2017 – A year in review

The past year saw tremendous growth in recognition of elder abuse. For Seniors Rights Victoria this meant a hectic year due to the pace of reforms, increased government interest in elder abuse and a higher level of demand upon our services, both for assistance with elder abuse from those experiencing it and from services consulting our expertise.

Seniors Rights Victoria has been participating in high level committees and working groups as a result of the State Government’s continued focus on family violence reform, the publicity on family violence and elder abuse, the State Government’s Elder Abuse Prevention Advisory Group and the Federal Government setting objectives to tackle elder abuse. We keenly took part despite only being a small service provider. To assist us to participate in the work on family violence, the Victorian Government supported us with a grant for a part-time policy position, and funds to enable our Advocacy Coordinator to contribute our expertise in meetings and consultations. We also continued to participate in the workforce development for the Department of Health and Human Services Integrated Model of Care in partnership with St Vincent’s Health Melbourne and the Bouverie Centre. This helps keep older people in the big picture.

The Federal Government’s commitment to tackling elder abuse was demonstrated through referrals to the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) into elder abuse. We contributed two submissions to the ALRC inquiry, which were quoted extensively in the final report. This greater recognition of elder abuse led to more interest from other agencies and a greater demand on our services. Our Helpline calls increased by 25 per cent and our advices grew by 42 per cent during the past year. We received more requests than the previous years to work with organisations as expert informants through consultation, meetings, partnerships and the delivery of education.

Seniors Rights Victoria provided significant support to more than 50 events across the state who participated in World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June, including a partnership event at Melbourne Town Hall co-hosted with the Office of the Public Advocate. We welcomed the Federal Government release of the ALRC’s report Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response. We also continued our community education program to professionals, educators and the broader community, including people from culturally and linguistically diverse groups and Aboriginal communities.

We were saddened by the loss of the former Victorian Minister for Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson MP who passed away this year. Fiona will be remembered as a trailblazer driven by a fierce determination for change and a fearless advocate for family violence, particularly the inclusion of the abuse of older people in this context.

Our staff have been fantastic in their sense of purpose and engagement in influencing policy developments and achieving action to address elder abuse. The quality of their work is exceptional and is a source of pride. Throughout the year the Seniors Rights Victoria Advisory Committee has provided useful input on the strategic issues arising out of the developments and demands.

I thank the advisory committee, staff, peer educators for their contributions and particularly the older people who shared their stories of abuse and their efforts to achieve change. Looking forward to 2018, Seniors Rights Victoria will celebrate 10 years of our achievements. We look forward to sharing our knowledge gained from working on the front line with older people, their families and service providers so we can strengthen our partnerships and increase community understanding and responses to stop elder abuse – Jenny Blakey, Seniors Rights Victoria.


Our Practice – The Helpline

There has been a substantial increase in calls to the Seniors Rights Victoria confidential telephone helpline which provides information, support and referrals on weekdays from 10am to 5pm (excluding public holidays and between Christmas and New Year’s Day).

In 2016–17, the helpline service received 3379 calls (2696 previous year), of which 3285 were related to elder abuse or associated issues.

Women made up more than 75 per cent of all callers. However, we recognise that elder abuse can affect all older persons and cater our services accordingly.

The most prevalent issues raised were financial abuse at 25 per cent (28 per cent last year) and emotional/psychological abuse at 24 per cent (29 per cent last year), followed by adult children returning home at 10 per cent (6 per cent last year), physical abuse at 9 per cent (5 per cent last year), and neglect at 8 per cent (6 per cent last year). Very often a client experienced more than one type of abuse.

A significant number of our callers were from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, with 234 advices made to clients whose birth country was not Australia, representing 35 different countries of origin.

Elder abuse prevention network milestone

Seniors Rights Victoria recently led an interagency workshop about elder abuse as part of the Elder Abuse Prevention Network (EAPN) project, one of the Victorian Government’s preventative responses to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The Victorian Government is funding the establishment of 10 elder abuse networks to collaborate at a community level and focus on the prevention of elder abuse. Seniors Rights Victoria is supporting this work by conducting research on the project which began with the workshop and will continue until February 2019.

