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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.