As part of its reform package following the watershed 2016 report of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Victorian Government established the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor, a role responsible for holding the government and its agencies to account for implementation of statewide family violence reform.
The humble Seniors Rights Victoria volunteer was one of a handful of guest speakers, the others including: Victorian Commissioner for Seniors and Ambassador for Elder Abuse Gerard Mansour; Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Director, Seniors Programs & Participation, Barbara Mountjouris; and Seniors Rights Manager, Jenny Blakey.
Seniors Rights Victoria was celebrating a milestone, a decade of frontline service delivery, which has resulted in:
- 22,063 calls to the Helpline
- 4,382 older people receiving personalised assistance through advice and casework
- 29,182 participants in community education sessions
- 12,247 participants in professional development sessions
- Production of nine different information sheets and the booklet, Care for Your Assets: Money, Ageing and Family.
Jennifer stood proudly, sharing her experiences of being a peer educator with Seniors Rights Victoria for more than seven years, a role she said received continual support and ongoing training.
A former social worker and trainer in family welfare and health, Jennifer was a recipient of a Council of the Ageing Senior Achiever Award in 2016 for her voluntary work with SRV, Court Network and local climate action group.
“As older people ourselves, who are conveying our strong passion for justice, it seems that we are accepted and believed more readily,” Jennifer said.
“By us naming what elder abuse is, reinforcing that older people have a right not to be abused or ripped off, and that it is okay to seek assistance, participants do listen. They appear to really appreciate the knowledge we bring and the information we share, and it is very gratifying to have others thank us for doing something that we really enjoy”.
Jennifer said when she first started the talks it was rare for people to have heard the words elder abuse and Seniors Rights Victoria, but that was no longer the case.
“Although there is still a long way to go before we have a world where older people do not experience elder abuse, recognition that help is available is growing in our audiences. Also growing is the number of people who indicate they have appointed powers of attorney for when they can no longer make decisions themselves. And this is a real change,” she said.
“I cannot remember any community group talk where I have not come away feeling I have done something worthwhile and meaningful. I am very grateful that I have been able to play a small part in the challenge we all face in ensuring that in future, all older people can live without fear.”
Seniors Rights Victoria has subsequently released an anniversary brochure celebrating its work from the past 10 years and its future aspirations which it is distributing to all Victorian politicians in the new Parliament. To view the digital version of brochure go to Our Work Makes An Impact.
Celebrating its 90th anniversary, the CWA has a long history of supporting women in rural and regional areas. There are also several CWA branches in metropolitan Melbourne. The collaboration with CWA recognises the expertise that exists in Seniors Rights Victoria and the commitment to being an effective state-wide service leading elder abuse prevention work.
Viviane Chemali (pictured), the Convenor of the CWA of Victoria’s Social Issues Committee, promoted the talks through Seniors Rights Victoria and the CWA’s networks. Recognising that with an increasing ageing population in Victoria, elder abuse would continue to be a concern in the community, the CWA of Victoria committed to ensuring that its members were informed of their rights and how to prevent elder abuse occurring by planning ahead. The talks covered a range of topics including elder abuse awareness, risks, prevention, support and assistance as well as providing information about Enduring Powers of Attorney and Advanced Care Directives.
The Seniors Rights Victoria speakers delivered 15 talks to 425 participants, including the CWA of Victoria State Branch. Speakers travelled as far away as Tallangatta and Warracknabeal and were welcomed by the local CWA members with conviviality. Some of the branches opened up the talks to their local communities.
“This was a valuable partnership for Seniors Rights Victoria during 2018 and we’d like to thank Viviane for all her work. We look forward to talking to other CWA of Victoria branches in the years to come,” said Seniors Rights Victoria’s Education Coordinator Gary Ferguson.
Cobar Community Health – a member of the Macedon Ranges Elder Rights Network (one of the elder abuse prevention networks) organised a Know Your Rights Forum in Woodend in November. About 50 people attended and heard from a panel of speakers which included Gerard Mansour, Commissioner for Older Victorians/Ambassador for Elder Abuse Prevention, Seniors Rights Victoria, Elder Rights Advocacy and Victoria Police. Gerard talked about the phases of ageing from retirement through starting to live with more complex issues and the importance of not becoming isolated from broader social support networks.
Another of the networks, South West Carer & Respite Services Network, is holding a Knitting Ninja’s Morning Tea this month.
The event, to be hosted by the Warrnambool Mayor Tony Herbert, will highlight the need for all in the community to challenge ageism and say NO to elder abuse. The celebration is the culmination of a yarn bombing project. It represents a true community level approach with participating groups including: Warrnambool Primary School; South West TAFE students; residents of Ingenia Gardens, Lyndoch Living and Heatherlie; and members of Warrnambool Bowls and Lawn Tennis Bowls Clubs, Rotary, Salvation Army and Mpower Warrnambool Carer Support Group. To view a video of the project go to Yarn Bombing.
