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Work with us – Community Lawyer

Part-Time 0.80 EFT – Fixed Term Position

  • Salary Packaging Benefits
  • SCHCADS Award – Community Development Worker Level 6 (pay point subject to experience and qualifications)
  • Download the Position Description (.docx)

About the Organisation

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria is the leading not-for-profit organisation representing the interests and rights of people aged over 50 in Victoria. For nearly 70 years in Victoria, we have led government, corporate and community thinking about the positive aspects of ageing. COTA Victoria’s strategic and operational focus is on promoting older age as a time of opportunities for personal growth, contribution and self-expression.

Community Legal Centre

Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) is both a Community Legal Centre and a program of COTA Victoria which addresses and responds to older people experiencing elder abuse. Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person, carried out by someone they know and trust. Elder abuse is recognised as a form of family violence.

SRV’s services include a Helpline, specialist legal services, short term support and advocacy, and community education, in addition to broader policy, systemic advocacy, law reform and capacity building roles both in Victoria and nationally.

Benefits and Perks

  • Rewarding opportunity – growing recognition of elder abuse as a major social issue.
  • An attractive remuneration package, generous salary packaging benefits and leave loading.
  • Being part of a friendly, collaborative team that is welcoming, supportive and enjoy making a difference.

About the Role

Within the context of ageism and family violence, the Community Lawyer empowers older people and service providers through legal solutions. The position is a great opportunity to achieve social justice for a growing demographic. We are seeking an experienced and motivate person to:

  • provide high quality legal advice and casework to clients
  • appear in Courts and Tribunals on behalf of clients
  • provide secondary consultations to community workers and lawyers
  • engage in systemic advocacy and law reform projects.

About You

To be successful in this role you will have post-admission experience in areas of law relevant to older people, a strong rights-based approach, ability to work in a multi-disciplinary team, and a commitment to addressing the needs of older people.

How to Apply

Application to include: 

  • short (1 page max.) covering letter
  • statement briefly addressing each selection criterion as set out within the Position Description
  • current resume.

Email application to:  recruitment@cotavic.org.au

For further information about the position please contact Rebecca Edwards, Principal Lawyer, 0427 722 286.   

Applications close:  Position is for immediate appointment. Applications close Thursday 9 January 2019.  Interviews scheduled for 15 and 16 January 2020.

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Call for culturally appropriate material for older migrants

A Seniors Rights Victoria scoping project is calling for more culturally appropriate information about support services for older migrants who might be experiencing elder abuse.

Carmela Quimbo, a social work student on an extended placement at Seniors Rights Victoria, recently undertook a study into elder abuse and its relation to Contributory Parent visas. This topic was chosen because Seniors Rights Victoria’s casework team had been receiving more inquiries from older people living in Australia on Contributory Parent visas. Older people who migrate to Australia, often to assist with care for their grandchildren, may find themselves without access to Centrelink payments and health and social services if they are subject to elder abuse.

Contributory Parent visas usually require adult children to provide a legally binding agreement, called an Assurance of Support, to financially support their parent for up to 10 years.

The Assurance of Support means that if a person on a Parent Visa needs to access social security within the 10 years, this will ultimately be paid for by the adult child.

The scoping project interviewed service providers who told us that older migrants:

  • may not seek assistance due to different understandings of what constitutes abusive behaviour
  • may be less familiar with Australia’s social security system and other social services, which may be due to language and cultural differences
  • may be conflicted about reporting elder abuse due to loyalty to their children, a wish to avoid further deterioration of relationships, and the stigma around family breakdown.

Seniors Rights Victoria suggests that these barriers could be addressed by:

  • a linguistically and culturally appropriate information pack regarding services, specifically directed at older migrants on Parent visas
  • the provision of education and planning programmes for prospective older migrants and their families focusing on Australia’s social security system, financial protection and preparation for potential problems, especially family conflict
  • early intervention for family conflict, including, if suitable and available, mediation
  • Centrelink information sessions on the effects of Assurances of Support and eligibility for Special Benefit.
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Picture of service providers at the launch of Concerned About an Older Person in Colac

Commissioner launches resource booklet

A booklet that provides practical steps to reduce elder abuse was launched recently by the Commissioner for Senior Victorians, Gerard Mansour.

More than 50 people attended the launch of Concerned About an Older Person in late November at the Colac Bowling Club.

The booklet will be distributed to people who call the Seniors Rights Victoria helpline. ‘Half the people who call the helpline are concerned about someone they know,’ said Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey.

‘A quarter of callers are service providers, and the rest are experiencing elder abuse from a family member or some other person who is close to them.

The booklet includes information on:

  • what is elder abuse
  • signs that someone may be experiencing elder abuse
  • what you can do if someone you know is experiencing elder abuse
  • preparing a plan to ensure the person is safe
  • answers to common questions, including if the older person does not want to involve services or the police
  • what to do if the person is from a diverse community including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, culturally and linguistically diverse, LGBTIQA+ or from a rural area.

To order copies of the booklet, contact info@seniorsrights.org.au or phone 9655 2129.
Download a digital copy (PDF, 2MB).

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Picture of a gavel on top of a Family Law book

Seniors Rights Victoria voices opposition to court merger

Seniors Rights Victoria has joined a coalition of more than 60 legal organisations opposing a proposal to merge the specialist Family Court of Australia with the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

A letter to the federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, co-signed by Seniors Rights Victoria’s Principal Lawyer, Rebecca Edwards, said that greater not less specialisation in family law and family violence was needed.

A report by the Australian Law Reform Commission Report, released in April 2019, said that increasingly family law cases involve allegations of violence, child abuse and other risk factors. 

‘Children and adults who have experienced family violence require a specialist forum to deal with family law matters involving family violence and this forum is the Family Court of Australia,’ Ms Edwards said.

A bill to merge the two courts was introduced into federal Parliament in early December.

To read the letter click here.

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Picture of the front of COTA Victoria's annual report

COTA Victoria launches annual report

More than 70 per cent of clients who received legal and advocacy services from Seniors Rights Victoria in the 2019-19 were women. While any older person can experience elder abuse, a person’s gender or sexual identity and related sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia may exacerbate their experience of violence.

The most prevalent issue was financial abuse, which was raised by 41 per cent of the 3572 callers to the Seniors Rights Victoria helpline – 1300 368 821.

Find out more information about the activities of Seniors Rights Victoria during the 2018-19 financial year in the COTA Victoria Review |2018 – 2019.  Seniors Rights Victoria is a program of the Council on the Ageing Victoria.

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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?

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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.

ROSE is based in ECLC’s Boronia office with travel to other ECLC and partner offices, and outreach to clients with mobility and other challenges subject to a risk assessment.

Seniors living, working or studying in the Eastern Metropolitan Region can contact ROSE directly. Workers can also contact ROSE for secondary consultations and to discuss and/or request a referral form. For ROSE, please call 0429 697 960 or email ROSE@eclc.org.au.

ELSA (Engaging & Living Safely & Autonomously) provides a holistic service for seniors who are Eastern Health patients and at risk of or experiencing abuse (physical, psychological/emotional, financial, sexual or neglect) from a person in a position of trust.

Based on preliminary research, hospital staff are well-placed to identify elder abuse at the earliest stages as older people are more likely to disclose to health staff than others. A Community Lawyer and Financial Counsellor, in collaboration with hospital staff, provide an early intervention, integrated legal and financial information and support services in the health setting and provide referrals for post-discharge support.

The team is based at Eastern Health sites, commencing in at Peter James Centre, Burwood.

Patients can contact ELSA directly. Eastern Health workers can also contact ELSA for secondary consultations and to discuss and/or request a referral form. ELSA can be contacted on 0429 697 960 or at ELSA@eclc.org.au.

The OPERA Project (Older People Equity & Respect) will be launching its consultation report findings and digital interventions on Friday 13 December at Hoyts Cinemas in Eastland Shopping Centre, Ringwood. The OPERA Project explores the experiences of ageism for older people living in Melbourne’s east, using co-design digital storytelling to highlight and challenge negative attitudes that can lead to ageist behaviour. Bookings are essential, book here.

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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.

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Attorneys-General commit to powers-of-attorney register

The Council of Attorneys-General has committed to establish a national online register of enduring powers of attorney (POA).

The Council, which is composed of all state and territory Attorneys-General and the federal Attorney-General, said in late November the register would be part of a staged approach to enduring power of attorney reform for financial decisions.

With a register, third parties, such as banks and financial institutions, can quickly and easily verify that a POA is current and valid. This is a significant step in preventing a POA being used as an instrument of financial abuse.

The register is one step towards greater harmonisation of POAs across Australia. This would include a single, uniform form across all Australian jurisdictions. The single form would facilitate increased familiarity and understanding among all parties (particularly third parties) of the nature and scope of POAs, allowing them to more easily identify who can do what, and when.

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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.

The assessment is conducted on the ward, whilst Antonia is still unwell. An Italian interpreter is present but struggles to understand Antonia’s dialect. The geriatrician uses a set of standard tests which do not really take into account Antonia’s cultural or educational background. The geriatrician assesses Antonia as having impaired capacity and the treating team are concerned about discharging her given that she lives alone.

As a result, the treating team applies to the Guardianship and Administration list of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). They seek the appointment of a guardian who can make decisions for Antonia about accommodation and access to services.

The geriatrician uses a set of standard tests which do not really take into account Antonia’s cultural or educational background.

Antonia contacts Seniors Rights Victoria for assistance. By this time, she is feeling much better and a further specialist assessment is arranged for her. The assessment is conducted at Antonia’s home while she is wearing her hearing aids. An Italian interpreter who speaks her dialect is present and the geriatrician is provided with a full history of Antonia’s cultural and educational background. Antonia is assessed as having capacity to make reasonable decisions about financial and personal matters. 

When the matter returned to VCAT, the lawyer from Seniors Rights argues that  Antonia was initially assessed when she was unwell, the interpreter could not understand her well and there were lots of distractions in the hospital. We said that because of these factors and other factors she was not able to fully participate in the assessment

The Tribunal Member found that Antonia could make reasonable decisions and did not appoint a guardian. Antonia is now living happily and independently at home where she receives help with tasks such as cleaning and shopping.

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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.

Mary is shocked when she learns that Michael is talking to her treatment team about moving her into permanent care.

Mary contacts Seniors Rights Victoria and a lawyer and a non-legal advocate visits Mary. The non-legal advocate talks to Mary about getting an assessment of her home to determine what supports she may need live independently. The lawyer tells Mary that Michael, as her attorney, must involve Mary in the decision-making process and to consider to her wishes. The lawyer tells Mary that she can revoke the power of attorney if she wishes.

Seniors Rights Victoria write to Michael, educating him on his responsibilities as an attorney and encouraging him to involve Mary in the decision-making process. Seniors Rights works with the transitional care team at the hospital to support Mary in her desire to return home to independent living.

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An awareness-raising project that’s close to home

Caption: Our picture shows: Gerard Mansour, Commissioner for Senior Victorians; Gary Ferguson, Community Education Coordinator, Seniors Rights Victoria; Beryl Garrow, Barbara Yeoman, Alwyn Couch (Social Support Group members Timboon and District Healthcare Service); and Becky Nevin Berger, elder abuse prevention worker.

