Author Archives: Anupa Shah

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2019 – No excuse for elder abuse!

une 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), officially recognised by the UN in 2011. Individuals and organisations worldwide will be participating in events and activities that empower, celebrate and inform older people, as a way of preventing mistreatment and harm occurring in their communities.

NARI launches elder abuse action plan

Victoria’s Public Advocate Colleen Pearce last month launched the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI)’s Elder Abuse Community Action Plan for Victoria at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

Seniors Rights Victoria, the Office of the Public Advocate and community service providers all supported NARI to achieve this project.

“The key strength of this piece of work is that it sought to combine the insights of frontline practitioners with information about new policy contexts, existing services and cutting-edge trial projects, to come up with this plan,” Ms Pearce said at the launch.

NARI Director and co-author of the plan Associate Professor Briony Dow said elder abuse was a serious problem in Victoria, but like many issues affecting older people was often treated as a second-class problem.

“NARI research has shown that tackling elder abuse is difficult not least because older people do not want to talk about their experiences…..Many older people we have spoken to feel deep shame and fear further abuse,” Ms Dow said.

The research identified 10 priorities in the state-wide action plan to address elder abuse:

  • Clarify the relationship between family violence and elder abuse.
  • Raise community awareness of elder abuse and promote a positive image of older people to reduce ageism.
  • Increase availability of “older person centred” alternatives to disclosing elder abuse.
  • Standardise tools for recognising abuse, and develop and implement a common framework for responding to elder abuse.
  • Increase availability of family (elder) mediation services including for people living in rural areas and CALD communities.
  • Provide education and training on elder abuse for all health professionals in health and aged care services.
  • Improve data and increase evaluation.
  • Clarify whether carer stress is a risk factor for elder abuse.
  • Improve understanding and response to elder abuse in CALD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • Improve housing options for both perpetrators and victims of elder abuse.
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    Country Women’s Association Raising Awareness of Elder Abuse

    The Country Women’s Association (CWA) in Victoria has adopted elder abuse as their main social issue to pursue in 2018 following the recommendation of their Social Issues Committee.

    CWA Social Issues Committee Chairperson Viviane Chemali (pictured) has been promoting the availability of Seniors Rights Victoria speakers to CWA branches throughout Victoria.

    About 30 women attended a presentation given by Seniors Rights Victoria Community Education Co-ordinator Gary Ferguson and volunteer speaker Jennifer Evans at the first of these talks held at Umina, the CWA State Headquarters last month.

    During the presentation, speakers cover elder abuse, risks, prevention, moving in with family and Enduring Powers of Attorney and Medical Decision Making.

    There were several questions during the presentation and some women cited examples of elder abuse of which they were aware.

    Bookings have been received for the coming months from a number of branches. For more information click on Senior Rights Victoria’s Education or CWA Victoria.

    Introducing our new community lawyer By Jessica Tighe

    Last January Seniors Rights Victoria provided a fine demonstration of their anti-ageist ethos by hiring a 25-year-old lawyer.  So with the shackles of private practice left safely behind me in Canberra, I returned to my hometown of Parkes, NSW, to load up a car and get the eight hour road-trip south underway – eager to meet this new challenge head on.

    Injustice of any kind rankles, but for me there is something particularly galling about attitudes that reduce diverse demographics to their vulnerabilities; something abhorrent in the sense of entitlement that leads to early inheritance syndrome, and the greed that overrides trust and family ties.

    The casework team at SRV sees the human face of this social problem up close and personal, every day. One thing I’ll say is that it’s rarely dull. On any given day at the Seniors Rights Victoria frontline you can find yourself at a nursing home or at the Magistrates Court; you could be breaking a client back into their home (with the help of a locksmith), or going to any lengths to keep a perpetrator out. We spend a lot of time on the phone with older people from diverse backgrounds, with a rich repository of stories and experiences to share. There has been POW survivors, eminent Order of Australia medallists, refugees from the Vietnam War and people who have simply worked steadily all their lives and were perhaps too-trusting a mother or father. They tell us their stories with a mix of resilience, humour, heartbreak, perspective and fiery determination.

