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.

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.  

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.