The idea that from little things, big things grow is the foundation of a ‘conversation- seeding’ program tackling elder abuse. The program is working with older Victorians to help them increase community dialogue about ageing, and how ageism may lead to elder abuse.
Seniors Rights Victoria has been contracted by Our Watch to consult with a wide array of organisations on the issue of older women who experience intimate partner violence.
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
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
Guest speakers will include Victorian Commissioner for Seniors and Ambassador for Elder Abuse Gerard Mansour and Seniors Rights’ peer educator Jennifer Evans.
A visionary Victorian State Government initiative, Seniors Rights Victoria was established by the Victorian Government in 2008 following the review conducted by ex-Senator Barney Cooney. In that year the State Government adopted a state-wide elder abuse strategy – the first state in Australia to do so!
Elder abuse is any act causing harm to an older person by someone they know and trust, such as family and friends.
Now a program of COTA Victoria, Seniors Rights Victoria continues to have a key role in the delivery of the Victorian Government’s Elder Abuse Prevention and Response strategies and initiatives to contribute to the response, prevention and education of elder abuse in Victoria.
In 10 years Seniors Rights Victoria has achieved:
- 22,063 calls to our Helpline
- 29,182 participants in community education sessions
- 12,247 participants in professional development sessions
- And produced nine different information sheets, and the booklet, Care for Your Assets: Money, Ageing & Family.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence was another significant initiative of the current Government, with the 2016 report and arising family violence reforms clearly identified elder abuse as a form of family violence. The impact has been a growth in awareness of elder abuse and additional older people seeking help.
“We support older people to make positive changes and we learn from them. We also make major contributions to State and Federal government policy and action in this sector,” said Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey.
“We appreciate the respect and positive responses we receive about our service, and from the leadership opportunities to collaborate and share our knowledge.”
The Yarra Ranges Council project was released for this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June. The video features poems written and spoken by the reference group members, about the isolation and negativity people feel while experiencing elder abuse.
Earlier this year, students read these poems and discussed the issue in a workshop, before drawing specific parts of the poems. These drawings were then animated by local animator, Al MacInnes.
Yarra Ranges Mayor, Councillor Len Cox, said he hoped the video would help to raise awareness of abuse in the community.
“Elder abuse is a serious issue, and it comes in many forms, from physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual abuse, and it can include mistreatment and neglect,” Cr Cox said.
“This abuse is often carried out by people the victims know and trust, such as family members and friends, and victims rarely speak out.
“Abuse is never okay, and we cannot let this continue to happen to our vulnerable older adults in the community.