A report from the 5th National Elder Abuse Conference in Sydney 19-20 February 2018

Elder Abuse Action Australia (EAAA)

On Sunday afternoon Caxton Legal Centre senior staff joined in a workshop with people from organisations all around Australia to discuss the next steps for Elder Abuse Action Australia, the national peak body Caxton has been involved in establishing over the last 12 months.  With the Federal Government poised to draft a National Plan to combat Elder Abuse, it’s important that EAAA is positioned to represent its members’ contribution to policy priorities.

Caxton Gets the Message Out

On Monday morning we set up our stall which had a presence at the front doors into the main room. People have been extremely interested in Caxton’s social worker/lawyer model, asking many questions about how that service is delivered and how that can be replicated in other States.

Caxton director Scott McDougall was interviewed by the media early in the morning about the National Plan and the work the Seniors’ Legal and Support Service is doing across Queensland.

Plenary Speakers Setting the Scene About Responding to Elder Abuse

The plenary session included various speakers presenting on issues they identify to be crucial to the discussion about elder abuse.  Ken Wyatt AM MP, Federal Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health, spoke mainly about neglect as a type of elder abuse in the community and aged care. He said that elder abuse has gone on unnoticed with “eyes averted, ears blocked, accountability gone wanting.”

Professor Rebecca Morgan, Boston Asset Management Chair in Elder Law, Center for Excellence in Elder Law at Stetson University reflected that internationally we see similarity of problems, difference in solutions to elder abuse. She said that like Australia, in the US the States started addressing elder abuse before any Federal plans to do so.  Florida was at the forefront.  There are actions of elder abuse that are crimes in the various States and a regime of mandatory reporting in most of those States which is not necessarily working because people are unsure whether they are observing elder abuse or other family dynamics.  Federally the work to combat elder abuse has now been given over to the Department of Justice via their Elder Justice Initiative.  Professor Morgan said that people in the United States still don’t know where to get help. She recommends Australia learns from this by having a national clearing house, a one stop shop that would make it much easier for families to get help.

Dr Jane Barrett, Secretary General, International Federation of Ageing, was inspiring.  She reminded us that there has been more elder abuse globally since 1991 when many countries, including Australia, became signatories to the United Nations Principles for Older Persons.  She cited the excellent contributions Australia has made to the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and the WHO Active Ageing – A Policy Framework. Australia also was the lead country producing the transformation report brought out in 2015 by WHO – the World Report on Ageing and Health – and the 2016 WHO Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health.  She encouraged us that Australia can lead the way in responding to elder abuse but we need to think big.  Elder abuse is a key threat to a person’s autonomy as they age and impacts healthy ageing.  Most elder abuse is occurring for Australians living independently in the community, so what is it about that environment that is creating the opportunity for greater incidence of elder abuse.

Dr Barrett quoted Andrew Mwanda: “We need to reframe the question. Instead of alleviating poverty we need to be creating wealth,” and extrapolating that to this context she said “Australia needs to take this and say ‘Instead of eliminating elder abuse we should be ….. ” [We are to fill in the blanks].  We must ensure that structural changes we are making are not the cause of elder abuse.  She queried what the social and economic consequences of 1 in 10 older people being abused in Australia are, including their functionality as capacity declines during the ageing process. She suggested that a public health strategy could be combined with a human rights approach to respond to elder abuse and described the need for approaches across systems, not just grass roots levels responses. Dr Barrett urged us to look at “Shift” – Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for an Aging Population – which has a greater level of accountability in each department in that government and consultation with marginalised groups. She believes that to eliminate elder abuse in Australia we need a disruption to traditional approaches, acknowledgement of system abuses, recognition of marginalised populations in the discussion and joined up approaches to systemic evaluation of interventions.

Staff Talk about our SLASS Model

Caxton staff presented on the specialist legal and support services Caxton Legal Centre has provided to older Queenslanders including the current model (social work/lawyer multi-disciplinary team, psychosocial assessment, capacity screening, home visits, integrated case planning, intensive social work and legal casework, outcome measures) being an example of a best practice response to elder abuse.

The Highlight of the Conference

The highlight of Caxton’s efforts was the drama performed by Siren Theatre Co, organised by our senior lawyer Ros Williams.  The actors presented two classic elder abuse scenarios (physical, emotional and granny flat financial abuse + Enduring Power of Attorney/banking financial abuse). Afterward Virginia Trioli emceed a panel of experts who explored the dynamics of the abuse and provide insights in response to four questions:

1. How do you balance an older person’s right to make their own decisions with the need to protect them from abuse?

2. Why does elder abuse continue to elude the health care system?

3. What should we expect from banks to adequately address financial elder abuse?

4. Should elder abuse be a crime?

We had fantastic feedback including one women who described this session as “restoring my faith in why I paid all this money to come to the conference”.  She said there was so much “bla bla bla” and she needed to see that someone had hit the nail on the head with naming and describing the actual abuse and had drilled down into the critical issues in an accessible way.  She described being on a high after that session. Another attendee said she couldn’t think of a better way of getting the message across and that we should explore how to get this out everywhere in Australia.