Role of the home care provider in preventing elder abuse

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence has recently focused attention to the topic of elderly abuse, notably financial abuse by family members.

Fronting the Royal Commission on Thursday 16 July 2015 was Ms Jenny Blakey, the Manager of Seniors Rights Victoria, an organization that provides information, support, advice and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older Australians.

It became clear that during the hearing that Home Care support workers need to be trained to identify, prevent and manage instances of financial elder abuse, typically perpetrated by greedy sons and daughters, because it is more common than we first think.

The focus of the session attended by Ms Blakey was on financial elder abuse and she encourage the nation to recognise elder abuse as a form of family violence. “It is a form of family violence. It is an act of harm against an older person performed by a perpetrator they know and trust.”

Ms Blakey was questioned about the role of home care workers in preventing elder abuse by the commission. She replied saying that home care workers are in a prime position to observe, detect, report and prevent it from happening.

“They have a relationship with an older person and can notice signs of abuse when they talk to them. They need to respond. Elder abuse can’t be ignored.”

Ms Blakey told the commission that training for home and community care workers will become more essential as Australia transitions to Consumer Directed Care: a system that enables the older person to have more control over their finances and care choices. However such power, if transferred to ill-intentioned offspring, can be abused to the detriment of trusting seniors.

The consequences of financial abuse can be extremely dire. It can lead to an older person losing their home, all their income and even their ability to pay for aged care or health services.

Ms Blakey said some “home care and aged care providers are already doing all they can to prevent, detect and manage elder abuse. But not every provider is pulling their weight”.

Ms Blakey presented a number of facts to support her assertions about elder abuse:

  • 92 per cent of elder abuse victims know their alleged perpetrator.
  • 70 per cent of older women are typically the victims.
  • Young people – the son or daughter of an older person – will inflict the abuse using ‘stand over’ tactics, mismanagement of funds or misrepresentations
  • Perpetrators are mainly male – around 60 per cent – and the remainder is female. They are usually aged in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Victims are commonly aged in their 70s and 80s.

“The existence of elder abuse represents ageism: younger people abusing the older person.” Ms Blakey went on to say “an early inheritance mentality,” being the most common reason for offspring to abuse a parent.

Other key points made by Ms Blakey at the Royal Commission included:

  • Prevention and awareness raising activities so that communities and older people know that elder abuse is a form of family violence and that it does exist.
  • There is an urgent need to increase advocacy services to protect the rights of older people.

“They should not be treated in any way, lesser than younger people in terms of their entitlement to property and income.”

  • Early intervention services are vital. There needs to be established key contact points where significant stakeholders like family doctors, accountants, lawyers, or home care staff can identify an issue is occurring and take immediate and effective steps.

“We want the commission to look at where contact points exist and start training these professionals to get them to disclose what is happening.”

“We want a diligent and responsive [police] and court system that is more accessible to older people”.

“Systems need to be working well so there are no delays and no confusion for older people.”

Following the inquiry, the commission will provide recommendations on how Victoria’s response to family violence can be improved. The commission is due to provide its report and recommendations to the government by Monday 29 February 2016.

In the interim before these recommendations are made public, a key point people need to consider when seeking care at home for their elderly loved ones is to identify a provider organization that puts care at the centre of their values. Speak to a few before choosing. You are simply exercising your right under the Consumer Directed Care model of home care.

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