Seniors Rights Victoria was proud to help launch Timboon and District Healthcare Service’s new elder abuse prevention project, Warm Safe Home. The project focuses on one of our most treasured places, our home, in order to raise awareness of elder abuse.

The Warm Safe Home Project uses art making to start conversations about elder abuse. People throughout south west Victoria are making little paper houses to spread the message that everyone has the right to live free from violence and fear.

Participants include kinder and school students, artists, seniors, and carer support groups. The 500 completed houses will be installed en masse in Warrnambool’s largest shopping centre, Gateway Plaza, for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 2020.

Elder abuse prevention worker Rebecca Nevin Berger said that our home is the key to our sense of safety.

‘When elder abuse occurs, however, the home can become a place of danger,’ she said.

Participants are asked to write a message on their completed house in response to questions such as ‘What does a warm safe home mean to you?’, ‘What was it about your grandparent’s house that made you feel safe and loved?’, and ‘What do you wish people understood about older people?’.

Rebecca has also begun working with Men’s Sheds, whose members will make larger timber houses suitable for outdoor installation which will help to raise intrigue about the campaign.

Rebecca has also posted a couple of initial images on Instagram with the hashtags: #warmsafehomeproject #elderabuseprevention #elderabuseawareness.

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Powers of Attorney: The legislation

Many people who are appointed as Attorneys are not aware of their obligations and responsibilities and may view the Attorney as all encompassing. The experience of SRV’s casework team is that this can sometimes mean that the Principal (the person who created the document) is excluded from the decision-making process and has decisions imposed upon them.

In September 2015, Victoria’s Power of Attorney Act VIC 2014 (the Act) came into operation. It sets out the obligations and duties of an Attorney in some detail. An Attorney is appointed to make decisions on behalf of someone else known as a Principal. An Attorney may be appointed to make financial and/or personal decisions.

The Act imposes responsibilities upon an Attorney including that they must:

  • act honestly and diligently
  • act with reasonable skill and care
  • not use their position for personal gain
  • avoid conflicts of interest
  • keep accurate records and accounts
  • not disclose confidential information.

Critically, from SRV’s point of view, the making of a Power of Attorney does not mean that the Principal can no longer make decisions for him/herself. In fact, if the Principal has capacity, the Act states that an Attorney must involve them in decision making and consider their wishes. If the Principal lacks decision-making capacity, an Attorney must act according to the Principal’s interests and consider their well-being. The Attorney must exercise their Attorney in the least restrictive way having regard to the Principal’s capabilities.

Under the Act, if there are concerns about the behaviour or actions of a financial Attorney, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) may order an Attorney to provide details of how they have been managing the Principal’s finances. VCAT may also order an Attorney to pay compensation to a Principal in circumstances where the Attorney has misappropriated funds belonging to the Principal. This provision for an order of compensation by VCAT is a new aspect of the 2014 Act and only applies where money has been misappropriated or mismanaged post September 2015. The Act also provides that where VCAT considers the Attorney’s behaviour to be dishonest, it may refer the matter for criminal prosecution.

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Powers of Attorney: A case study

Seniors Rights Victoria were very pleased to be able to help an older person living with elder abuse to get one of the first orders for compensation by VCAT under the Power of Attorney Act VIC 2014 (the Act).


Christina migrated from Greece to Australia with her husband and three children in the 1960s. Christina’s husband died several years ago. Christina, 85, cannot read or write and speaks only Greek. She lived in the same neighbourhood, in inner Melbourne, since coming to Australia. She felt comfortable there as many of her neighbours were from a similar cultural background.

Nick, Christina’s youngest son, approached her for a loan to assist him with his business. Christina took out a reverse mortgage over her home. She has no other assets and relies on the aged pension. Nick failed to make repayments on the loan.

Christina’s other children, Christopher and Sophia, were concerned that the reverse mortgage was eating into the equity of their mother’s property and devaluing their inheritance. They convinced their mother to appoint them as her enduring Attorney of Attorneys (financial).

Christopher and Sophia told Christina that she must sell the house as the loan had swallowed up the equity and the bank was about to take possession. This was untrue. The terms of the loan ensure that the bank could never force her from the property. Nonetheless, using their Powers of Attorney, Christopher and Sophia forced the sale of Christina’s house. They told Christina they had bought her a new home in an outer suburb of Melbourne. They moved her there but she was very unhappy. She was isolated and felt lost without her old community. She can no longer do her shopping or access services independently.

Involvement of SRV

Christina contacted Senior Rights Victoria when she discovered that the new home is actually not in her name but in the name of Christopher and Sophia. In addition, Christopher and Sophia refuse to tell her what has happened to the balance of the money from the sale of her inner Melbourne property. She is aware that it sold for considerably more than the purchase price of the new house.

SRV wrote to Christopher and Sophia and asked them to provide accounts for the sale of Christina’s home. In the meantime, Sophia tried to organise care workers to assist Christina. The care workers are concerned about Christina’s relationship with her children and fear she is vulnerable to ongoing abuse.

A psychologist examines Christina. There are, however, difficulties with the assessment as:

  • Christina is not well on the day of the assessment
  • the interpreter engaged to communicate with Christina does not speak her dialect, and
  • her daughter, Sophia, is present during the assessment.

Involvement of VCAT

The psychologist recommends that an application be made to the Victorian and Civil Administration Tribunal (VCAT) for the appointment of an administrator to manage Christina’s financial and legal affairs. Christina does not want this to occur. SRV represented Christina at the hearing, arguing that the psychological assessment did not take into account Christina’s cultural and educational background. SRV sought a new assessment where Christina could communicate effectively and her cultural and educational background could be properly considered. On Christina’s behalf, SRV also seek financial details about the sale of the inner Melbourne home from the Attorneys under the Power of Attorney Act Vic 2014.

At the first hearing, Christopher and Sophia resign as Attorneys. No administrator is appointed and the Attorneys are ordered to provide detailed financial information about Christina’s finances with particular attention to the sale of Christina’s inner Melbourne home.

At a further hearing, SRV sought an order for compensation on behalf of Christina. The compensation sought includes the transfer of the house from Christopher and Sophia to Christina and the repayment of $120,000, the remaining proceeds of the sale. The matter is adjourned to enable discussions to take place between the parties. After the hearing, Christopher and Sophia agreed to transfer the property to Christina but refused to repay the remaining proceeds of sale. SRV brought the matter back to VCAT for a further and final hearing, at which VCAT ordered Christopher and Sophia to compensate Christina in the sum of $100,000.

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Powers of Attorney: Law reform moves in the Power of Attorney arena

Dr Patterson is pictured, right front row seated, with roundtable participants and SRV staff.

There has been an increasing push in recent years towards a national harmonisation of Powers of Attorney across Australia, as well as the establishment of a national register for Powers of Attorney. This is something that Seniors Rights Victoria has supported for some time and included in its submission to the 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission’s report into Elder Abuse.

More recently, the Victorian Office of the Public Advocate, on behalf of the Australian Guardianship and Administration Council, produced an Options paper in December 2018 on this very issue.

There are two aspects to the call for change.

  1. The introduction of a national register for all Powers of Attorney (POA). A register system provides a reliable means for third parties to quickly and easily verify that a POA is current and valid. This is a significant step in preventing a POA being used as an instrument of financial abuse. The Australian Banking Association, amongst others, strongly support a national register.
  2. A single, uniform form across all Australian jurisdictions. The Law Institute of Victoria argue that this will facilitate increased familiarity and understanding among all parties (particularly third parties) of the nature and scope of POAs, allowing them to more easily identify who can do what, and when.

The call for change in this area has again been made, at the SRV’s Elder Abuse Roundtable. The Roundtable meetings are attended by organisations including the National Ageing Research Institute, Victoria Police, Eastern Community Legal Service, Pronia, Transgender Victoria, Office of the Public Advocate, No To Violence, Better Place Australia, and Elder Rights Advocacy.

At the August meeting, the Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO, was a guest. She told participants that greater harmonisation of state and territory government laws relating to Powers of Attorney would help prevent elder abuse. She also said that despite the difficulties in achieving harmonisation, implementation of harmonisation would also increase community awareness about elder abuse.

SRV continues its advocacy in this area, writing to the Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy earlier this year, urging her to consider the evidence-based benefits of harmonising laws and practices in this area, and to support this challenging but important reform.

In addition, SRV, in its role as co-convenor of the Older Persons Legal Services Network, drafted a letter on behalf of the network to the Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter. We noted the benefits of the proposed changes for older people who want support and safeguarding regarding financial decision-making and asked him to support the necessary reforms in this area. The Older Persons Legal Services Network is an informal network of community legal centres from around Australia that work in the areas of elder abuse and legal issues that have a particular impact on older people.

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Powers of Attorney: Seniors Rights Victoria’s project with Dementia Australia

Thoughtfully prepared Powers of Attorney can reduce the risk of elder abuse for people living with dementia.

Late last year, Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) partnered with Dementia Australia (DA) to develop a project which aimed to prevent elder abuse occurring for a particularly high risk group of older people – being those living with dementia. Upon receiving a grant of funding for the project, SRV then worked with DA to provide one-hour community legal information sessions to over 150 people across Victoria who were newly diagnosed with dementia, and their families and friends.

SRV advocate Mandy Walmsley and lawyers Melanie Perkins presented the sessions. They spoke about the benefits of having a Power of Attorney (POA). They said that POAs did not always have to be standardised, but could be tailored to an individual’s circumstances. As an added component of the program, SRV offered to prepare individualised POAs for participants in one-on-one appointments.

‘One critical thing we talk about in the sessions is, regardless of whether they have a POA or not, is how important it is for people to have conversations with their families and friends about what they want and don’t want,’ Mandy said.

‘If those conversations have occurred, it is much more likely that if a person loses capacity to make decisions for themselves, the decisions that are made for them are decisions that they would have chosen to make for themselves.

Melanie said that the legislation around Powers of Attorney provided additional protection.

‘If the worst does occur, and an Attorney makes bad financial decisions or there is misappropriation of money, having a POA means there is the possibility of compensation under the relevant legislation,’ she said. ‘This protection doesn’t exist if you just give someone access to internet banking to help you pay your bills.’

‘People who have been diagnosed with dementia understandably focus on their health.  These sessions help people living with dementia to also consider legal implications and to plan for the future.’

An advocate and lawyer from SRV and a counsellor from DA facilitated all the sessions.

‘This ensured the legal information given was based on therapeutic principles and an empowerment approach, including the provision of support for non-legal but associated issues facing the individual,’ Mandy said. ‘It also allowed for screening for elder abuse.’

The sessions were delivered between February and August in locations including Frankston, Rosebud, Ballarat and Geelong.

The partnership was funded by the Victorian Government’s Integrated Services Fund, through the Federation of Community Legal Centres Vic.

SRV were very pleased to be awarded a second year of funding for the 2020 year. While continuing our work with Dementia Australia, the aim is to extend the program to culturally and linguistically diverse people living with dementia, their carers, family and friends.

‘We aim to deliver a further 22 sessions in partnership with Dementia Australia later this year and early next year,’ Melanie says.

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Central Highlands Elder Abuse Prevention Network based at Ballarat Community Health Services

Conversation seeds project

Caption: SRV Community Education Coordinator Gary Ferguson, standing back row, with the Central Highlands Elder Abuse Prevention Network based at Ballarat Community Health Services

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.

SRV Community Education Coordinator Gary Ferguson said that there is little public discussion about these important issues.

