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Legal inquiry welcome, but national elder abuse strategy needed: Commissioner

Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner has called for a national strategy to tackle elder abuse in Australia, following the government’s announcement of a new inquiry into the laws in the area.

Attorney General George Brandis announced the new inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission at the 4th National Elder Abuse Conference in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Speaking immediately after Senator Brandis, Susan Ryan, the Age Discrimination Commissioner, welcomed the new inquiry, but said that what Australia needed was a “coordinated national strategy” to deal with the issue.

“A coordinated national approach would help streamline current protections and identify the gaps of which there are many,” she said.

As Australian Ageing Agenda has previously reported (see coverage here and here) state-based elder abuse agencies and experts have called for a national strategy to deal with elder abuse, as they say there is currently no national collection of data or sharing of strategies or resources to combat the issue.

Ms Ryan said the strategy should be informed by a national prevalence study on elder abuse. “We need comprehensive national data so as to better understand the extent and nature of the problem we’re dealing with.”

The strategy would also cover the training of aged care workers, and community care workers in particular, who played a crucial role in identifying and responding to abuse, Ms Ryan said.

The training currently provided across the community care workforce was “erratic and often inadequate” and workers needed better education and support so they could recognise the signs of elder abuse and know what to do about it, she said.

Echoing previous calls for widespread professional training for the various frontline workers who could identify elder abuse, Ms Ryan said that GPs, nurses, police, bank staff and financial planners were also often the first who can detect signs of abuse but they needed training, education and support.

As part of a national strategy, Ms Ryan also said the establishment of national clearing house could coordinate the work being done in the area, drive the direction of research and reinforce strategies for prevention and redress.

She called for a national strategy to include a communications campaign to raise public awareness of the rights of older people and how elder abuse destroys those rights.

“The establishment of a national elder abuse hotline could improve dissemination of information to the public by acting as a one stop shop directing people to other relevant state-based lines or advice,” said Ms Ryan.

Peaks back call for national strategy

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia said a national, coordinated elder abuse strategy was needed, and called for a national prevalence study as a first step in better quantifying the extent of abuse being suffered by older people.

“There will be no single answer. A multi-pronged and coordinated approach needs to be prioritised by all levels of government, caregivers and communities to ensure vulnerable older people are safe and valued,” said COTA.

National Seniors said it also sought a national elder abuse prevention strategy, and has proposed the introduction of national powers of attorney legislation and mandatory reporting for the financial services sector.

READ NEXT: Government heeds calls for federal inquiry into laws on elder abuse

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