Partner networks chosen for the EAPN project so far are: Eastern Community Legal Centre, Ballarat Community Health Centre, South West Carers and Respite Services Network (Warrnambool), Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the Southern Melbourne Primary Care Partnership.

The State Trustee Australia Foundation provided Senior Rights Victoria with additional funding support to conduct independent research on the primary prevention work being done about elder abuse in those communities.

Senior Rights Victoria Manager Jenny Blakey said it was timely for the workshop to be hosted during the Victoria against Violence campaign about family violence, given older women make up more than 75 per cent of callers using the confidential elder abuse helpline service.

Elder abuse is any form of violence or mistreatment that causes harm to an older person, and occurs within a relationship of trust. The abuse may be physical, social, financial psychological or sexual and can include mistreatment and neglect. Elder abuse is believed to be greatly under-reported, but is estimated by the World Health Organisation to affect up to 10 per cent of older people worldwide.

Ms Blakey said the collegiate of organisations at the Melbourne-based workshop were optimistic the project will result in a greater understanding of work being done to support the prevention of elder abuse and build on the capacity.

“There is great work being done by organisations such as community health centres, shire councils, carers networks, primary care partnerships and community legal centres to support older people who are at risk of elder abuse, but we need to strengthen this network and learn how to better support each other and older people,” Ms Blakey said.

“Prevention of elder abuse is important given the rising number of older people in Australia, the reluctance to seek help, difficulty of resolving problems once they happen and the damage to family relationships that can occur. Elder abuse is one of the worst manifestations of ageism and inequality in our society and we need to address these drivers of elder abuse.”

Ms Blakey said the EAPN project will work with participating service providers, older people and the community to understand the needs and experiences of older people at risk or experiencing elder abuse.

“We hope by the end of the project for this collaboration to have shared the lessons so the EAPN can develop a best practice framework that contributes to the prevention of elder abuse,” she said.

Case study – Judy’s Story

Judy*, in her 70s, lives in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. She has two adult children, Rosemary and Jeremy. Three years ago Jeremy moved back in with Judy after the breakdown of his own relationship. He shares the care of his six-year-old daughter Claire with his former partner.

At the time, Jeremy did not work and he became verbally abusive towards Judy when she suggested he look for a job and contribute to the household expenses.

Judy found Jeremy’s behaviour increasingly threatening but because she was concerned for Claire’s welfare she was reluctant to take any action. As Jeremy’s behaviour escalated Judy no longer saw her other grandchildren or had friends come to visit.

Judy contacted Seniors Rights Victoria with the assistance of her daughter. The lawyer and advocate at Seniors Rights Victoria advised Judy that she could apply for a family violence intervention order. Judy had the process for making an application explained in detail and was given the contact details for the Applicant Support Worker at the Court. Both the lawyer and advocate offered ongoing support and representation for Judy throughout the court process. The advocate also helped Judy access social and health support services in her area so she could reconnect with her community.

Judy made an application for a family violence intervention order and was granted an interim order. The police served a copy of the order on Jeremy that evening. Judy found the police who attended very helpful and reported that they spent time with Jeremy explaining housing options and other help available to him. One of the police officers kept in contact with Judy to keep her informed of Jeremy’s whereabouts and update her on whether he had accessed support services. This support from police helped to ease some of Judy’s concerns about her son’s wellbeing and it has also eased some of her anxiety over the action she had been forced to take against her adult son.

The order permitted telephone contact between Judy and Jeremy. Judy continued to have regular time with Claire.

*Personal details have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

Federal launch of Elder Abuse Action Australia

The Federal Government celebrated International Day of Older Persons in October by announcing funding for a national elder abuse prevalence study, increased training for professionals and the public and a new elder abuse peak body.

The initiatives are part of the Government’s $15 million election commitment to leading a national agenda to address elder abuse in Australia.

