Working Together to Make a Difference for Survivors of Abuse in Later Life

October 31, 2014

By Bonnie Brandl, Director of the National Clearinghouse for Abuse in Later Life

This week, the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) hosted their annual conference, which brought together hundreds of APS workers and other professionals from a variety of disciplines to address the abuse of older adults and persons with disabilities. This year’s theme, Stronger Together: Celebrating 25 Years Protecting America’s Vulnerable Adults, provides an important opportunity to shed light on why we need a comprehensive community response to elder abuse.

In her keynote address yesterday, Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of ACL, emphasized this need to work across systems to better respond to survivors of abuse. As an advocate who has worked in both the domestic violence and elder abuse fields for more than twenty years, I can attest that this message is worth repeating. Coordination and collaboration between APS and other service providers—including domestic violence and sexual assault programs—is vital to efficiently respond to the needs of victims and to hold offenders accountable.

Elder abuse—including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as neglect, abandonment, and financial exploitation—is a widespread, but often hidden problem. This abuse can go undetected because it can manifest itself in many ways, including isolation and neglect of an older parent by an adult child or caregiver, domestic violence in later life, or systemic neglect by a long-term care provider. Affecting about five million Americans each year, elder abuse is a complex problem that requires a multidisciplinary response.

But what would that response look like? In writing the Elder Justice Roadmap (PDF), we asked 750 stakeholders across the aging and victim services networks that same question.  The answer starts with seeing survivors of elder abuse as whole persons, with a range of needs that require addressing, from health and legal services, to economic advocacy and support for a disability. In taking this approach, the role of adult protective service workers is critical, because they are often the first point of contact a victim has with outside support and can act as a bridge between systems.

Adult protective service workers investigate complex cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation. Often, APS workers identify vulnerable victims who are isolated and unaware of community resources. APS workers are therefore uniquely positioned to work with and refer to victim service providers who can offer safety planning, legal advocacy, information and education, support and counseling to victims. Domestic violence and sexual assault programs generally offer free, confidential services 24-hours a day to victims of all ages, but more can be done to connect survivors of abuse in later life, who may not know what kind of support is available to them. Conversely, greater coordination with APS can help improve the scope of domestic and sexual violence providers’ responses to older survivors, such as allocating resources, collecting data, developing, and evaluating programs, and incorporating elder abuse issues into training and technical assistance.

The National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) joins Assistant Secretary Greenlee in promoting collaboration between APS workers, domestic violence and sexual assault advocates, justice system professionals, health care providers, faith leaders, aging services providers and others. By working together, we can provide options for victims that promote safety and enhance the quality of their lives.

Bonnie Brandl is the Director of the NCALL, where she acts as a liaison for national elder abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and aging networks and oversees and provides national technical assistance, training, program development, and support regarding abuse in later life.

As with all guest contributions to the ACL website, this blog reflects the experiences and thoughts of the author. Find more information about guest content on the ACL site.

Last modified on 05/06/2020

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