    To my mind, there is nothing more motivating than working to redress a fundamental wrong against someone who wouldn’t have the means to pursue it otherwise. I don’t think I can ever go back to billing clients after this year, and I would really prefer not to have to give legal advice without the accompanying support of a social worker, like we do here at Seniors Rights Victoria. Lawyers and social workers together make a much more formidable team. Going forward, I just hope that the value of the service that Seniors Rights Victoria provides is met with the funding it needs. Because until that happy day when all our prevention measures and messaging take complete community hold, I can only see that we will need to keep expanding our specialist services.

    2017 – A year in review

    The past year saw tremendous growth in recognition of elder abuse. For Seniors Rights Victoria this meant a hectic year due to the pace of reforms, increased government interest in elder abuse and a higher level of demand upon our services, both for assistance with elder abuse from those experiencing it and from services consulting our expertise.

    Seniors Rights Victoria has been participating in high level committees and working groups as a result of the State Government’s continued focus on family violence reform, the publicity on family violence and elder abuse, the State Government’s Elder Abuse Prevention Advisory Group and the Federal Government setting objectives to tackle elder abuse. We keenly took part despite only being a small service provider. To assist us to participate in the work on family violence, the Victorian Government supported us with a grant for a part-time policy position, and funds to enable our Advocacy Coordinator to contribute our expertise in meetings and consultations. We also continued to participate in the workforce development for the Department of Health and Human Services Integrated Model of Care in partnership with St Vincent’s Health Melbourne and the Bouverie Centre. This helps keep older people in the big picture.

    The Federal Government’s commitment to tackling elder abuse was demonstrated through referrals to the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) into elder abuse. We contributed two submissions to the ALRC inquiry, which were quoted extensively in the final report. This greater recognition of elder abuse led to more interest from other agencies and a greater demand on our services. Our Helpline calls increased by 25 per cent and our advices grew by 42 per cent during the past year. We received more requests than the previous years to work with organisations as expert informants through consultation, meetings, partnerships and the delivery of education.

    Seniors Rights Victoria provided significant support to more than 50 events across the state who participated in World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June, including a partnership event at Melbourne Town Hall co-hosted with the Office of the Public Advocate. We welcomed the Federal Government release of the ALRC’s report Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response. We also continued our community education program to professionals, educators and the broader community, including people from culturally and linguistically diverse groups and Aboriginal communities.

    We were saddened by the loss of the former Victorian Minister for Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson MP who passed away this year. Fiona will be remembered as a trailblazer driven by a fierce determination for change and a fearless advocate for family violence, particularly the inclusion of the abuse of older people in this context.

    Our staff have been fantastic in their sense of purpose and engagement in influencing policy developments and achieving action to address elder abuse. The quality of their work is exceptional and is a source of pride. Throughout the year the Seniors Rights Victoria Advisory Committee has provided useful input on the strategic issues arising out of the developments and demands.

    I thank the advisory committee, staff, peer educators for their contributions and particularly the older people who shared their stories of abuse and their efforts to achieve change. Looking forward to 2018, Seniors Rights Victoria will celebrate 10 years of our achievements. We look forward to sharing our knowledge gained from working on the front line with older people, their families and service providers so we can strengthen our partnerships and increase community understanding and responses to stop elder abuse – Jenny Blakey, Seniors Rights Victoria.


    Our Practice – The Helpline

    There has been a substantial increase in calls to the Seniors Rights Victoria confidential telephone helpline which provides information, support and referrals on weekdays from 10am to 5pm (excluding public holidays and between Christmas and New Year’s Day).

    In 2016–17, the helpline service received 3379 calls (2696 previous year), of which 3285 were related to elder abuse or associated issues.

    Women made up more than 75 per cent of all callers. However, we recognise that elder abuse can affect all older persons and cater our services accordingly.