In 2008, the Victorian Government identified that seniors could play a significant role in generating discussion, if they were skilled up. Those most likely to do this were highly able and willing to take action and were referred to as ‘ambassadors’.

‘By training seniors to generate discussion, we build capacity in the community to spread key messages,’ Gary said.

Six training programs have been delivered under the Conversation Seeds pilot. This includes one to a culturally and linguistically diverse group through Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre in Dandenong.

‘The most critical aspect of the training is to recruit key community informants, who are well connected and committed to having conversations within their networks, once they’ve completed the training,’ Gary said.

In September, training was delivered in collaboration with the Central Highlands Elder Abuse Prevention Network based at Ballarat Community Health Services. Those attending came from seniors’ groups as well as agencies and organisations from across the region. Some of those who attended will return for a follow-up training session in which they can demonstrate a conversation in front of a group and receive feedback. The Conversation Seeds Resource Guide is provided to each of those who complete the training and

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Older women and intimate partner violence

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.

Our Watch is a national organisation that has been established to drive nation-wide community change to prevent violence against women and their children. This project, which has been funded by the Victorian Government, seeks to build knowledge around how gender inequality and ageism intersect to impact older women who experience intimate partner violence.

Many activities in the family violence sector are aimed at preventing violence against women and children as acknowledged groups of high need. It has also become increasingly apparent, however, that older women may need more focused or specialised support and prevention activities that properly consider their situation. This includes a consideration of how older women might be affected by age-related illnesses, restricted income if no longer working, and different generational understandings of family violence.

SRV will consult with key stakeholders and practitioners in the family violence, ageing, health and legal sectors to better understand the nuances of older women who experience intimate partner violence, whether in a long-term or recent relationship. The consultation will consider issues such as stereotypes related to ageing and/or to marriage and relationships, as well as seeking to better understand the experiences of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from a migrant background and women from the LGBTI communities.

The knowledge gained through the consultation process will be used by Our Watch to develop a workforce capability tool and to assist in the creation of effective primary prevention activities.

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6th National Elder Abuse Conference

Seven delegates from Seniors Rights Victoria and other COTA Victoria programs attended the 2019 National Elder Abuse Conference, held in Brisbane last month.

We were among a crowd of 500 participants, from sectors and organisations across the country, united by a common purpose to progress change on elder abuse – to ‘rock the boat’ on policy inertia and to challenge each other, and government, on the best way forward. This led to some lively panel discussions and – if not opposing, then certainly contrasting – perspectives in the international keynote addresses.

Alexia Huxley, the Manager Policy and Communications with COTA Victoria, participated in a panel session, where she talked about research on Elder Abuse Prevention Networks in Victoria. For more information read the article on Research puts spotlight on community solutions.

For some speakers, a human rights approach privileging individual autonomy and the ‘dignity of risk’ was paramount. Other speakers championed safeguarding models that protect even a self-neglecting older person, or otherwise override an older person’s wishes in the interests of a broader sense of public justice.

Keynote speaker Bethany Brown, from Human Rights Watch, outlined the ethical choices government and society encounter through enabling older people to have their human rights recognised and respected versus the overwhelming desire to ‘’protect’ older people under the guise of ‘duty of care’.

The former Deputy District Attorney of the San Diego County, Paul Greenwood, exhorted Australians to implement mandatory reporting, criminalise elder abuse, and prosecute perpetrators regardless of the older person’s preferences.

The protectionist tenor of his address is contrary to Seniors Rights Victoria’s commitment to the empowerment of older people and policy of upholding the independence of older people to make their own decisions. However, the message of criminalisation resonated with the audience and, certainly, we acknowledge there are some forms of financial abuse that might benefit from prosecutorial attention using existing laws

On several topics of discussion, Seniors Rights Victoria found themselves at the vanguard. For example, SRV has long been ‘rocking the boat’ for the creation of a national register for Powers of Attorney – a hot topic at the conference. Another hot topic that we have similarly promoted is the principle that supported (rather than substituted) decision-making should always be the first order of the day. It was validating to hear from a neuropsychologist and other professionals who share in our non-reductive approach to capacity.

Hopefully all who attended the 2019 conference were inspired to keep up the drive for change in this space.

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Cover of Older Better Together report

Research puts spotlight on community solutions

Ten primary Elder Abuse Prevention Networks have been established in regional and metropolitan areas across Victoria. The networks aim to raise awareness and change attitudes towards elder abuse across the community. During 2018, Seniors Rights Victoria and consultants Think Impact conducted action research in conjunction with five of the networks. The research examined:

  • community perceptions of the drivers of elder abuse
  • how networks connect with their communities
  • activities they are conducting.

The research report, Older, Better, Together: A network approach to preventing elder abuse before it happens, is now available online. The summary booklet that includes recommendations for action can be downloaded or order a printed copy from Seniors Rights Victoria.

The report identifies community understanding of the drivers of elder abuse including:

  • perceived or real diminished capacity
  • isolation or lack of connection
  • the on-going parent-child dynamic
  • undervaluing of and lack of support for carer relationships.

Networks have operated in different ways to involve community groups and services – including schools, TAFE, police, health centres, sporting clubs and social groups for different CALD communities. They have conducted awareness raising and education for professionals and used Facebook and local media to connect with older people and present positive images of older people.

The report identifies some poorly understood areas including:

  • experience of LGBTI communities in relation to elder abuse
  • lack of acknowledgement and understanding of sexual abuse of older women
  • lack of services available for older people experiencing elder abuse in rural and regional areas
  • the need to involve local businesses that come into contact with older people.

The research highlights the importance of continuing to explore creative, multi-generational approaches to gain attention and achieve a whole of community approach to preventing elder abuse.

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Booklet provides assistance for helpline callers

Information about Elder Abuse and what to do if you are aware that it is happening to someone close to you are the focus of a booklet that will be produced in early September by Seniors Right Victoria.

The booklet, Concerned About an Older Person, will be distributed to people who call the Seniors Rights Victoria helpline. ‘Half the people who call the helpline are concerned about someone they know,’ said Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey.

‘A quarter of callers are service providers, and the rest are people who are experiencing elder abuse from a family member or some other person who is close to them.

‘Although we provide support to people calling about someone they know, we only act when the person who is experiencing the abuse contacts us to ensure we act on their directions.

‘The booklet will help concerned family, friends and service providers take practical steps to help the person experiencing abuse.’

Ms Blakey said that might include persuading the older person to contact Seniors Rights Victoria themselves, but it also provides the details of other services that might assist if the older person is reluctant to contact Seniors Right Victoria.

The booklet includes information on:

  • what is elder abuse
  • signs that someone may be experiencing elder abuse
  • what you can do if someone you know is experiencing elder abuse
  • how you can help to ensure that person is safe including preparing a safety plan
  • answers to common questions, including if the older person does not want to involve services or the police
  • what to do if the person is from a diverse community including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, culturally and linguistically diverse, LGBTIQA+ or from a rural area.

The booklet has been funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services under the state’s initiative to reduce family violence.

Gary Ferguson, Seniors Rights Victoria’s Education Coordinator, led the project to produce the booklet with the support of a project advisory group. The advisory group’s members were:

  • Chair, Gerard Mansour, Commissioner for Senior Victorians
  • Maureen Smith, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria
  • Graeme Westaway, Better Place Australia
  • Dimitri Bouras, Pronia (which advocates and cares for the Greek community)
  • Julian Alban, Family Safety Victoria
  • Anne Muldowney, Carers Victoria
  • Fran Jacka, Family Safety Victoria
  • Belinda Nixon, Dementia Australia

Victoria Legal Aid tested the booklet with several focus groups.

Seniors Rights Victoria acknowledges the contribution of Naomi Bailey at Women’s Health Goulburn North East, who managed the content development for the booklet.

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Attendees at the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) forum in Shepparton, with Gerard Mansour.

Regional Victoria hosts first elder abuse awareness forum

Regional Victoria was the focus of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) this year, with the Seniors Right Victoria’s WEAAD forum hosted there for the first time.

The United Nations officially proclaimed World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in 2011. The event occurs on 15 June around the world. It features events and activities that empower, celebrate and inform older people, as a way of preventing mistreatment and harm in their communities.

Services in regional and rural Victoria play a critical role responding to elder abuse, and we were pleased to have attendees from a variety of backgrounds turn out for the WEAAD forum in Shepparton. Keynote speaker Gerard Mansour, Commissioner for Senior Victorians and Ambassador for Elder Abuse Prevention, was well received, as were talks by SRV staff.

As well as the more than 20 community events held around Victoria, Melbourne Town Hall was lit in a distinctive purple on the evening of 15 June.

In addition to the community events, COTA Victoria sent thousands of brochures and information sheets to community groups and health centres around the state. We also helped to distribute more than 7,000 magnets, bookmarks, ribbons and posters. Manningham Council, in Melbourne’s east, played a key role by creating WEAAD decals for their vehicles.

COTA Victoria and SRV would like to thank everyone who participated in raising awareness this year. Whether you hosted an event, distributed pamphlets or wore your purple ribbon with pride, every one of you contributed to the success of WEAAD. It’s time to put away the purple for now, but we hope to see you all back for WEAAD 2020.

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Older lady looking pensively out the window next to some flowers.

Royal Commission submission highlights risk factors

Poor mental health may make a person more susceptible to elder abuse and elder abuse, in turn, adversely impacts an older person’s mental health.

These are two of the three key points made in Seniors Rights Victoria’s submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System in July.

The third point is the effect of caring for a family member living with mental illness on an older person’s mental health.

The commission, which will deliver its final report in October 2020, aims to provide the Victorian community with a clear and ambitious set of actions that will change the state’s mental health system and enable Victorians to experience their best mental health.

The SRV submission draws on case studies collected as part of SRV’s work and makes 13 recommendations.

The recommendations include:

  • continual awareness-raising that depression and anxiety are not a normal part of ageing, and they can be treated
  • ongoing support to SRV in its efforts to address and prevent elder abuse
  • Victorian Government funding of counselling services specifically for people who have experienced elder abuse
  • ensuring that mental health providers assess the risk of elder abuse when consumers are living with, or discharged to, ageing parents.

The submission draws on the experiences of Tricia, Mary and Helen. (The names have been changed and case details anonymised to protect each person’s privacy.) Tricia’s mental health deteriorated after she was forced out of her home by her daughter and son-in-law. Her situation improved only after she accessed mental health support through her health insurance. Mary’s mental health deteriorated as a result of caring for her daughter, who refused to seek treatment in the mental health system. The mental health of Helen, an 80-year-old woman, deteriorated as a result of caring for her 50-year-old daughter, Leanne. The SRV submission noted that one of the risk factors for elder abuse and poor mental health was the social isolation of older people. ‘Loneliness and social isolation … make people more vulnerable to developing depression and to experiencing elder abuse,’ the submission said. ‘As people age, opportunities for social interaction and meaningful engagement can diminish and as a society were are not very good at recognising or addressing this issue.’

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An older woman holds her grandchild while surrounded by family.

Scoping project examines Contributory Parent visas

Seniors Rights Victoria is undertaking a scoping project into elder abuse and its relation to Contributory Parent visas. Older people who migrate to Australia, often to assist with care for their grandchildren, can sometimes find themselves without access to Centrelink payments and health and social services if they are subject to elder abuse.