The Think Impact action research being conducted as part of the Elder Abuse Prevention Networks and funded by the State Trustees Foundation Australia is almost complete. The research provides insights from more than 70 interviews conducted with community members and professionals about their perceptions of the drivers of elder abuse, activities of the current networks and possible directions for future research. Some of the key societal causes of elder abuse that were cited include: age discrimination, perceived or real diminished capacity of older people, and isolation/lack of connection. The report and a practice guide on primary prevention of elder abuse will be launched by Seniors Rights Victoria in February 2019.
The advocates working at Seniors Rights Victoria offer information and assistance to these callers, who can often be distressed. Seniors Rights Victoria currently has a Help Sheet which contains suggestions about what to do in these situations. This includes tips for the concerned family member or friend on listening to the older person with an open mind, letting them know help is available and encouraging and supporting the older person to contact Seniors Rights Victoria.
Seniors Rights Victoria frequently works with the older person and a supportive family member together to tackle their problems. From this work with concerned family and friends, Seniors Rights Victoria is aware that more support is needed.
To meet this need, Seniors Rights Victoria will next year extend their assistance for concerned family members and friends of older people experiencing abuse through a project that will produce a more comprehensive booklet. This booklet will be developed in consultation with people who can provide input into the topics and content. It will contain information on supporting the older person being abused and referral to appropriate services. The booklet is another way of achieving the commitment of Seniors Rights Victoria preventing elder abuse in the community and supporting those being abused and mistreated.
The following case study shows how we try to help people who are worried about an older person who they are close to.
Candice* called the Helpline regarding her mother, Betty, who is 85 years old and lives in her own home. Candice’s brother Bruce has been living with Betty on and off all his life. He has a history of mental illness and drug addiction. Candice told the helpline advocate that Bruce is not paying his way and treats her mother poorly, but that Betty is too scared to do anything about it. Candice doesn’t think her mother will call Seniors Rights Victoria to discuss the situation.
The Helpline advocate listens to Candice’s concerns. The advocate explains Seniors Rights Victoria’s role and discusses strategies for Candice to encourage Betty to make contact through the Helpline.
“We also tell her to tell her mother that we are a free and confidential service and that we will not make her mother do anything she doesn’t want to do,” said Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey.
If Betty is willing to participate in an advice call, one of SRV’s lawyers can provide her with legal advice about her legal options, and an Advocate will be able to talk to Betty about supports available to her – and even to Bruce, if he will accept them.
The Helpline Advocate will also talk directly to Candice about what some of those supports may be in case Betty doesn’t want to talk with one of Senior Rights Victoria’s lawyers or advocates.
A few weeks later Candice calls with Betty on the line and introduces her to the Advocate who explains SRV service. After some discussion and reassurance, Betty agrees to an appointment with a lawyer and advocate. We take some details from Betty and make a time to call her back when it suits her and when she is in a place where she feels safe.
“We explain that we will need to talk to Betty on her own (without Candice present) to ensure that she isn’t being unduly influenced by Candice, but, with Betty’s consent, we can talk with Candice after we speak with Betty,” Ms Blakey said. “This process supports our service’s primary ethos which is to empower and advocate on behalf of the older person.”
*Names have been changed to maintain privacy and protect the confidentiality of our clients.
Acknowledging the recognition with humility and modesty, Dr Barrett (pictured at right with friends) says as an activist in search of social change, she sees being named a finalist not only an honour but also an opportunity to raise awareness around the human rights of older people.
“I left my job at La Trobe three years ago to set up Celebrate Ageing as a social enterprise and I can tell you that was scary stuff,” Dr Barrett recalls. “But, now the work that I do makes my heart sing every day and I absolutely love the work that I do.”
Dr Barrett says she was aware that fellow advocate for older Australians and Seniors Rights Victoria Advocacy Coordinator Philippa Campbell had discussed nominating her for the medal – something she admits ‘moved’ her.
“I think one of the things for me is feeling moved that she actually nominated me,” Dr Barrett says. “Philippa has herself worked with older people for a long time and has a strong sense of social justice and passion for challenging ageism, so to have a colleague I value so highly nominate me is something very special in itself.”
Following the recent announcement of the medal finalists, Ms Campbell took to Twitter to congratulate her friend and colleague: “So I nominated Dr Catherine Barrett for an Australian Human Rights medal after watching her work from a distance, realising that she was making such a difference for many people. And here she is – a finalist. Of course she is!” she wrote.
The winner of the Human Rights Medal will be announced on 14 December 2018.
