Mediation can help resolve family conflict before it escalates to elder abuse, a conference will hear, but only if it is part of a wider approach to early intervention and support.
Jenni Dickson is executive manager of community programs at Victorian relationship services provider FMC Mediation and Counselling, which last year introduced an elder mediation and support service called Respecting Elders.
The program is voluntary, multi-disciplinary and non-adversarial. It provides seniors who are dealing with family conflict with a care plan, a risk assessment, family mediation and ongoing support from family consultants.
The services can be delivered in the home, in a residential facility or at FMC premises.
About 250 clients have used the service since its launch in May 2017 and Dickson says the outcomes have been promising. A discussion paper released in July found it prevented elder abuse, empowered older people who were at the centre of family conflicts and improved their overall happiness.
“The model is based very much on empowering the older person,” Dickson told Community Care Review.
“The family consultant is pivotal to this – they see the older person first and develop a care plan which may include referrals to our mediation service, our counsellors, our financial counsellors.
“We’ll bring the other family members at the right time. It’s quite a fluid and flexible model but it does really work on the basis of getting the older person involved in the decision making.”
The discussion paper found 75 per cent of people who went through the Respecting Elders program reached an agreement and stopped reporting abuse. Eighty per cent reported improved decision-making and 78 per cent reported reduced conflict. Only six per cent requested further legal action.
Avoiding the courts
FMC says traditional responses to elder abuse have focused on legal solutions once the abuse has occurred, but Respecting Elders is based on early intervention and prevention.
Dickson says most older people don’t want to go to court because of the toll it can take on relationships.
“I would say the majority of people really don’t want to go down a legal path with their own children.
“A legal pathway has its place but we need to work alongside this and not let it be the only option. What we’re doing is giving people options.”
She says elder mediation, which is well established in places like Canada, is becoming more commonplace around Australia. But it doesn’t work in isolation.
“Elder mediation on its own will not work in the elder abuse space,” she says. “You need to put that layer of support in for the older person, you need to have a really good care plan set up based on not only the needs of the older person, but a good risk assessment.”
The discussion paper will be presented at the Australian Association of Gerontology conference in Melbourne next week.
Most abuse emotional, financial
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies up to 10 per cent of older Australians experience elder abuse, while research by the National Ageing Research Institute suggests that more than 90 per cent of alleged perpetrators are related to the victim. Neglect is believed to be as high as 20 per cent among older women.
Elder abuse can involve psychological abuse, social abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.
In its discussion paper FMC says elder abuse is often triggered by life changes including loss of a partner, a sudden change in health status, increasing care needs, high carer stress, or adult children who are experiencing financial stress or problems with gambling, drugs or alcohol.
FMC found that the primary issue in 46 per cent of cases handled by the Respecting Elders service was emotional abuse while 44 per cent of issues related to financial abuse.
“Inheritence impatience”, where family members aggressively and prematurely acquire an ageing person’s assets, is another common theme in management programs, FMC says.
“A standard sort of client that we see is an older widowed woman who has maybe moved in with her daughter and has then signed her house to her daughter,” Dickson says.
“And then the relationship sours and mum’s got nowhere to live and no money.”
FMC says the most effective interventions in elder abuse include:
- A multidisciplinary approach
- Case management and advocacy
- Assistance with empowerment and decision making
Attorney-General Chris Porter announced plans for a national strategy to tackle elder abuse earlier this year following recommendations from the ALRC. A plan is yet to be released.
You can access the FMC report here.
You can read more ahead of the conference here.
Community Care Review will be in Melbourne to cover the 51st AAG Conference November 21-23.