This issue was highlighted in the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) report on elder abuse, and many organisations have noted that older people on Contributory Parent visas may be at increased risk of elder abuse, while facing barriers to accessing support.

Under the conditions of this visa, an ‘assurer’ is required to provide an assurance of support (AoS) so that, when in Australia, the visa holder will not rely on Centrelink benefits. The assurer commits to repay the Australian Government any recoverable Centrelink payments made to the visa holder during the first 10 years of Australian residency.

In the ALRC report, a number of organisations submitted that Contributory Parent visa holders who experience elder abuse face barriers to accessing social security benefits and other social services. In order to mitigate these vulnerabilities, organisations argued that older migrants on Contributory Parent visas who experience elder abuse should be accorded the same social security rights as spousal visa holders who experience family violence. 

Through desktop research and interviews this project aims to explore:

  • Contributory Visas and Assurances of Support – processes, costs, rights and obligations
  • policy rationale for the family violence exception in migration law
  • literature on elder abuse as family violence
  • organisational knowledge of elder abuse perpetrated against older people on contributory visas, current supports available and barriers to accessing support.

We hope this scoping project will assist Seniors Rights Victoria to advocate for legal reform on this issue.  If you would like to participate in the interviews or discuss this project, please contact Carmela Quimbo at srvplacement@seniorsrights.org.au or on (03) 9655 2147.

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New act increases protection for vulnerable citizens

The State Government increased the protection of Victoria’s vulnerable citizens by the passing of the Guardianship & Administration Act 2019 (the Act) in the most significant updating of the law in this area for over 30 years. It will commence once proclaimed and no later than 1 March 2020. It adopted a more up-to-date understanding of disability, decision-making and capacity. The key changes are:

1. Criminal offences

There will be criminal offences for Guardians and Administrators who abuse their appointment and act dishonestly for their own financial gain. When they are convicted of their crimes, they face fines of up to $95,000 or prison terms of up to five years.

2. Presumption of capacity

There will be a presumption that the proposed represented person has the capacity to make his/her own decision, unless there is evidence to the contrary.

3. Supportive decision-making

When a minor impairment in decision-making capacity is proved, the Act will allow Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to appoint a Supportive Guardian or Supportive Administrator, who will support the older person to make decisions. The Act directs that VCAT only deprive the person of the ability to make the decision for himself/herself when this restriction cannot be avoided.

4. Appointments that suit the older person

The Act permits VCAT to better design the appointment to suit an individual older person’s circumstances.

5. The older person is to attend VCAT

The older person is required to attend VCAT unless they prefer not to or there is a valid reason for their absence.

6. Compensation

Persons who are subject to the Act may seek compensation for any loss that is caused by Guardians and Administrators who do not properly perform their duties.

The changes will modernise the Act and will reflect a better understanding of the decision-making capacity and disability to ensure that the wishes and the preferences of a person are fully respected and followed at all times.

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Mental health summit examines issues affecting older people

Mental Health Victoria hosted the Ageing and Mental Health Summit in Melbourne in July. This one-day event discussed issues of mental health that affect older people in a variety of contexts. Melanie Joosten, Policy Officer, represented Seniors Rights Victoria. She spoke about the intersection of mental health and elder abuse and how the Victorian mental health system needs to change to better support older people.

The summit discussed how elder abuse can cause people stress, depression and anxiety, and can exacerbate these (and other) mental health conditions. In response, psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors need to have a greater understanding of elder abuse and the challenges people face as they age. Proper treatment and support can help older people address the abuse they have encountered, and safeguard against it happening again.

Many people in the community who care for a family member with a mental illness find there is very little recognition of their role and the difficulties they face. In particular, ageing parents who support and care for an adult child with mental illness can find it difficult to access mental health treatment for their child, and to be properly included and recognised as a carer by those health services offering treatment.

The summit was an excellent opportunity to discuss these issues with professionals working in mental health. Ronda Held, former CEO COTA Victoria, Marie Piu, the CEO of Tandem, the peak body representing Victorian mental health carers, and Marita McCabe, who leads the Health and Ageing Research Group at Swinburne University of Technology, were able to bring further insights to a productive discussion. Other panels focused on policy developments in mental health for older people, and barriers and opportunities in service provision.

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

June 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.

Look out for the Melbourne Town Hall dressing up for the occasion on June 15 – it will be illuminated by purple lights and have WEAAD banners on display. Around Victoria, a variety of events and activities are being organised. This year events include information sessions and forums covering topics from how to recognise elder abuse, to how to protect your rights and where to find help.

We’d like to get as many people participating in WEAAD as possible – even if it’s just a social media post – as this really helps to raise the profile of the day. Groups and individuals are encouraged to wear the symbolic purple colour of WEAAD and share information with their friends, families and communities.

It’s easy for anyone to get involved in WEAAD. Our toolkit is full of ideas and resources to get you started. It also includes information on how to purchase merchandise, such as purple ribbons. Get your orders in soon though, to make sure they arrive in time for June 15.

 If you are active on social media, join Seniors Rights Victoria on Facebook or Twitter to stay up to date. #WEAAD has trended on Twitter in previous years, and it would be great to get it trending again this year. We love seeing what activities everyone gets involved in, so make sure you tag or share your photos with us.

If you are hosting an event or activity this year, you are welcome to register it for free on our events calendar. This is a public listing, which we also promote through our social media channels. We also have a media release template that you can fill out with your event details and distribute to local news outlets.

For further information or assistance with WEAAD, visit elderabuseawarenessday.org.au or send us an email.

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Seniors Rights Victoria heads to Shepparton for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), first officially recognised by the UN in 2011. As individuals and organisations worldwide work to empower, celebrate and inform older people, Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) will be involved in events and activities across Victoria.

WEAAD Professional Education Forum – Shepparton

We know that services in regional and rural Victoria have a critical role responding to elder abuse, so this year, we’re holding our annual WEAAD Professional Education Forum in Shepparton. The free forum on Monday 17 June will be opened by Gerard Mansour, the Victorian Ambassador for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Staff from SRV will present on:

  • elder abuse indicators and responses
  • capacity and elder abuse
  • risk assessment and safety planning.

The forum will benefit people who work directly with older people across the health, aged, legal, government and community sectors. Online registration is open now. 

For information on other events happening near you, or to register your own, visit our website and events calendar.

Other ways to get involved

It’s easy for anyone to get involved in WEAAD. Our toolkit is full of ideas and resources to get you started. If you are active on social media, join Seniors Rights Victoria on Facebook or Twitter to stay up-to-date. We love seeing what activities everyone gets involved in, so make sure you tag or share your photos with us.

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Seniors Rights Victoria brings clients’ voices to the aged care and mental health Royal Commissions

Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) is drawing on the experiences of clients to make recommendations to current Royal Commissions into aged care quality and safety and Victoria’s mental health system.

Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety

Our recent submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety focused on how ageism can see older people stripped of their decision-making rights. While living in residential aged care, some SRV clients have had their independence and decision-making powers curtailed through the improper use of enduring powers of attorney, guardianship and administration orders and advance care directives. Our submission detailed how these legal documents are sometimes deliberately used to restrict older people’s independence and decision-making.

To prevent this from happening, SRV recommended that service providers should move toward care practices that prioritise the will, preferences and rights of older people, whether or not they require decision-making support. We also recommended work to build aged care staff’s understanding of supported decision-making and the proper use of legal documents such as enduring powers of attorney.

Mental health and elder abuse

We’re also preparing a submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, which is working to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and attempting to solve system-wide issues.

Our submission will be based on the experiences of SRV clients who have experienced mental illness or who provide care for a family member with mental illness. It will explore some of the intersections between mental health and elder abuse. For example, elder abuse can cause stress, anxiety and depression; mental illness can also make a person more vulnerable to elder abuse, particularly if they are reliant on other people for their care needs. We will also discuss what can be done to improve services and support for older people and their families. Many SRV clients are older people caring for an adult child or other family member experiencing mental illness. Their role providing financial support, a place to live, care for grandchildren and help with daily tasks is unacknowledged and unsupported. We’ll be calling for more support for older people like these clients who are supporting someone with mental illness.

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Seniors Rights Victoria action research puts the spotlight on community-level primary prevention

As part of the response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Victorian Government funded ten Elder Abuse Prevention Networks (EAPNs) across Victoria to explore how to prevent elder abuse before it occurs. This challenging shift in focus from early intervention and response to prevention means identifying and addressing the complex, interwoven factors that enable and drive elder abuse. With funding from the State Trustees Australia Foundation, Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) recently completed action research looking at best practice models for EAPNs.

Community-level primary prevention

Primary prevention needs to be tackled at every level, encompassing both legal and institutional reform and community activities – the focus of this project. At the community level, SRV’s action research identified some of the crucial ingredients.

Firstly, networks need broad membership if they are to have legitimacy and relevance and be able to reach into communities. EAPNs are led by community health centres, local government, community legal centres, carers networks and primary care projects – all of whom bring different experiences and strengths to the work of preventing elder abuse.

Once established, EAPNs need to build connections with the community and involve different age groups. While older people must be involved in planning and implementation, activities can’t be limited to this age group – primary prevention of elder abuse requires a focus on all societal segments and settings. Intergenerational programs that encourage interaction between older and younger people are valuable.

Finally, professionals working to prevent elder abuse need ongoing support. Professional development opportunities support people to better understand and play a role in primary prevention. Experience to date shows how important communities of practice are to share learning, as well as the value of investment in further research on effective primary prevention.

Next steps

Victoria’s ten EAPNs will continue their work through to June 2020. The action research report, as well as a brochure and video summarising the work, will soon be available on the Seniors Rights Victoria website.  

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Supporting people with dementia to make their own informed choices

Dementia Australia and Seniors Rights Victoria are partnering to support those who have been recently diagnosed with dementia, as well as their carers, to plan ahead and to make informed choices about their future financial, health and care arrangements. As part of the program, we’re running community information sessions about enduring powers of attorney and advance care planning.

In this session participants will:

  • learn about their rights and how to safeguard them
  • learn the importance of enduring powers of attorney and advance care plans
  • be empowered to take action and have conversations with loved ones about preferences
  • receive legal information about appointing an Enduring Power of Attorney
  • feel in control of decisions about the future.

Attendees may also be able to participate in a follow-up legal clinic for help completing paperwork to appoint an attorney.

We have sessions coming up in Hawthorn, Bundoora, Geelong, Ballarat, Frankston and Hampton.

To register your interest, contact Lisa Reed from Dementia Australia on 9815 7822 or email lisa.reed@dementia.org.au

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Time to Rock the Boat for the 2019 National Elder Abuse Conference

Delegates from private, government, community, legal and banking sectors will soon come together for Rock the Boat, the 2019 National Elder Abuse Conference. This two-day event starting 22 July is a chance to share motivations, knowledge and skills to progress the protection and empowerment of older Australians. 

Be informed program highlights

The dynamic conference program, led by ABC television journalist Virginia Trioli, features an impressive line-up of local and international experts, professionals and artists.

On Day 1, renowned investigative journalist Anne Connolly will speak about the media’s role exposing elder abuse. The winner of four Walkley Awards, Anne fronted Four Corners’ challenging ‘Who cares?’ exposé on neglect, abuse and understaffing in aged care. Also on Day 1, you’ll hear from a panel of national and international experts on the changes needed to promote and safeguard the rights of older people in aged care, health and dementia care.

