A booklet to be launched soon by Seniors Rights Victoria will help people take practical steps if someone close to them is experiencing elder abuse.
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.
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.
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.