More information on the awards and finalists can be found online
Margarita is co-leading a campaign to prevent sexual abuse of older women. She shared her story on film to create a resource educating service providers and community members about the transformative power of listening to older women.
Margarita also wants to tell older women that sexual abuse is not their fault, and that there are support services available. The 18-minute film was previewed at Embolden (an annual Festival challenging ageism and building respect for older people) and at the recent Australian Association of Gerontology Conference before its public launch last week. Margarita is now surrounded by friends and feels safe in a residential aged care service that cares about her wellbeing.
“I hope that Margarita’s story will end the silence – I know of no other older woman who has felt safe enough to share her story publicly,” Dr Catherine Barrett said.
“In February 2019 we will launch a National story project…because we need to make sure that there is action, that the Royal Commission into Aged Care includes sexual abuse and that the National Strategy for Preventing Elder Abuse does as well.
To read more about the project and view the film go to Margarita’s page on the Opal Institute site.
Brenda was nominated by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) for her advocacy, education and research participation on care services for older members of the LGBTI community, particularly transgender people.
COTA Victoria has been one of the fortunate partners of Brenda’s insight through the Safeguarding the End of the Rainbow, a guide done in conjunction with Transgender Victoria to help LGBTI people plan an end of life of their choice taking into account their life experiences. Seniors Rights Victoria has also benefited from insights into Brenda’s work and lived experiences, through her participation in regular meetings of the Elder Abuse Roundtable, a collegiate group of collaborating professionals working in that field.
“I volunteer because my life has been difficult. It’s difficult when you don’t meet society’s expectations of gender, when you’re different and, I’m trying to make it easier for those coming behind. We need society to be much more accepting of difference,” Brenda said in an interview about the award.
“I know many have struggled with mental health issues, not because they are mentally ill, but because of the stigma and discrimination they face in our very judgemental world….I have a vision that society accepts difference, whatever that might mean”.
Brenda said she enjoyed being an advocate and contributing to her community by volunteering.
For more information about the 2018 Victorian Senior of the Year awards and a list of winners visit seniorsonline.vic.gov.au/awards
According to Seniors Rights Victoria Advocacy Coordinator Philippa Campbell the empowerment ethos allows an older person to make informed decisions about the events affecting them, even if that decision is to take no action.
“Loss of independence is a big challenge for people as we age. So we seek to speak with the older person to give them the support to choose what they want to do. We won’t do anything the older person doesn’t want us to do,” Philippa said.
“We’ve researched the barriers for older people to disclosing abuse and taking action. We know in most cases they don’t want an adult child to be removed from their life, sometimes because they depend on them, and that they fear being shipped to an aged care facility.”
Elder abuse can be experienced by any older person, irrespective of their gender, education, socio-economic background, culture, or whether they live alone or in aged care.
“Doctors and allied health professionals are a key link in addressing elder abuse in the community. We know older people may confide their worries to them, possibly when they’re visiting for a completely different reason. There’s a confidentiality issue, so we often suggest the medical professional seeks another appointment with their patient when they can gain permission from them to call us at that time so we can speak directly with the older person or to consider a My Aged Care assessment of the older person so we can be part of the referral process.”
Dr Margot Lodge, a Consultant Physician in Geriatric Medicine at Alfred Health, agrees with the empowerment ethos and the collaborative approach of practitioners and specialist services like Seniors Rights Victoria when supporting an older person suspected of experiencing elder abuse.
As a geriatrician, Dr Lodge sees older people after acute hospital admissions such as a fall or illness, or in the outpatient clinic when the person has been experiencing deteriorating health. She works with the older person to assess what they need medically and socially to attempt to restore their health and functioning, and to determine their capacity to drive the process. It’s in these situations where she is exposed to cases of elder abuse.
If Dr Lodge suspects a case of abuse she’ll speak with the older person about the situation and the help available, so if they want to take control they know the resources available.
“It can be horribly frustrating as a front-line clinician to hear about these family experiences and know the older person is willing to minimise their safety for the sake of family relationships. There’s often been lots of conflict and lots of time and the deferred position tends to be not to through your relation under the bus,” Dr Lodge said.
“Empowering the older person and utilising the multidisciplinary approach and specialist services definitely helps the older person, and sometimes the abuse can stop or lessen.”
Philippa said older people often find it a huge relief to speak to a person who is willing to help them find a pathway to drive the process.
“The biggest response we get is thank you for listening. The older person often comments that they have had our brochure for so long but have been nervous about making a call. But we don’t judge, we just work with them so they can understand their rights even if they don’t do anything. There is a huge relief that they have somewhere to go, that someone has their back.”
For more information on the signs and resources for elder abuse go to Senior Rights Victoria’s Service Providers Website