Day 2 will focus on justice and safeguarding with an expert panel presentation exploring how a human rights framework may impact current and proposed laws and safeguarding the rights of older Australians. In an international keynote, former San Diego Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood will draw on his experience as lead prosecutor of elder abuse crimes to make a passionate case for justice and safeguarding.

Be entertained

For a little light relief after grappling with the big issues on Day 1, join the Motel Sisters for their special brand of glamorous, over-the-top fun. On Day 2, performance artist Leah Cottrell will share insights told through beautiful songs, memoir and family images. Throughout the conference, browse entries to the NEAC 2019 creative competition – or submit your own for the chance to win a $100 EFTPOS gift card.

Mix with colleagues

Socialise with colleagues and hear more about the work of Elder Abuse Action Australia (EAAA) at the pre-conference dinner function. Tickets are $55 (inc GST) and can be purchased with your conference registration.

Showcase your work There’s still time to showcase your organisation’s work at the 2019 conference. For like-minded industry-related organisations, there are exhibition spaces to promote your services and build relationships with speakers and delegates from across Australia. And for individuals and community organisations, the EAAA Community Hub is a poster and AV exhibition to display your stories, work and insights. Contact EAAA on 1800 960 026 or info@eaaa.org.au.

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Federal Government grants support front-line service delivery

The Australian Government has committed $18.3m over four years to support the delivery of frontline services to people experiencing elder abuse. Funding has been allocated from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s office through grants for Elder Abuse Service trials to continue to 2021–22. The service trials are assisting people aged 65 and over (or 50 and over for Indigenous Australians) and, in some cases, other family members. Three types of service trials are being funded: specialist elder abuse units, health justice partnerships and case management and mediation services.

Specialist elder abuse units

Specialist elder abuse units made up of lawyers, social workers and other specialist and support staff will work side-by-side with clients to develop a case plan and respond to the individual’s needs.

Health justice partnerships

Health care workers and social workers who identify older people potentially experiencing or at risk of elder abuse can refer them to specialised legal support. These legal support services will work in partnership with the health system and other agencies, such as community aged care services. Early evidence suggests this approach can reach very vulnerable people who can otherwise slip through the cracks.

Case management and mediation services

Case management and mediation services will work with the older person and their family to find solutions to the complex underlying problems driving abuse. This model recognises that older people may prioritise maintaining their relationship with their children and grandchildren.

Grant recipients

Eleven organisations have been granted funding to deliver front-line services around the country:

  • Eastern Community Legal Centre – Specialist elder abuse unit and health justice partnership in metropolitan Victoria
  • Legal Aid Commission of NSW – Specialist elder abuse unit in metropolitan New South Wales
  • Justice Connect NSW – Health justice partnership in metropolitan New South Wales
  • Relationships Australia Canberra and Region Inc – Case management and mediation in Canberra and regional New South Wales
  • Caxton Legal Centre Inc – Health justice partnership in metropolitan Queensland
  • Relationships Australia (Qld) – Case management and mediation in metropolitan Queensland
  • Relationships Australia (WA) – Case management and mediation in metropolitan Western Australia
  • Kimberley Community Legal Services Inc – Specialist elder abuse unit in regional Western Australia
  • Uniting Communities Inc – Specialist elder abuse unit in metropolitan South Australia
  • Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania – Specialist elder abuse unit in regional Tasmania
  • Relationships Australia (NT) – Case management and mediation in metropolitan and regional Northern Territory

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Towards a family violence service system where everybody matters

Historically, family violence services have been under-resourced and poorly placed to respond to marginalised communities. Faced with extra barriers to getting help, people from diverse communities have often been placed at greater risk of family violence. One historically underserved group is older people experiencing family violence at the hands of adult children or non-family carers. Survivor victims of elder abuse don’t always recognise that what they are experiencing is a form of family violence, and this alone can be a barrier to getting help.

Gaps like this in the family violence system were highlighted by the Royal Commission into Family Violence, which acknowledged that current frameworks for addressing family violence don’t always reflect the experiences of groups whose experience of family violence is less visible, different and poorly understood. The Royal Commission called for a better understanding of how family violence is experienced in diverse communities and, crucially, for services that are more accessible, inclusive and non-discriminatory.

Everybody Matters – the Victorian Government response

The Victorian Government has responded to this call by developing the Everybody Matters: Inclusion and Equity Statement, which sets out a long-term vision for the creation of a family violence system that is more inclusive, safe, responsive and accountable to all Victorians.

The product of a comprehensive consultation process that drew on the lived experiences of victim survivors, the Statement will guide the development of inclusive and responsive family violence policy and service design in Victoria. The Statement identifies three strategic priorities for improvement:

  • building knowledge about the experiences of people using the service system
  • building capacity and capability across the service system so that there is ‘no wrong door’ for anyone seeking support
  • strengthening targeted services to complement and build the capacity of the wider service system.

Next steps – a detailed blueprint

The Statement will guide work over the coming decade, with the next step the development of an Inclusion and Equity Blueprint that sets out the actions needed to achieve the Statement’s long-term vision of an inclusive family violence service system.

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New report card on Victoria’s progress towards family violence system reform

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. This role is responsible for holding the government and its agencies to account for implementation of statewide family violence reform.

The Monitor, Tim Cartwright APM, reports to parliament and the community each year on the progress and effectiveness of Victoria’s family violence system reforms. The Monitor’s second report, tabled in parliament in March, looks at the work completed in the year to November 2018, focusing on three key areas: support and safety hubs, primary prevention and the voices of survivors.

Support and Safety Hubs

A flagship element of Victoria’s family violence system reforms is the establishment of 17 Support and Safety Hubs designed to make it easy for victim survivors to get help safely and quickly. Looking at the first five Hubs (now known as Orange Doors), opened in 2018, the Monitor found that rushed implementation had led to extra complexity, barriers and costs. While acknowledging the need for some urgency, the report recommended a more paced approach to implementation of the remaining Hubs.

Primary prevention

The Monitor found that Victoria has made reasonable progress on primary prevention. A major development in 2018 was the opening of Respect Victoria, a new statutory agency working to change the culture, attitudes and social norms that lead to family violence. For the best chance of success in stopping family violence before it starts, the Monitor highlighted the need to better coordinate future primary prevention efforts.

Voices of survivors

The perspectives of victim survivors should directly inform the design and management of the family violence system. The Monitor reported that while the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council is providing invaluable feedback, more needs to be done to ensure diverse voices inform policy and service delivery.

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Elder abuse service celebrates the role of peer educators

When Seniors Rights Victoria hosted its 10 year anniversary celebration this year, peer advocate Jennifer Evans (pictured) provided great insight into the strength of this community education approach – when older people share knowledge with older people.

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.

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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.

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Elder Abuse Prevention Networks Wraps Up

The Elder Abuse Prevention Networks are continuing to host community level events to provide information about elder abuse and mobilise the community in response.

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.

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New Concerned Family and Friend Project in 2019

In 2016/17, nearly half of the telephone calls received on the Helpline of Seniors Rights Victoria were from a concerned family member or friend of the older person being abused.

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.

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Helpline case study: concerned daughter calls SRV

Seniors Rights Victoria receives about 3500 calls annually on our Helpline.  Callers include older people who are being abused, service providers and concerned others.  Although Seniors Rights Victoria’s legal service can only represent older people directly, our Helpline Advocate will try to assist all callers to get the assistance they need.

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.

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Celebrate Ageing director a 2018 Human Rights Medal finalist

Director of Celebrate Ageing, Dr Catherine Barrett, was named among five finalists for the 2018 Human Rights Medal for her work in supporting older Australians through her enterprise organisation over the past three years, following a nomination from a ‘highly regarded’ colleague.

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

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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.

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LGBTI advocate wins COTA Senior Achiever Award

Transgender Victoria volunteer Brenda Appleton, 67, was one of the COTA Senior Achiever Award recipients at the 2018 Victorian Seniors of the Year awards hosted by the Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau AC at Government House (pictured together).

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 

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Ageing in fear – the rising challenge of identifying elder abuse

Suspected elder abuse cases can be challenging for medical practitioners and allied health professionals to address, which is why Seniors Rights Victoria is a good first point of call because their empowerment model supports an older person to take action.

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

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Elder abuse service celebrates 10 year milestone

Seniors Rights Victoria, an elder abuse service based on the advocacy-social worker/lawyer model is this year celebrating its 10 year anniversary with a celebration on Thursday 4 October.

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.”

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Intergenerational video shines light on elder abuse

Children from The Patch Primary School and a Positive Ageing Reference Group from Yarra Ranges Council will be acknowledged for a wonderful intergenerational video collaboration at Senior Rights Victoria’s 10th anniversary celebration.

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.

Here The Patch Primary School clip.

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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.

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Elder abuse service pilots dementia project

Seniors Rights Victoria is pleased to announce it has received funding from the Department of Justice and Regulation to partner with Dementia Australia (DA) for a pilot series of legal information sessions and clinics in Victoria. Advocacy is an integral component of the project to ensure a holistic response to the non-legal needs of participants.

The sessions and clinics combined will enable people who have been recently diagnosed with dementia to plan ahead and to make informed choices about their future financial, health or care arrangements, as well as to put those choices into an appropriate legal format. The pilot project will run for a year.

Seniors Rights Victoria will support delivery of the session on Advanced Care Planning and Powers of Attorney (POAs) within the “Living with Dementia” program and as stand along one-off community education sessions. In addition, Seniors Rights Victoria will provide a number of legal clinics for people who have attended a session to provide one-on-one legal and advocacy consultations.

“This will ensure that legal education and advice is based on therapeutic principles and an empowerment approach for the older person, including the provision of support for non-legal issues facing the individual. It will also allow us to screen for elder abuse,” said Seniors Rights Victoria principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards.

“We’re really excited to be pioneering this approach in collaboration with Dementia Australia – the link between cognitive impairment and elder abuse is well established,” she said.

Ms Edwards said Australian research estimates that up to 10 per cent of older people experience some form of elder abuse and that the incidence is significantly under-reported (Kaspiew et al 2016). In addition, almost one in 10 people over 65 have dementia (NATSEM 2016). For example, recent research has found elder abuse prevalence rates among guardianship clients of 13 per cent in 2013-14 and 21 per cent in 2016-17 (Bedson et al 2018).

The sessions will start in 2019.

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Government names final elder abuse prevention sites

The last three elder abuse prevention networks have now been contracted by the Victorian State Government.

Merri Health will expand their coverage to work in partnership with the Western Health Integrated Model of Care for responding to suspected elder abuse. Frankston Mornington Primary Care Partnership will be part of the Peninsula Integrated Model of Care and Barwon Community Legal Centre will be leading network activities in Geelong and surrounding areas.

Elder Abuse Prevention Network (EAPN) Project Officer Alexia Huxley said some of the networks have been operating for over nine months now.

“We met recently to discuss the findings of the accompanying action research. This was the second report back and looked at evidence being collected from consultation with community members – including older people – about the drivers of elder abuse and how to work effectively in the community to raise awareness and prevent elder abuse,” Ms Huxley said.

For example, Merri Health Elder Abuse Prevention network, which was only launched in June, is now working in conjunction with local councils, neighbourhood houses and other agencies to plan activities for  Victorians against Violence (25 November-10 December) and capacity building for staff engaged with older people in the community so they are able to recognise and respond to elder abuse.