Attorney-General George Brandis is establishing a national peak body, Elder Abuse Action Australia (EAAA), to support the national coordination and advocacy of issues related to prevention of elder abuse with $250,000 funding per annum for two years.

Senior Rights Victoria participated in the development of the proposed national framework as part of the working group and continues to contribute leadership towards EAAA’s establishment.

Senator Brandis said the new peak body will support the development of the Knowledge Hub, foster collaboration and the sharing of information to facilitate learning and innovation, and provide policy expertise to governments to collaborate and develop programs to better support older Australians.

In order to better understand the nature, scale and scope of the abuse, the Government is providing $590,000 to the Australian Institute of Family Studies to research the prevalence and nature of elder abuse in Australia.

“Elder abuse is a complex and often hidden problem in Australia. For far too long, older Australians have had these actions diminish their ability to enjoy their lives with dignity and this has too often occurred in silence,” Senator Brandis said.

“Together we will build a national understanding of elder abuse, establish better ways to share information, and work in partnership to protect the rights of all older Australians.”

Conference to showcase Seniors Rights Victoria expertise

Seniors Rights Victoria has been confirmed to do some of the presentations at the 5th National Elder Abuse Conference being held in Sydney early next year.

Seniors Rights Victoria’s Principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards and Community Lawyer Tabitha O’Shea will present The Gift that Keeps Giving: Evidence and Practice Issues in Bringing Financial Elder Abuse Claims.

The legal team will explain how making a claim based on financial elder abuse is riddled with complexity.  As courts presume that a transfer of property or money from an older person to an adult child is a gift, the burden of proving otherwise falls on the older person.  The presentation address issues of how to prove such a claim and will provide an understanding of working with older persons and the feelings of anger, shame and guilt that may arise when confronting a loved one in an adversarial setting.

Senior Rights Manager Jenny Blakey and Advocate Mandy Walmsley will present Elder Abuse and the Victorian Family Violence Reforms, an overview of the Victorian Family Violence reform agenda and how elder abuse is to be included in initiatives such as the Support and Safety Hubs, risk assessment reform, police response and the Strengthening Hospitals program.

Their presentation will consider the unique aspects of elder abuse that are not being addressed by reforms that are driven by a focus on gender inequity and violence against women and children. These aspects include the need for support and housing for people committing elder abuse, and a consideration of co-dependent intergenerational family relationships. As the reform agenda continues it is important to note the ways elder abuse differs from other forms of family violence. For example, it is more likely to be intergenerational rather than intimate partner violence, and while the majority of people experiencing abuse are women, significant numbers of men also experience abuse. This also leads to a consideration of whether elder abuse prevention currently focuses on protecting and safeguarding older people and overlooks the need for perpetrator behaviour change and accountability, which is a significant focus of the family violence reforms.

The National Elder Abuse Conference is set to attract more than 500 academics and researchers, policy makers and government agencies, public servants, service providers, people with lived experience and community workers who have contact with older people.

The theme for the conference is Together Making Change, with the aim being an inspiring exchange of ideas, experiences and solutions to address elder abuse.

Hosts for the February conference, the NSW-based community legal centre Seniors Rights Services, said the 2018 conference comes at a pivotal moment in terms of Australia’s response to elder abuse, following the release this year of the Australian Law Reform Commission findings from one of Australia’s largest public inquiries into elder abuse.

Telechat launches in Alpine community

Seniors Rights Victoria has welcomed the introduction of a Telechat Program in the Victorian Alpine region to provide regular telephone calls to people who may benefit from a weekly social chat.

The Telechat Program is when friendly volunteers phone participants at an agreed time, generally once a week, to share conversation and catch up.

The service was recently launched in Bright by Gerard Mansour, the Commissioner for Senior Victorians and Ambassador for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

Mr Mansour highlighted how a small action such as a weekly telephone call from a Telechat volunteer can help break down the isolation experienced by older people living in rural areas so they remain connected and included in their community.

Alpine Independent Aged Care Advocacy Service President Terri Hopper spoke of the service’s delight at being funded by Red Cross to establish the Telechat Program in the region and the commitment of the trained volunteers to make it a success.

