have it any other way. But it is also clear that they very much need basic information, assistance and respite in their communities.
In a 2019 appearance on Social Impact LIVE, she told host Michael Friedman:
In the United States there are 52 different versions of Medicaid. If you’re in a rural community versus an urban community, there’s a big difference, not just in services but human resources.
In the same conversation she said of the National Family Caregiver Support Program,
This is not a panacea. The reason I say that is that we do not have a system of long-term care services programs and policies in the United States. And the truth is that caregivers do suffer. So, frankly, I’m an advocate for a universal program that would finance long-term care services and supports across the country.
In a 2014 letter to the New York Times comparing Japan and the United States in their treatment of female caregivers, Takamura said:
Japan has a national long-term care program for its aging population; America does not. What we do have are uncompensated family caregivers and undercompensated direct-care workers, most of whom are women. Meanwhile, women forego career advancements, salaries, time and energy to care for children and disabled and older parents, spouses, relatives and friends.