“The action research will be completed by Christmas and a framework to guide future work on primary prevention of elder abuse will be launched early in the New Year,” Ms Huxley.

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National community legal conference includes elder abuse

Seniors Rights Victoria principal lawyer Rebecca Edwards joined a panel discussion about elder abuse at the National Association of Community Legal Centres conference hosted last month.

Ms Edwards highlighted the story of elder abuse on the frontline, including the benefits of an integrated legal and advocacy social support model, as is used by Seniors Rights Victoria, to assist people experiencing elder abuse.

Other panellists included:

  • Susan Ryan AO, the former Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner who provided a broad national context for elder abuse, including discussing the prevalence of elder abuse, its roots in stereotyping, discrimination and ageism, and an expansive view of Commonwealth actions and opportunities.
  • Russell Westacott, Seniors Rights Service NSW CEO who provided a timeline summary of elder abuse in the national context over the past 10 years, including a discussion of the development of the proposed National Plan, creation of Elder Abuse Action Australia and current funding opportunities.
  • Megan King, a lawyer at Seniors Law, Justice Connect, is based at St Vincent’s hospital in Melbourne. Megan described the three different elder abuse health justice partnerships run by Justice Connect and the differences between them; one in a community health setting, one in an acute hospital setting and one in a sub-acute hospital setting.

Ms Edwards said her talk focused on recognising that elder abuse often occurs in the context of a complex matrix of psychosocial and legal issues. For example, when the abuser is the victim’s child, the parent is often torn between their own abusive situation and their legal rights, and the desire to care for and support their adult child.

“Some key features of the model we use is to have the capacity for home visits, to have a client-centred focus, to do a risk assessment at an early stage and provide genuine integration between the disciplines supporting the older person,” Ms Edwards said.

“The benefits of the model is that it enables a holistic approach – from the beginning the older person has their social, legal, emotional and practical issues considered, empowering but not pushing to person to take legal action, but facilitating access to justice with the support of the advocates and the lawyer.”

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NARI director joins Seniors Rights Victoria advisory committee

Seniors Rights Victoria is pleased to announce that Briony Dow, Director of the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) and Associate Professor of Ageing at the University of Melbourne, has joined its Elder Abuse Advisory Committee.

The Elder Abuse Advisory Committee contribute to the strategic direction of Senior Rights Victoria, to support its operations and make recommendations to the board of the Council on the Ageing Victoria, of which Seniors Rights Victoria is a program.

Briony has worked on a number of joint research projects with Seniors Rights Victoria and/or its staff, including Elder Abuse Community Action Plan for Victoria in 2018; Understanding Elder Abuse Scoping Study in 2017; and The Older Person’s Experience: Outcomes of Interventions into Elder Abuse in 2016.

At NARI, Briony oversees a range of both social and clinical gerontology research programs, including her own research into elder abuse and carer mental health. At the University of Melbourne, Briony teaches a subject in the on-line Masters of Ageing.

Briony has been at NARI for 15 years during which time she has published over 60 peer reviewed publications and over 30 major reports to government. Prior to her work at NARI, Briony practised as a social worker in community aged care. She is a past President of the Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) and she represents NARI and the AAG on the Australian Government’s Aged Care data Advisory Group and the Australian Aged Care Quality Indicators Technical Advisory Panel.

The team at Seniors Rights Victoria is delighted to have Briony’s expertise join the advisory committee, which also consists of George Koulis, John Chestman, Ian Dunn, Ron Burke and Aaron Wiley.

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Media reporting to gain family violence insight

The Victorian Government has announced a $425,000 grant to Our Watch to deliver their new media reporting program, which seeks to improve media reporting on family violence and violence against women as part of its work to change harmful and sexist attitudes.

The Our Watch project will also create guidelines for reporting related to Aboriginal women, culturally diverse women, women with disabilities, older women and the LGBTI community. Seniors Rights Victoria is participating in the consultations of this project.

“The media is a powerful shaper of culture and attitudes. Language focused on equality and respect for all can change the culture that leads to violence against women,” said Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Natalie Hutchins. “Ending family violence in Victoria requires change on all fronts.”

To read more about the State Government’s objectives, go to Promoting Respect.

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Safeguarding the rights of older people forum

Sunbury community partners are hosting a community information session about  safeguarding the rights, dignity and independence of older people on Tuesday, October 30, from 2-3:30pm.

The free session will be held at the Sunbury Senior Citizens Club. It will focus on elder abuse and be presented by Gary Ferguson from Seniors Rights Victoria.

Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people. Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust such as family or friends.

This event has been organised by the valuable community partnership between: Sunbury Police Community Register, Sunbury U3A, HeartBeat Victoria Sunbury Branch, Sunbury Community Health, Merri Health and Seniors Rights Victoria.

A healthy afternoon tea provided. For more information please leave a phone message at Sunbury Police Community Register on 9744 8165, or to register your attendance go to Eventbrite.

For more information download the pdf Final Elder Abuse Flyer


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Legal Matters & Ageing Forum

Take the chance to ask the experts about some of the most common legal issues affecting older people at this free community event being hosted on Tuesday, 16 October, at Safety Beach Community Centre, from 10:30am-1pm.

Topics to be covered include: medical decision-making law and recent changes, retirement villages, aged care, wills and elder abuse.

Guest speakers are:
John Corcoran AM, Russell Kennedy Lawyers;
Gary Ferguson, Seniors Rights Victoria;
William Betts, Peninsula Community Legal Centre.

There will be a Q&A session, with morning tea to be provided. For more information and bookings phone 97833600 or book (no charge) via Eventbrite.

For more information download the pdf Legal Matters & Ageing Forum

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Elder Abuse: Everyone’s business

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is commemorated each year on 15 June to highlight one of the worst manifestations of ageism and inequality in our society, elder abuse.

Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust such as a family member or friend. The abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect.

WEAAD was officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2011, following a request by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), who first established the commemoration in June 2006.

In many parts of the world elder abuse occurs with little recognition or response. It is a global social issue which affects the health, well-being, independence and human rights of millions of older people around the world, and an issue which deserves the attention of all in the community.

According to WHO, prevalence rates or estimates exist only in selected developed countries – ranging from 1 to 15.7 per cent. Although the extent of elder mistreatment is unknown, its social and moral significance is obvious.

Individuals, communities, municipalities and organisations will come together across the globe to hold events on 15 June that raise awareness of elder abuse, including many events throughout Victoria. To look up whether an event has been registered in your community go to WEAAD events

Senior Rights Victoria encourages organisations to celebrate the positive contributions of older people in our communities.

“Older people are essential in the fabric of our society. It’s time for us to acknowledge their importance and recognise they are entitled to the respect of their communities and especially their families,” Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey said.

If you haven’t registered your event, it’s not too late, just go to WEAAD register events

For assistance in seeking publicity for your event, feel free to customise your request for media coverage using our generic media release link on this WEAAD page.

Seniors Rights Victoria is supporting WEAAD by providing re-designed collateral updates your organisation can order via our WEAAD Toolkit This includes bookmarks, posters and magnets with three tag line themes for 2018. There is even a generic poster where you can add your event details. Much of this collateral has been pre-ordered by the supplier to make it quicker for you to access resources, although ribbons have now sold out for 2018.

From this site you can also access a free zip folder with Image Pack Update via the WEAAD resources page where you can download the three generic WEAAD-designed tag themes with various images for your organisation’s use on webpage slides, email banners and social media.

Seniors Rights Victoria is a state-wide service providing information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people.  For further information about elder abuse please visit our website www.seniorsrights.org.au or contact our free, confidential Helpline: 1300 368 821.

Wishing you all the best with your WEAAD celebrations!

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Starting the conversations with older people

Seniors Rights Victoria’s often uses conversation seeds by way of image props and discussions in their community education sessions, with many of the current talks listed on the WEAAD website.

Community education coordinator Gary Ferguson and a team of volunteer peer educators enjoy the sessions, helping older people and the professionals working with them to understand how they can prevent elder abuse. For a community educator’s perspective read Gina’s story.

The conversation seeds, such as the image pictured, are used as a starting point for their discussions about elder abuse, the link to ageism and the rights of older people. This image illustrates Lloyd Kahn’s skateboarding story which began at the age of 64. The image is him at 79 years still pursuing his passion. When he was 66 years old he fell off and broke his left arm. The treating doctor at the hospital didn’t tell Lloyd he was too old, but attended to his broken arm and advised how he could skateboard safely by wearing protective gear.

“The topics of ageism and elder abuse present different opportunities and challenges for the initiator of the conversation. Elder abuse is mostly preventable and therefore having conversations can equip the community with knowledge and information to address elder abuse and stop it from happening,” Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey said.

“Conversations about difficult topics, such as elder abuse, can be helpful in exploring the issue and lead to people becoming more empowered to assert their rights. Conversations might lead to people disclosing that they’re being abused or mistreated and will therefore provide an opportunity to inform about the availability of support and assistance”.

Ms Blakey said conversations aren’t intended to provide all the answers about elder abuse, but rather to trigger thinking and discussion about the issue and increase people’s knowledge.

She said conversations and narratives also have a natural place in cross cultural groups of seniors where stories have been used historically.

Talks as part of WEAAD this year include events at Warrnambool, Heidelberg West, Murrumbeena, Collingwood, Burwood, Broadford, Altona and Morwell, often in partnership with other organisations.

Feedback from events hosted earlier this year have been very positive:

“The presentation was brilliant with a great deal of material covered but with humour and anticipation to keep the audience involved. The audience learnt a great deal which has already been put to use. The handouts were handy too”.

“(Appreciated Seniors Rights Victoria) Giving such appropriate and timely awareness of this important service, in a manner that was professional and appropriate to our group. We will certainly recommend that other PROBUS clubs also use the service and speaking personally, I now know where to go if I ever have an issue – which may well be the case as we are considering sometime in the next few years, moving to a village of some sort. I know some of our other members are having similar plans…”

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Gina pursues elder abuse prevention message

When Seniors Rights Victoria’s peer educator Gina Fiske has an older person start to talk to her about the disrespect they are being shown in the family, she stops talking and listens.

Gina brings the breadth of a career in family, youth and child programs and heath prevention. She understands the most important aspect for someone brave enough to share their elder abuse story is to be believed.

“People are often fearful of talking to other people about their situation, they’ve often lived with it for a long time,” Gina said.

A trained, volunteer presenter at community education sessions throughout Victoria for about a year, Gina has taken to the sessions with great enthusiasm, encouraging older people to build their knowledge, confidence and know they have a place when they can go to get help.

“I know in families, even in my family, that some people feel entitled to more than they should, it challenges us all. That’s why prevention is at the heart of what we do,” Gina said.

The community education sessions often present a case study, perhaps a son living back with his mother after a relationship has ended with debts he cannot manage. The son asks his mum for money, he uses the car and lives in the house without contributing to groceries or paying rent. The mother is trying to help the son get back on his feet but he soon starts using her bank account and when she becomes aware of it and says something he becomes verbally abusive and the relationship continues to deteriorate.

“It’s when trust is broken that it is elder abuse. I talk to people after our sessions and they often feel they are under pressure. They can see their adult child is using them, not respecting them, using their resources and they’re not thinking through the consequences,” Gina said.

