Financial abuse: culture does matter!

A new Monash University study has confirmed that older non-English speaking Australians are at risk of being financially abused.

By Yasmin Noone

A new study has confirmed that older non-English speaking Australians are not only at risk of being financially abused by their family members but many deny that it will ever happen to them.

The research conducted by Monash University and commissioned by State Trustees (Victoria), also revealed that when it comes to older people and financial abuse, culture plays a signficant role.

Adjunct Associate Processor at Monash’s Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Jo Wainer, said a risk develops when the older person depends on their family for translation, transactions and services relating to the management of their finances.

“What we found was that culture matters,” Ms Wainer said.

“There are deeply held values and practices about intergenerational money transfers, which also varied from cultural group to cultural group.

“These values and practices are protective but they also put the older person at some risk. It is protective as some families do help their older parents manage their money. It’s not a big deal as they have been doing it over the years while were competent.

“The risk comes for [these] families, who have always managed the money, when things what’s yours and mine get mingled and when parents are not able to check the finances for themselves.

“Then, if the children get into trouble…it’s very easy for them to say, ‘I’ll take a bit of mum’s money because she won’t notice the difference’. Because it’s an established practice, they just do it.

“Worse still is when the older person is not managing well, the child will say, ‘Come and live with me. I’ll sell house, you put money into my house and we’ll look after you’.

“When that works, it’s the best possible outcome but when it doesn’t, the older person is left with nothing.”

The research is drawn from the university’s fourth report from the Protecting Elders Assets Study (PEAS) on financial elder abuse.

Data was drawn from 76 survey respondents aged 65 to 100 who were surveyed on their current and planned financial management strategies. Sixty two respondents were from non-English speaking backgrounds, including Greek, Italian and Vietnamese cultures.

As was observed in previous studies with older English-speaking Victorians, participants in this non-English speaking study were aware of instances of financial elder abuse but they believed it would be unlikely to happen to them.

“In Australia, there are approximately 22 million people, speaking almost 400 languages, identifying with more than 270 ancestries and observing a wide variety of cultural and religious traditions,” Ms Wainer said.

“As a society it is our responsibility to provide culturally and ethnically sensitive financial products and services which protect the rights of all older Australians, regardless of background.”

Former director of the Elder Abuse Prevention Association and expert on the topic, Lillian Jeter, agreed with the findings. 

She also explained the emotional implications associated with elder abuse that is perpetrated by family members: “The hand that’s feeding you is the hand that is abusing you”.

But, Ms Jeter said, the risk of financial abuse is not limited to just older non-English speaking adults – the risk applies to all older Australians.

Community care staff therefore play a vital role in the prevention of elder abuse. “They need to be vigilant and if they see anything from the [alleged] abuser or from the older person they need to report it back to their supervisor.

“It could be the use of harsh words, neglect or there is no food in the person’s fridge.

“[Community care] agencies need to have firm policies in place and should always document document document.”

To view the report, click here

Tags: aged-care, community-care, elder-abuse, elder-abuse-prevention-association, financial-abuse, monash-university,

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