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Current response to abuse too slow: opinion


A national plan to tackle elder abuse is welcome, but action is urgently needed now, writes Geoff Rowe.

Many Australians think elder abuse relates to the ill-treatment of residents within aged care facilities, but the scope is much, much wider than that.

Geoff Rowe

Around 10 per cent of older Australians experience abuse – whether it be financial, legal, emotional, or physical – with much of this abuse happening in families, where victims don’t have the ability, or are reluctant to speak up, for fear of suffering further abuse.

So, how can we address this if victims don’t know support is available? How can we provide meaningful solutions to this growing epidemic? And what, at a systemic level, will it take for the government to recognise that immediate funding is needed?

The Australian Government’s response to the national elder abuse crisis is like watching a house fire.

It can see the flames and knows it should help, but before doing anything, it wants to make sure that the house is definitely burning.

So, research is conducted on the number of house fires that have occurred in the area, how long the fires typically last, and the root cause or causes determined.

By the time studies are finished and agreement reached that the house needs assistance, it has already burnt down.

Sadly, this metaphor symbolises our current approach to elder abuse treatment and prevention, and the problems that lay within a bureaucratic system.

Whilst it is necessary to understand the problem, we invite researchers to work with advocates, social workers and lawyers and jump on the fire truck to develop a nuanced understanding of elder abuse and the many settings in which it occurs.

At the recent National Elder Abuse Conference, a group of advocates, seniors’ groups and community legal services joined forces to commit unanimously to tackling elder abuse – calling for action on a national scale.

The group said immediate resources were needed to educate and respond appropriately to older Australians, the broader community and service providers about ageism and elder abuse, and that, without adequate funding, calls for help would continue to go unaddressed.

Resources don’t just mean a few extra information flyers handed out at local seniors’ groups.

Adequate resources means sufficient funding – both state and federal – to employ more advocates, social workers and lawyers to engage with victims and their families.

It means an integrated, holistic approach to ensure this epidemic is tackled head on, and can be resolved with practical solutions, both preventative and responsive.

While the National Plan on Elder Abuse is welcome news for many, there is an imminent and urgent need for action now.

As Elvis put it, we need “a little less conversation, a little more action.”

Let’s put out the fire before the whole village burns down.

Geoff Rowe is chief executive officer of Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA Australia).

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One Response to Current response to abuse too slow: opinion

  1. Barbara Connor March 21, 2018 at 5:12 pm #

    Apart from advocacy which, I am sorry to say, has very little impact on an abuser there is only one organisation in a position to help an abused elderly person. The only people who can take action are the police and they will not do so, for whatever reason. Maybe to keep the crime stats down, maybe they are too busy, who knows but the standard response is ‘I’m sorry but we can’t help you’. The type of person who would abuse an elderly relative is not going to be dissuaded by a brochure or an advocate. So unless the police are forced to act in a case of reported abuse, nothing will change and the abusers know it. Perhaps better education of the elderly in how to protect themselves financially would lessen the impact. There is no easy fix here, just ask the victims of family violence. This is no different.

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