    The most prevalent issues raised were financial abuse at 25 per cent (28 per cent last year) and emotional/psychological abuse at 24 per cent (29 per cent last year), followed by adult children returning home at 10 per cent (6 per cent last year), physical abuse at 9 per cent (5 per cent last year), and neglect at 8 per cent (6 per cent last year). Very often a client experienced more than one type of abuse.

    A significant number of our callers were from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, with 234 advices made to clients whose birth country was not Australia, representing 35 different countries of origin.

    Elder abuse prevention network milestone

    Seniors Rights Victoria recently led an interagency workshop about elder abuse as part of the Elder Abuse Prevention Network (EAPN) project, one of the Victorian Government’s preventative responses to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

    The Victorian Government is funding the establishment of 10 elder abuse networks to collaborate at a community level and focus on the prevention of elder abuse. Seniors Rights Victoria is supporting this work by conducting research on the project which began with the workshop and will continue until February 2019.

    Partner networks chosen for the EAPN project so far are: Eastern Community Legal Centre, Ballarat Community Health Centre, South West Carers and Respite Services Network (Warrnambool), Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the Southern Melbourne Primary Care Partnership.

    The State Trustee Australia Foundation provided Senior Rights Victoria with additional funding support to conduct independent research on the primary prevention work being done about elder abuse in those communities.

    Senior Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey said it was timely for the workshop to be hosted during the Victoria against Violence campaign about family violence, given older women make up more than 75 per cent of callers using the confidential elder abuse helpline service.

    Elder abuse is any form of violence or mistreatment that causes harm to an older person, and occurs within a relationship of trust. The abuse may be physical, social, financial psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect. Elder abuse is believed to be greatly under-reported, but is estimated by the World Health Organisation to affect up to 10 per cent of older people worldwide.

    Ms Blakey said the collegiate of organisations at the Melbourne-based workshop were optimistic the project will result in a greater understanding of work being done to support the prevention of elder abuse and build on the capacity.

    “There is great work being done by organisations such as community health centres, shire councils, carers networks, primary care partnerships and community legal centres to support older people who are at risk of elder abuse, but we need to strengthen this network and learn how to better support each other and older people,” Ms Blakey said.

    “Prevention of elder abuse is important given the rising number of older people in Australia, the reluctance to seek help, difficulty of resolving problems once they happen and the damage to family relationships that can occur. Elder abuse is one of the worst manifestations of ageism and inequality in our society and we need to address these drivers of elder abuse.”

    Ms Blakey said the EAPN project will work with participating service providers, older people and the community to understand the needs and experiences of older people at risk or experiencing elder abuse.

    “We hope by the end of the project for this collaboration to have shared the lessons so the EAPN can develop a best practice framework that contributes to the prevention of elder abuse,” she said.

    Case study – Judy’s Story

    Judy*, in her 70s, lives in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. She has two adult children, Rosemary and Jeremy. Three years ago Jeremy moved back in with Judy after the breakdown of his own relationship. He shares the care of his six-year-old daughter Claire with his former partner.

    At the time, Jeremy did not work and he became verbally abusive towards Judy when she suggested he look for a job and contribute to the household expenses.

    Judy found Jeremy’s behaviour increasingly threatening but because she was concerned for Claire’s welfare she was reluctant to take any action. As Jeremy’s behaviour escalated Judy no longer saw her other grandchildren or had friends come to visit.

    Judy contacted Seniors Rights Victoria with the assistance of her daughter. The lawyer and advocate at Seniors Rights Victoria advised Judy that she could apply for a family violence intervention order. Judy had the process for making an application explained in detail and was given the contact details for the Applicant Support Worker at the Court. Both the lawyer and advocate offered ongoing support and representation for Judy throughout the court process. The advocate also helped Judy access social and health support services in her area so she could reconnect with her community.

    Judy made an application for a family violence intervention order and was granted an interim order. The police served a copy of the order on Jeremy that evening. Judy found the police who attended very helpful and reported that they spent time with Jeremy explaining housing options and other help available to him. One of the police officers kept in contact with Judy to keep her informed of Jeremy’s whereabouts and update her on whether he had accessed support services. This support from police helped to ease some of Judy’s concerns about her son’s wellbeing and it has also eased some of her anxiety over the action she had been forced to take against her adult son.