Lauren Carroll from Red Cross said that the Telechat Program fitted perfectly with Red Cross’ aim of addressing humanitarian needs at the local level.

To make a referral to Alpine Telechat telephone 0420 824 814 or email alpinetelechat@gmail.com

Hellos and goodbyes

Eastern Community Legal Centre’s Partnership Coordinator Kaz McKay recently finished up in her role after more than seven years of championing elder abuse prevention in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

Kaz began the role as one of nine elder abuse prevention coordinators across the state, eventually gaining funding from Senior Rights Victoria for a partnership approach to support professional service providers seeking to prevent this form of family violence in that broad community.

Kaz said when she first began to unpack the experience of people with a family member being abused it soon became evident that the older person’s network was a vital tool to monitor a situation and provide more support structures.

“I was based at the coal face with lawyers. I could see the complexities and the need to work with the professionals supporting the older person’s network. We started small but now have a network of more than 100 members such as ACAS, the police, councils and aged care providers – all working to support the prevention of elder abuse,” Kaz said.

Kaz said that network is now an incredible resource to all its members in the long-term, collaborative approach she sees as necessary to prevent the elder abuse.

She counts delivering professional training and the development of a GP and medical resource video ‘Behind the Curtain’ as two of the many highlights of the role.

Kaz said she would take a break to spend more time with her three children and four grandchildren and then hoped to take on a professional development role. Eastern Community Legal Centre will recruit for her replacement.

In other Seniors Rights Victoria staff changes, the team is temporarily farewelling community lawyer Melanie Perkins and policy officer Melanie Joosten who are both taking 12 months maternity leave.  The two women were recently thanked for their valuable contributions and given well wishes by their colleagues for the joys ahead.

Seniors Rights Victoria will also farewell Project Grants Fundraiser Margherita Riccioni who has made a wonderful contribution to securing funding for the service.

The team also recently welcomed new staff members, Principal Lawyer Rebecca Edwards, Administrator Officer Anupa Shah and Media & Communications Advisor Amanda Kunkler.

Jessica Tighe will also join the team as the new Community Lawyer filling Melanie Perkins’ role whilst she is on maternity leave, starting from January next year.

Free Community Forum: ‘Older, Wiser and in Control: Respecting Seniors’ Rights’

Seniors Rights Victoria, Bayside City Council and St Leonard’s Uniting Church are pleased to present an open discussion about elder abuse – the signs, prevention and resources for seniors, family and community members.

Sunday August 27th, 2.00 – 3.30pm

St Leonard’s Uniting Church, 2 Wolseley Grove, Brighton

This is a free event, but please register at contact@stleonards.org.au.

Click here for a copy of the flyer.

Community Rallies to Stop Elder Abuse

On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we stood together as a community in saying “we can stop elder abuse”.

Seniors Rights Victoria and the Office of Public Advocate hosted a booked-out forum at Melbourne Town Hall, at which the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon. George Brandis QC, launched (via video link) the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Report ‘Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response’. We welcome the release of the Report and commend the Australian Government on recognising the need for this Inquiry, which will provide a strong foundation for future action.

We were pleased to see so many communities coming together to celebrate the rights of older people and raise awareness about elder abuse. In Victoria alone, more than 40 events took place, with the support of local councils, public libraries, community legal centres, neighbourhood houses, aged care facilities, health services and other organisations. Awareness of elder abuse was also raised through print media, radio, television and social media.

We thank all of the organisations and individuals who “went purple” on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to support the rights of older people to live safely and with dignity.

Each year, Seniors Rights Victoria receives thousands of enquiries from people experiencing elder abuse or worried about someone they know. Elder abuse, a type of family violence, includes any act which harms an older person and is carried out by someone they trust such as an adult child, family member, partner, carer or friend. For free, confidential help, call Seniors Rights Victoria on 1300 368 821.

Pictured: Seniors Rights Victoria staff at the WEAAD Forum 2017