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Human Rights Week reminds us that we all must play a part

Logo showing Human Rights Week 2019

This week is Human Rights Week. It is an important reminder that each us has a part to play in ensuring the principles of freedom, respect, equality and dignity are alive in our communities, workplaces and among friends and families.

Tuesday, 10 December, was International Human Rights Day. This marks the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

At Seniors Rights Victoria, we work from an empowerment or human rights model, whereby we seek to support and empower the older person to maintain their right to self-determination. Our service is older person focused and our aim is to support the older person by providing them with information, advice and support. We try and avoid overly paternalistic approaches which seek to promote a ‘best interest’ view without regard to the wishes and preferences of the older person.

A ‘best interests’ approach can sometimes permeate family discussions as parents age and family member, often out of concern, take a more protective approach to decision making. Sometimes this can lead to an eroding of the older person’s right to self-determination and ultimately their exclusion from the decision-making process.

To avoid eroding a person’s right to make their own decisions or at least be involved in the decision making process it is important for the older person to have frank and open discussions with their family about their preferences and to also think carefully about who they appoint as a substitute decision maker.

The older person should ask themselves: is this person aware of my values, wills and preferences? Can I trust this person to make the decision I would otherwise make for myself? Will this person involve me in the decision-making process? Does this person understand the role and the authority I have donated to them? read more

Rose and Elsa logos

Legal centre starts new response services

The Eastern Community Centre (ECLC) recently commenced two new elder abuse response services, ROSE (Rights of Seniors in the East) and ELSA (Engaging & Living Safely & Autonomously). The services are part of the Commonwealth Attorney-General Department’s National Elder Abuse Service Trials (2019-22) and add to ECLC existing elder abuse work, particularly in primary prevention.

ROSE (Rights of Seniors) provides an integrated, multi-disciplinary service for seniors at risk of or experiencing abuse (physical, psychological/emotional, financial, sexual or neglect) from a person in a position of trust. The ROSE Community Lawyer, Advocate and Financial Counsellor work together to provide advice, ongoing case management support and referrals based on the client’s wishes and needs. read more

Picture of the Compass website

Website to provide better access to services

Greater awareness and better access to services are the aims of a new website launched last month to tackle elder abuse.

Compass was funded by the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department and developed by Elder Abuse Action Australia (EAAA).

‘The conversation about the abuse of older people needs to be treated as a priority,’ said Diedre Timms and Russell Westacott, the Co-Chairs of EAAA.

The site was a priority of the National Plan to respond to the Abuse of Older Australians 2019-2023, which was launched by Attorney-General Christian Porter in March 2019.

The EAAA Co-Chairs said that more content and resources would progressively be added to the site.

Jenny Blakey, Manager, Seniors Rights Victoria, is a board director of EAAA. read more

Picture of a sign outside a hospital

Cultural factors must be considered when assessing capacity

Antonia is in her mid-eighties. She migrated to Australia from Italy in the 1960s. Antonia’s first language is Italian, and she speaks only limited English. She received the equivalent of a grade three education. Antonia’s communication is hampered by a hearing impairment. After Antonia contracts the flu, her doctor places her in hospital.

The treating team speak with Antonia without an interpreter present and when Antonia does not have her hearing aids in. Consequently, she feels unsure about what is happening. The treating team interpret Antonia’s uncertainty as a lack of understanding and arrange for Antonia to be assessed by the geriatrician. read more

Picture of a woman looking at the sea

Right to be involved in decisions on finances, accommodation

Mary is in her mid-seventies and lives on her own. She has three adult children. Several years ago, Mary appointed her son Michael as her enduring power of attorney. Mary trusts Michael and appointed him to make financial and personal decisions for her. 

Mary has a fall and is taken to hospital. While Mary is in hospital, Michael starts talking to the treating team about moving her into permanent care. As Michael has not discussed this with her, she is shocked when she hears about Michael’s plan. He tells her that the power of attorney allows him to make decisions, including where she will live, on her behalf. read more

Country Women’s Association partnership strengthens state-wide elder abuse knowledge

During 2018, Seniors Rights Victoria was invited to partner with the Country Women’s Association (CWA) of Victoria, to raise awareness about elder abuse.

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.

At the age of 96, Margarita finally gets to share her story: “He probably thought I’d keep my mouth shut”

In more wonderful work supported by Celebrate Ageing, 96-year-old Margarita Solis (pictured) last week launched a film sharing her story of sexual abuse perpetrated by the acting manager of the Seniors Rental Service where she was living.

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.

Stacey’s story – Seniors Rights thanks founding Helpline

Seniors Rights Victoria gratefully acknowledged the wonderful spirit of long-time Helpline advocate Stacey van Dueren, when she recently retired from 10 years in the role. Stacey led the way with her skill and expertise and was happy to reflect on how elder abuse response has changed over those years.

Stacey, pictured in the centre with her colleagues, said she took the first call when the Helpline was first started 10 years ago through Seniors’ Information Victoria, working as part of a team of only five people.

“The phone had a different ring tone. There was a lot to learn in those early days because there was a lot less knowledge about elder abuse,” Stacey said.

Stacey said the frequency of calls has definitely grown over time, as is reflected by the statistics gathered by the service and the expansion of the program.

“The calls were different in the past and now callers are far more specific, whether they are calling for themselves, or calling for friends or neighbours for whom they are concerned and then there’s more calls from service providers seeking advice,” she said.

She said there were a lot more calls now about adult children, sibling rivalry and societal challenges such as mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and costs associated with housing and living.

Stacey said the main attribute needed to answer the Helpline was to listen, then to work out how to navigate the conversation to respond appropriately and determine whether the caller simply needs advice, or more support from the lawyers and advocates on staff.

“My role was to provide information, to determine whether it goes to the next stage and to make good referrals as often callers have been around and around seeking information from service providers. I’d often ring the referral service myself on their behalf,” she said.

“I like the conversations. You build rapport and trust by listening from the first point. Not all calls are hard, and even when they are you can create some levity, some hope…and continuity if they call back, even if anonymously, when they are ready for the next step.”

Stacey said it was paramount the Helpline reassured callers, including older people, of their privacy, and provided them with enough information so they felt supported to make their own decisions.

She said it was great to see the progress made in community awareness about elder abuse, how to respond to it and how to educate people with the aim of preventing it occurring.

“A good day is when you have an older person speaking to our service in a safe place, ready to take the next step and you can help them get it all in place. I will miss this role but that’s good, I’m ready to take on the next challenge,” Stacey said.

Event ideas for WEAAD

Anyone can host an event or help raise awareness for WEAAD. In particular, we encourage councils and seniors groups to jump on board and get together on the day, even if only for a cuppa and a conversation. It can be as simple as an afternoon tea or walking through your community wearing purple (although you’ll need to rug up because it is June!)

Seniors Rights Victoria is supporting a public awareness campaign throughout the community by way of its public talks and by inviting all Victorian public libraries to include complimentary purple bookmarks in books borrowed by their customers. Look out for these at a library near year throughout the month of June.

Other event or action ideas are listed on our WEAAD event ideas page. Last minute ideas include:

  • Hosting a morning or afternoon tea
  • Hosting an information table at your organisation
  • Create a public display board
  • Plan a tree
  • Yarn bomb a pole, bike racks or community seats in your local area – you can even pin information to the poles!
  • Submit a letter to the editor of your local media outlet or community newsletter
  • Utilising the hashtags #elderabuse #empowerolderpeople to promote key WEAAD messages:
  • Elder Abuse: Everyone’s Business
  • No excuse for elder abuse
  • We can stop elder abuse
  • read more

    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.