Bringing family members of all ages under the one roof can provide rich opportunities for relatives to support, care for and bond with each other. However, intergenerational households can also be a site where the abuse of vulnerable members of the family, including older people, occurs. This resource will explain how to – as a professional – identify and respond to elder abuse in these settings.
Many circumstances can lead to the formation of an intergenerational household. We’ve outlined a few of the most common ones here.
As people age, they may experience age-related illness, disability, heightened loneliness or financial difficulties. In some cases, older people may also be facing mental health issues, substance misuse, gambling problems or risk of homelessness.
In these circumstances, older people may choose to live under the safe roof as family members so they can receive care and support. Some families also make formal arrangements where care and assets are shared between family members.
Particularly during times of upheaval, adult children may temporarily move back in with their parents. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic many adult children suddenly out of work and unable to pay rent, recovering from illness or injury, didn’t want to be alone, had returned from overseas or had to suddenly change future plans, moved back into the family home with their parents.
Some adult children may live with their parents due to their own complex needs. This is particularly prevalent among adult children living with disability, experiencing drug dependency, gambling addiction or mental health challenges, exiting the criminal justice system, or who are (or their children are) living with health issues and require care. Reasons why adult children may stay or move in with an older family member include:
Older people may live with behaviour that is detrimental to their own safety and wellbeing if it means supporting another family member’s needs or protecting relationships.
Some families choose to live in intergenerational households as it is a common cultural norm. This can include older people who have recently arrived from overseas on parent visas, often with the intention of helping care for grandchildren and being cared for themselves as they age. In some Aboriginal communities, older people take on roles caring for and passing cultural knowledge onto children within their family, kinship group, and community.
Many intergenerational households are safe environments. However, in some households, unbalanced power dynamics may place older family members at higher risk of experiencing elder abuse. Elder abuse is a form of family violence. Family violence can include acts of psychological, financial, cultural, physical, verbal, social, sexual and spiritual abuse and neglect. Perpetrators of elder abuse are more likely to use financial abuse than in other family violence contexts.
If you are supporting someone who is older or lives with an older person, it is vital you know how to recognise elder abuse and respond appropriately.
If so, you need to assess their level of family violence risk in accordance with your responsibilities under the MARAM framework. Otherwise, reach out to Seniors Rights Victoria for secondary consultation or referral.
If so, you need to consider the effects of the violence on the older person. Screen them for family violence and assess their level of risk in accordance
with your responsibilities under the MARAM framework. Otherwise, reach out to Seniors Rights Victoria for secondary consultation or referral.
It should always be assumed that an older person has the capacity to make decisions. However, be wary that cognitive impairment can make an older person more vulnerable to manipulative or deceitful behaviour, including family violence. It may also affect their ability to engage with support services. When working with an older person or intergenerational household, consider: Is this older person experiencing cognitive decline? How severe is that decline? Does their cognitive capacity fluctuate? How might their capacity affect their relationships with others or their own safety? Are they being appropriately supported in their decision making (rather than having others make decisions for them)?
Some older people may require help engaging with support services. Consider: Does the older person have appropriate supports or adjustments
like communication aids or interpreters in place? If not, can you organise for these to be provided while being mindful that the family member available to support or interpret may be the perpetrator of the abuse?
It is important to reflect on your own conscious and unconscious biases, including ageism, when working with older people in intergenerational households. Is it possible you’re not recognising the person’s experience as family violence due to their age? Are you undermining the older person’s agency by not engaging with them directly (for example, engaging with their adult child instead)? For more information about
what ageism is and how to challenge it, visit www.cotavic.org.au/publication/challenging-ageism
When screening for and assessing family violence risk, think about the older person’s living, care and financial arrangements in relation to others
living in the household. Consider: Whose home is it (i.e who is the owner or who is on the lease)? Who is making decisions about living arrangements? Is everyone happy with those arrangements? Are any of the members of the household providing care for others? What type of care? Are there any financial obligations attached to these arrangements?
Older people from some communities can experience additional systemic barriers to support. When assessing the older person’s family violence risk, consider: Are they are from a refugee or migrant background, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or member of the LGBTIQ+ community? Do they have any disabilities or illnesses that mean they’re reliant on others for support? Are they in touch with appropriate social and cultural supports? Do they have a support network outside of the family?
When an adult child with complex needs returns to their parent’s home, this may place the older person at increased risk of elder abuse. When
conducting your risk assessment, consider: Who else is living in the household (permanently, temporarily or intermittently)? Are there any
family members, or family-like relationships, which make the older person feel unsafe or fearful? How can we ensure the older person’s needs are
considered and they know where to go to receive information and support? What supports for the adult child might increase the older person’s safety?
If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, contact the Seniors Rights Victoria helpline.
Seniors Rights Victoria can provide risk assessment, planning, legal information and advice, and support.
If you’re a specialist family violence practitioner, you can reach out to Seniors Rights Victoria for secondary consultation.