The various agencies working to prevent elder abuse in Australia are preparing to lobby the Federal Government to fund a coordinated national approach to identifying and responding to the issue.
They say the current state-based approach to funding elder abuse agencies is ad hoc and leaving older people in some states with virtually no support services, while others are comparatively well resourced.
Currently, agencies responding to elder abuse are funded by their respective state governments and this has led to an inconsistent approach, said Greg Mahney, chief executive of Advocare, which covers Western Australia.
Mr Mahney said no equivalent agency was currently funded in the Northern Territory, while a similar situation existed in Tasmania until relatively recently.
“Various agencies in various states get different amounts of money at different times to do different services,” he told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“In WA the state health department gives us [Advocare] a small amount of money to do work; in SA I believe it is their Department of Communities… In the NT no one funds any work to do with elder abuse at all, but you can be sure the instance of elder abuse in the NT is at least equal to other states. Their territory government has decided not to put any money into that. Until recently, Tasmania was also in that boat, but they’ve really come to the party and are doing some excellent work.”
Mr Mahney said the agencies believed that all Australians had equal human rights, and that elder abuse was a rights issue. “Everyone should have access to similar services and access to people who can assist them.”
The frequency and types of elder abuse were essentially uniform throughout Australia, he said. “Clearly it’s an issue that effects all equally.”
Apart from ensuring equal access to services across the country, the lack of a national approach hindered the ability of the various agencies to share their research, knowledge and best practice.
To counter that, the agencies had developed the National Elder Abuse Conference, now in its third year, to provide a forum for sharing information, exchanging ideas, and accessing expertise from overseas, said Mr Mahney.
“It’s about looking at how we can meet together on regular basis to coordinate what we do, better understand the issue of elder abuse and the best interventions, and share the research that is happening all over Australia.”
In keeping with the evolving agenda to bring about a national approach to elder abuse prevention, this year’s conference will hear from Professor Lynn McDonald, scientific director of the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE) in Canada, which is funded by its federal government to develop a range of diagnostics tools, resources and approaches. “That’s a good example where a national government has taken a national approach with really excellent results,” said Mr Mahney.
Making it happen
Discussing how the agencies hoped to bring about a national approach, Mr Mahney said the national conference was a good start. Sharing information would make agencies more efficient and highlight which states are better off than others, which can put pressure on individual state governments to rethink how they are allocating funds.
However, he added that “the Federal Government has to be involved with this important issue; it’s time they come to party and fund programs on a uniform basis across the nation.”
Role of aged care workers
Elsewhere, Mr Mahney highlighted the important role that aged care workers play in identifying and responding to elder abuse.
He said many instances of elder abuse were brought to Advocare’s attention by aged care staff. “Workers in aged care facilities or community aged care let us know about someone who has a problem. It might be they seem more distressed than they were before, or they have bruises, or they no longer have any money when they used to have.
“Aged care workers are a great source of intelligence for identifying who might need assistance. They’re also very good at being able to talk to the older person. Quite often the older person will talk to the care worker who deals with them on a regular basis; they develop a relationship of trust. So care workers are really great source of information, they’re the people who see older people the most and they’re the ones who quite often can spot when there’s an issue.”
The 2014 National Elder Abuse Conference takes places in Perth from 3-4 September.
Australian Ageing Agenda is the conference media partner.