“They often have a limited income and feel lucky to have an asset, their house, but there is no notion of fairness from their adult child of seeing their parent as an independent older person who has choices about a situation they haven’t initiated. People are usually quiet silent when the case study is being shared, they just nod their heads as the information clicks.

“They often don’t acknowledge it as elder abuse. Elder abuse is such a blunt term. I’m not surprised it occurs but I’m surprised it’s named publicly, and this sends a clear message that this is present in our communities, in our families and it’s not okay”.

Gina is looking forward to speaking at more community education sessions as it gets closer to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June. For information on events go to WEAAD events.

“I will go as often as I can. I enjoy doing this and helping older people understand what they can do to protect themselves and maintain family relationships. I think that is important.”

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We can prevent elder abuse in communities

While there is no comprehensive data available for the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia, it is estimated that up to 14 per cent of older people may be experiencing abuse.

In most cases elder abuse is an intergenerational form of family violence. In 2016-17, people aged 60 years or over made up just over 5,400 of the family members affected in family violence incidents recorded by Victoria Police (Crime Statistics Agency).

“Just as respectful relationships within families help prevent family violence, respect for older family members is a primary protection against elder abuse, particularly when it comes to a family’s financial arrangements,” Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey said.

“Older people are essential in the fabric of our society. It’s time for us to acknowledge their importance and recognise they are entitled to the respect of their communities and especially their families. There is no excuse for elder abuse.”

Ms Blakey said the warning signs of elder abuse may include an older person seeming fearful, anxious or isolated. There may be injuries, or an absence of personal care. Disappearance of possessions, unexplained financial transactions, and changes to a will, property title or other legal documents are also of concern. While the mistreatment of an older person may be carried out by one family member, it is often other family members who are best placed to support their parent or grandparent against the abuse, provided they recognise what is happening. Like other forms of family violence, most elder abuse occurs behind closed doors, so it is important for loved ones to watch out for signs, listen and offer help.

Older people can reduce the risk of elder abuse by making sure their financial, medical, legal and other affairs are clearly stated and recorded. Older people must also be empowered to recognise the signs of elder abuse and encouraged to state when they are not comfortable with an arrangement. They can get help to negotiate this through Seniors Rights Victoria.

Older Victorians experiencing elder abuse, or family members concerned about an older person, can get help by calling Seniors Rights Victoria on 1300 368 821 Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 5 pm. The website for more information is www.seniorsrights.org.au.

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Maria’s shares her experience of elder abuse

For this year’s WEAAD, Seniors Rights Victoria asked two former clients, Maria* (pictured) and Meg* to share their stories about elder abuse within their families. It was hard for both Victorian women to speak about their experiences, but then neither want any family to endure what they have. Elder abuse is not a happy story, but changes can be made.

Maria’s issues began after she took in her adult son to help him through difficult personal and financial times. Despite positive beginnings, things quickly soured.  Arguments ensued around Maria’s son using her credit card without paying her back, refusing to contribute to household expenses, stealing $8000 worth of stamps from a collection and finally, making physical threats on her life.

The police were unable to help so Maria reached out to Seniors Rights Victoria.  Seniors Rights Victoria’s Principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards and Social Advocate Jane Eeles accepted Maria’s case and worked with her through the court system to have her son removed from the house with an intervention order. In addition to supporting her through the stressful court process, Jane re-connected Maria with community social activities to combat isolation.

Seniors Rights Victoria is the key state-wide service dedicated to stopping elder abuse. It is a program of Council on The Ageing (COTA), supported by the Victorian Government. Operating under the principal of empowering older people, Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice, casework and education to help prevent and respond to elder abuse through its Helpline which received 3300 calls last year, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year.

Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey said there was a growing acknowledgement of elder abuse as a form of family violence but still a disconnect when it came to the highest incidence of abuse – financial – which accounts for 75 per cent of their abuse cases, including the circumstances for both Maria and Meg.

Please note the personal details for Maria* and Meg* were changed to protect their privacy.

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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:
  1. Elder Abuse: Everyone’s Business
  2. No excuse for elder abuse
  3. We can stop elder abuse
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Should elder abuse be criminalised?

To link with this year’s Law Week activities hosted in May and in advance of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on 15 June, Seniors Rights Victoria has released some additional discussion papers covering some legal complexities linked with elder abuse.

The initial series of discussion papers released aim to build understanding between the family violence sector and older people experiencing elder abuse, acknowledging that despite the progress of reforms into family violence, gaps remain on how best to integrate older people in this space.

Topics covered are: elder abuse as family violence, elder abuse and gender and preventing elder abuse.

Seniors Rights Victoria has now produced some discussion papers to cover some of the legal aspects our service is often asked by family violence service providers, concerned family members, the community and sometimes older people.

The topics are:

  1. Mandatory reporting – which discusses Seniors Rights Victoria’s position that mandatory reporting diminishes the right of older people to make decisions about their own lives, and would fail to prevent elder abuse or promote the safety of older people experiencing abuse.
  2. Criminal law and elder abuse – which delves into whether a specific law criminalising elder abuse is necessary.

Seniors Rights Victoria encourages you to read these discussion papers and continue to contribute to the reforms in this space. Feedback is welcome by emailing info@seniorsrights.org.au marking the email subject headline Elder Abuse discussion papers.

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Share your views on elder abuse in the community

Seniors Rights Victoria is supporting the Elder Abuse Prevention Networks project across the state by assisting the implementation of a community survey about elder abuse.

A Victorian Government funded project, the Elder Abuse Prevention Network (EAPN) will operate at 10 sites in regional, outer urban and metropolitan areas at an individual and community level, to raise awareness and educate communities about the rights of older people.

Senior Rights Victoria EAPN Project Officer Alexia Huxley said seven sites have been chosen for the networks. They are being run by different organisations including several community health services, a community legal centre and local councils.

The confidential community survey is being conducted by independent consultants Think Impact with the results to be provided to the organisations participating in the prevention work, and included in a guide to prevent elder abuse. No individuals will be identified in these documents.

The short survey is voluntary, with participants not asked to provide any personal information.

“We understand that some people may find this topic difficult. If they do not wish to answer any questions, they are welcome to leave questions blank,” Ms Huxley said.

She said the community was gradually becoming more aware about the mixture of factors causing elder abuse, including lack of respect and valuing of older people, negative media messages that portray older people as a drain on society and behaviour that overlooks or justifies elder abuse.

“These attitudes can be internalised by older people themselves who may also consider that family matters are private and should not be shared, or may feel ashamed of the behaviour of their adult children and not want to ask for assistance,” Ms Huxley said.

In an effort to address some of these issues, the networks are targeting older people’s organisations as well as service agencies, including influential community members – such as pharmacists, librarians and religious leaders – who come into contact with older people and encourage them to see eliminating elder abuse as a matter of social justice.

Ms Huxley said the networks project supports the Royal Commission into Family Violence which identified elder abuse as a form of family violence.

“This project focuses on responding to elder abuse that is occurring, training professionals so they can recognise family violence and preventing elder abuse before it happens,” she said.

If this survey raises questions or causes any distress, or you would like to discuss an

incident of elder abuse, please contact the free, confidential Helpline of Seniors Rights

Victoria: 1300 368 821. If you need help immediately, call Lifeline on 131114.

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Seniors Rights Victoria celebrates 10 year milestone

Seniors Rights Victoria celebrates 10 year milestone

We’ve been reflecting on some of the milestone achievements of Seniors Rights Victoria in our first 10 years, with the anniversary date commemorated recently with a small staff party.

More community festivities are being planned for later in the year, but in the meantime we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the difference we can all make fighting elder abuse.

  • Victorian Crime Statistics Agency: Their Family Violence Data Framework adopted significant portions of our feedback, including providing more specific age ranges for people experiencing family violence, their relationship to the perpetrator and cultural background.
  • ASIC requested our submissions on reverse mortgages, we made submissions on meeting with clients alone, mandated interpretation and translation and independent legal and financial advice.
  • Meeting with Ken Wyatt to talk about our take on Elder Abuse
  • NARI Elder Abuse Community Action Plan for Victoria states that they worked in partnership with us and that our input was key.
  • Invited to participate in the Older Women Living Alone (OWLa) advisory group with Bolton Clarke
  • Our Policy Officer Melanie Joosten spoke at for HAAG AGM
  • Melanie also spoke on the Caxton Legal Centre panel on elder abuse, recorded for ABC Big Ideas podcast

Most importantly, we still help older people in our community. Since June 2009, we have had 17,101 calls to our helpline.  Our calls per year now compared to that first year have doubled.  Then, as now, financial elder abuse was the issue that most people called about.

We hope we are making a difference to older people who are at risk or experiencing elder abuse and the service providers who support them. We feel privileged to be #empoweringolderpeople to Stop #elderabuse.

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Seniors Rights Victoria supports Law Week 2018

Seniors Rights Victoria is supporting events that help raise awareness of elder abuse being hosted throughout the state as part of this year’s Law Week, from 14-20 May.

Law Week is an annual festival of events that makes learning about the law easy. Held in May each year, Law Week has taken place across Victoria since 1980. Presented by the Victoria Law Foundation (VLF) with the support of its Event Partners and sponsors, including Seniors Rights Victoria, Law Week offers Victorians the opportunity to find answers to their legal questions, discover the history of the courts or simply enjoy the spectacle of the law.

Seniors Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey said the state-wide specialist elder abuse service was pleased to be able to partner to present events. These events raise awareness of elder abuse and the importance of supporting older people appropriately with the decisions being made which affect them.

Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust such as a family member or friend. The abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect.

“Older people are essential in the fabric of our society. It’s time for us to acknowledge their importance and recognise they are entitled to the respect of their communities and especially their families,” Ms Blakey said.

The relevant free events are:

14-17 May:  Law Week Hub pop-up: Elder abuse prevention and support, 12:30-2pm daily, at Fed Square, Swanston Street forecourt

Our Helpline advocates will be on hand at the Law Week Festival Hub to provide information about how this service supports older people experiencing elder abuse. No bookings required.

15 May: Legal Matters & Ageing Seminar, 2-4pm, at Orbost Service Centre, 1 Ruskin St

Free seniors seminar covering topics on Enduring Powers of Attorney, Ageism and Planning Ahead. Learn more about your legal rights and options, have your questions answered and receive the free kit Take Control – A Guide to Making Enduring Powers of Attorney. Bookings essential by calling 51523063 or calling into Bairnsdale U3A. Bookings essential by calling 5152 4225 or in person at the library.

Presented by East Gippsland Shire Council and Seniors Rights Victoria.

16 May: Legal Matters & Ageing Seminar, 1-3pm, at Bairnsdale U3A, corner of Service & Rupert St

Free seniors seminar covering topics on Enduring Powers of Attorney, Ageism and Planning Ahead. Learn more about your legal rights and options, have your questions answered and receive the free kit Take Control – A Guide to Making Enduring Powers of Attorney. Bookings essential by calling 51523063 or calling into Bairnsdale U3A.

Presented by East Gippsland Shire Council, Seniors Rights Victoria and Bairnsdale U3A.