    The order permitted telephone contact between Judy and Jeremy. Judy continued to have regular time with Claire.

    *Personal details have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

    Federal launch of Elder Abuse Action Australia

    The Federal Government celebrated International Day of Older Persons in October by announcing funding for a national elder abuse prevalence study, increased training for professionals and the public and a new elder abuse peak body.

    The initiatives are part of the Government’s $15 million election commitment to leading a national agenda to address elder abuse in Australia.

    Attorney-General George Brandis is establishing a national peak body, Elder Abuse Action Australia (EAAA), to support the national coordination and advocacy of issues related to prevention of elder abuse with $250,000 funding per annum for two years.

    Senior Rights Victoria participated in the development of the proposed national framework as part of the working group and continues to contribute leadership towards EAAA’s establishment.

    Senator Brandis said the new peak body will support the development of the Knowledge Hub, foster collaboration and the sharing of information to facilitate learning and innovation, and provide policy expertise to governments to collaborate and develop programs to better support older Australians.

    In order to better understand the nature, scale and scope of the abuse, the Government is providing $590,000 to the Australian Institute of Family Studies to research the prevalence and nature of elder abuse in Australia.

    “Elder abuse is a complex and often hidden problem in Australia. For far too long, older Australians have had these actions diminish their ability to enjoy their lives with dignity and this has too often occurred in silence,” Senator Brandis said.

    “Together we will build a national understanding of elder abuse, establish better ways to share information, and work in partnership to protect the rights of all older Australians.”

    Conference to showcase Seniors Rights Victoria expertise

    Seniors Rights Victoria has been confirmed to do some of the presentations at the 5th National Elder Abuse Conference being held in Sydney early next year.

    Seniors Rights Victoria’s Principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards and Community Lawyer Tabitha O’Shea will present The Gift that Keeps Giving: Evidence and Practice Issues in Bringing Financial Elder Abuse Claims.

    The legal team will explain how making a claim based on financial elder abuse is riddled with complexity.  As courts presume that a transfer of property or money from an older person to an adult child is a gift, the burden of proving otherwise falls on the older person.  The presentation address issues of how to prove such a claim and will provide an understanding of working with older persons and the feelings of anger, shame and guilt that may arise when confronting a loved one in an adversarial setting.

    Senior Rights Manager Jenny Blakey and Advocate Mandy Walmsley will present Elder Abuse and the Victorian Family Violence Reforms, an overview of the Victorian Family Violence reform agenda and how elder abuse is to be included in initiatives such as the Support and Safety Hubs, risk assessment reform, police response and the Strengthening Hospitals program.

    Their presentation will consider the unique aspects of elder abuse that are not being addressed by reforms that are driven by a focus on gender inequity and violence against women and children. These aspects include the need for support and housing for people committing elder abuse, and a consideration of co-dependent intergenerational family relationships. As the reform agenda continues it is important to note the ways elder abuse differs from other forms of family violence. For example, it is more likely to be intergenerational rather than intimate partner violence, and while the majority of people experiencing abuse are women, significant numbers of men also experience abuse. This also leads to a consideration of whether elder abuse prevention currently focuses on protecting and safeguarding older people and overlooks the need for perpetrator behaviour change and accountability, which is a significant focus of the family violence reforms.

    The National Elder Abuse Conference is set to attract more than 500 academics and researchers, policy makers and government agencies, public servants, service providers, people with lived experience and community workers who have contact with older people.

    The theme for the conference is Together Making Change, with the aim being an inspiring exchange of ideas, experiences and solutions to address elder abuse.

    Hosts for the February conference, the NSW-based community legal centre Seniors Rights Services, said the 2018 conference comes at a pivotal moment in terms of Australia’s response to elder abuse, following the release this year of the Australian Law Reform Commission findings from one of Australia’s largest public inquiries into elder abuse.