19 May: Getting to grips with the Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act, 8:45-10am, at Law Institute of Victoria, Tony Smith Lecture Theatre, Ground Floor, 470 Bourke Street, Melbourne

 The Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act 2016 came into effect on 12 March 2018, bringing with it significant changes to medical treatment laws. This seminar is designed to provide vital information regarding the Act, to assist people to understand how the new laws enable people of all ages to plan for their future medical treatment, including advance care directives, substitute and support decision making, and the validity of existing documents made under the old laws. Bookings essential by calling 9607 9473 or email register@liv.asn.au

Presented by the Law Institute of Victoria

18 May Elder Abuse Information Session, 2-3pm, Castlemaine Library, 212 Barker St, Castlemaine 

Join Senior Rights Victoria Principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards for an information session on elder abuse and protecting your rights as you grow older. Topics covered include enduring powers of attorney and advanced health care directives with a focus on prevention and support. Free kits are available on the day

Presented by Castlemaine Community Health, Goldfield Libraries and Seniors Rights Victoria

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Seniors Rights Victoria celebrates 10 year milestone

Seniors Rights Victoria is turning 10 this year, with plans to celebrate our achievements in the pipeline.  For such a young organisation, we punch above our weight!

  • Since June 2009, we have had 17,101 calls to our helpline. Our calls per year now compared to that first year have doubled.  Then, as now, financial elder abuse was the issue that most people called about.
  • In the past 10 years, we have grown by leaps and bounds from just five staff to 14 people, working in prevention of elder abuse, community education, a helpline advice service, legal and social casework, communications, and policy and law reform. The professional expertise covers all these areas.
  • We recently relocated with our fellow colleagues at the Council on the Ageing Victoria to accommodate our growing team, leaving the Block Arcade to be co-located on Level 4/533 Little Lonsdale, Melbourne – conveniently right near Flagstaff Train Station.

We have seen a huge spike in the acknowledgement and interest of elder abuse, resulting in part from the recommendations of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2016 and the subsequent, ongoing Victorian government reforms, which recognise elder abuse as a form of family violence.

The Federal Government has also been integral in this space, with former Attorney General George Brandis launching the report of the Australian Law Reform Commission at our 2017 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day event and funding Elder Abuse Action Australia, an organisation supporting the national coordination and advocacy of issues related to elder abuse.  Last month, the new Attorney General Christian Porter committed to putting forward a National Plan to combat elder abuse.

Although we have come far, Seniors Rights Victoria as an organisation has a lot more to do in order to continue to prevent and respond to elder abuse.  A statement by Jenny Blakey, our manager made in 2012 holds true today as it did then:

“As I think about all that we have achieved, I am touched by a pleasant irony: we are a young organisation developing wisdom quickly, working with older people with a lifelong accumulation of wisdom,” Ms Blakey said.

“We aim to make a difference to older people who are at risk or experiencing elder abuse and the service providers who support them. We feel privileged to be empowering older people to stop elder abuse”.

To listen to a past client’s first person account of elder abuse click Meg’s Story.

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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Seniors Rights Victoria is in planning mode for this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), remembered globally on June 15 each year, including the development of key themes for the 2018 celebrations.

The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 66/127, designated that day for WEAAD as the main day in the year when the world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted on older people.

An increasing number of activities and events are held across the globe on this day to raise awareness of elder abuse, and highlight ways to challenge such abuse. Information on activities in Victoria will be updated on our WEAAD website as details become available, and you can also register your own event. Look for our updated WEAAD Toolkit which should be available by the end of April, customise this media release for your own event and order your WEAAD merchandise.

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National EA Conference – The Gift That Keeps on

Seniors Rights Victoria held a workshop on financial elder abuse as part of this year’s national Elder Abuse Conference hosted by the NSW-based Seniors Rights Service in Sydney last month.

Seniors Rights Victoria Principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards and Community Lawyer Tabitha O’Shea presented the case study of Linda, a single, retired academic aged in her 70s, who had agreed to sell her house and contribute 50 per cent, a total of $500,000, to the purchase of a home by her daughter Gina and Gina’s family, husband Mike and two sons. The plan was that Linda would live in a self-contained section of the house. Sadly, once the move was made Linda was subjected to increasing verbal abuse and threats to kick her out of the home.

Unfortunately, as Seniors Rights Victoria workers often discover, Linda was not included on the title of the home.  This led to an application to VCAT to determine the ownership of the property and to force a sale. It was a slow, difficult and emotional process to get a better outcome for Linda, whose health deteriorated as a result of the situation.

Ms Edwards said that despite financial recovery in cases like Linda’s, because of the psychological and emotional issues, there were no real ‘winners’ in financial elder abuse, which represent up to a third of all elder abuse cases presenting to Seniors Rights Victoria.

“We were pleased to be able to workshop the potential legal actions in these cases and the supports required by an older person in circumstances such as these to prepare, participate and debrief – after all, they are in dispute with their loved ones and they often feel shame and sadness that the elder abuse has occurred.” Ms Edwards said.

Ms Edwards said the team were happy the workshop met the objectives of speaking at the conference to show how to assess financial elder abuse, how to obtain and present evidence to prove intention, and how to assist an older person to be an effective witness, particularly if they’re experiencing fluctuating health issues.

“We hope all the attendees at the workshop can use this information and approach to create better outcomes for older people experiencing elder abuse,” she said.

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The Power Project – older women and sexual abuse

Seniors Rights Victoria participated in the launch of the Power Project at last month’s National Elder Abuse Awareness Conference, contributing to an awareness campaign by the OPAL Institute about the sexual abuse of older women.

The Power Project was launched with an interdisciplinary panel hosted by media celebrity Virginia Trioli which included representatives from the police, family violence services, legal and elder abuse services, sexual assault and advocacy services – all discussing the sexual abuse of older women by their partners, family members and service providers.

With more than 30 years’ experience of working with older people, Opal Institute Director Dr Catherine Barrett said the engaging interdisciplinary panel discussion was the ideal way to launch The Power Project, an innovative national resources to assist service provides and community members to work together to prevent sexual abuse.

Dr Barrett said the first stage of the project includes a website development and poster campaign to raise awareness about the power of listening.

“I’ve heard hundreds of accounts of sexual abuse of older women – and across all these accounts a common theme is the power of listening. Service providers, friends and family who listen can transform the lives of older women,” Dr Barrett said.

She said the aim of the Power Project is to show Australians the power we have to prevent the sexual abuse of older women.

Dr Barrett is calling for organisations, services, associations and individuals to become Power Project Champions.

For more information read The Power Project.

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Ageing without fear – a discussion on elder abuse as family violence

One of the key results of the 2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence was the recognition of elder abuse as family violence.  Nevertheless, the Royal Commission acknowledged that older people would have very specific needs that would need to be addressed by the family violence sector. A year into the reforms, gaps remain in how best to integrate older people in the service.  The family violence sector, focused on intimate partner violence, may not be presently equipped to cater to the needs of older people experiencing other types of elder abuse.  Further, older people experiencing elder abuse may not see their situation as one of family violence.

In order to build understanding between the two sectors, Seniors Rights Victoria has produced a suite of discussion papers on elder abuse as family violence, elder abuse and gender and preventing elder abuse.

  1. Elder Abuse as Family Violence explains how elder abuse is a form of family violence, and draws attention to its unique causes and characteristics.
  2. Elder Abuse and Gender explores the ways gender and sexual identity can affect an individual’s experience of elder abuse, mistreatment and disrespect. It also includes a discussion of the often under-recognised crime of sexual assault of older women.
  3. Preventing Elder Abuse describes activities that help prevent elder abuse from occurring, as well as actions that enable people to detect and respond to elder abuse in order to inhibit reoccurrences and prevent long-term harm.

The goal of the papers is to ultimately improve understanding and generate thoughts on best practice in preventing and responding to elder abuse.

These discussion papers will be launched on Friday, 4 May 2018, followed by a dynamic panel discussion of the key themes in the papers, such as elder abuse, gender, violence prevention, and cultural diversity. Our expert panelists are:

  • CEO, Family Safety Victoria, Sue Clifford
  • Assistant Commissioner, Family Violence Command, Victoria Police, Dean McWhirter
  • CEO, Pronia, Tina Douvos
  • Elder Abuse Prevention Networks Officer, Senior Rights Victoria, Alexia Huxley

Seniors Rights Victoria anticipates that there will be an exciting and productive discussion and that the papers produced will lead to a greater understanding of elder abuse as a form of family violence and result in better outcomes and service for older people experiencing abuse.

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Legal changes for medical treatment and guardianship

Victorians can now plan ahead for medical treatment to ensure their wishes are followed and their values considered when decisions are made on medical treatment after they lose medical decision-making capacity.

To understand more click Law Institute Victoria Law Institute’s Planning Ahead article.

In other legal updates the Victorian Government introduced new laws this week to better protect the rights of adults with disability to make and participate in decisions that affect their lives. The newly Guardianship and Administration Bill 2018 will replace 1986 laws to define decision-making capacity, including a presumption that a person has the capacity to make decisions unless evidence is provided otherwise.

New offences will be created to penalise guardians or administrators who dishonestly use their appointment for financial gain or cause loss to the represented person, attracting a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.

The reforms also allow a person to be compensated for a loss caused by a guardian or administrator who breaches their duties.

Victoria Attorney General Martin Pakula said people living with impaired decision-making ability deserve the dignity and independence of being supported to make their own decisions wherever possible.

“We’re modernising the definition of decision-making to ensure Victorians with disability aren’t subjected to arbitrary and unnecessary intrusions on their right to make decisions affecting their lives,” he said. For more information click Guardianship Laws Overhauled.

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Launch of Elder Abuse Prevention Network in Ballarat

Parliamentary Secretary for Human Services Sharon Knight MP neatly summed up the purpose of elder abuse prevention networks at the launch last month of the Victorian Government’s newest location, the Central Highlands Elder Abuse Prevention Project in Ballarat.

“The aim is to take prevention to where older Victorians meet and to the people who interact with them the most,” Ms Knight said. “We want them to know they will be supported and understood, and that help is at hand.”

The new network is hosted by Ballarat Community Health and is one of 10 across the state being funded by the Victorian Government. Its launch reiterated the touch-points for older people in the community with attendee representatives of many community groups including the Men’s Shed and the U3A, councils, aged care, health services and Victoria Police.

The aim of the network is to stop elder abuse before it happens by increasing understanding of elder abuse and encouraging community members to not tolerate the exploitation of older people.

It is an ethos already supported by Jeanette Lane from the Mornington Peninsula, who inspired the audience at the launch with her observation of elder abuse in her neighbourhood and how this had motivated her to help establish the Peninsula Advisor Committee of Elders (PACE).

Mrs Lane, proudly supported by her husband Graham (both pictured), talked about the ripple effect of local awareness raising: “When we run one program, someone who is a member of another group wants to get in touch for us to make a presentation somewhere else. We have now run programs all over the Peninsula.”

In discussions about the causes and reinforcing factors for elder abuse, participants stressed the importance of older people understanding their rights and service providers – such as accountants and financial advisers – being trained to recognise the warning signs of elder abuse.

At the close of the meeting organisations were asked to show interest in becoming members and participating in the activities of the prevention network. These will include making contact with people in the LGBTI, Aboriginal and CALD communities in the vicinity, and using art and drama to educate the community about elder abuse. At the end of the meeting 25 groups immediately indicated their interest in joining the network.

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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:

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

To read more about the Action Plan including the recommendations go to NARI’s Action Plan.

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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.

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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.