The annual conference for the National Organization of Forensic Social Work: 21st Century Forensic Practice: Moving Beyond Cultural Competence was recently held and featured a session sponsored by the NYC Elder Abuse Center (NYCEAC) and others entitled “Forty Years Later: Why Hasn’t Elder Abuse Also been in the Spotlight?” The fortieth anniversary of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act presents a timely opportunity for us to reflect on how and why the field of elder justice has lagged behind the child abuse and domestic violence fields in terms of response and public recognition.
Bob Blancato, National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, gave a presentation followed by a discussion with local and national elder justice leaders including NYCEAC Steering Committee Member,Vice President of the The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, and Sol Gotham Award recipient, Dr. Pat Brownell and Kathleen Otte, the Regional Administrator for the Administration for Community Living (ACL).
Speakers highlighted the history of the elder abuse field and emphasized the need for increased advocacy in the elder justice movement. Key obstacles that have prevented the movement from receiving the recognition it needs to continue moving forward include:
- The most important reason for the lack of recognition is Ageism. Ageism is at the heart of many cases of elder abuse, but also plays a large role in the lack of a policy and public response to this epidemic.
- The lack of a clear definition of elder abuse has created a roadblock for collecting clear and consistent data about the prevalence and characteristics of elder abuse. In addition, research has not always directly connected to policy.
- Elder abuse became more widely recognized later than child abuse and domestic violence, and the federal response is fragmented across different offices and administrations that provide services to older people.
- Funding for services such as Adult Protection and the Long Term Care Ombudsman has been low and varies across the United States.
- There is a lack of awareness among the general public about elder abuse programming.
Despite many obstacles, the elder justice movement is experiencing progress. Since the Elder Justice Coordinating Council, a provision of the Elder Justice Act, has met; more federal offices are addressing this issue, such as the Social Security Administration, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and the Department of Justice. The Elder Justice Roadmap, co-drafted by NYCEAC’s Director Risa Breckman and funded by the Department of Justice in partnership with the ACL, is an example of this increased interest and coordination. Data collection has received more priority attention, including requested funding for a national Adult Protective Services database, and there has been more state and congressional activity on elder abuse, including increases in states that require mandatory reporting for elder abuse. In 2015, the executive branch will also become more involved through the White House Conference on Aging, as elder abuse has been identified as a priority focus for the conference.
Professionals and advocates are called to take action by contacting local representatives during the August recess to discuss the need for elder justice funding and the renewal of the Elder Justice Act later this year. President Obama requested funding for the Elder Justice Act in this year’s budget, which is the first time that there has been funding requested to support the implementation of the Elder Justice Initiative. To obtain this support, we need better communication to help legislators understand that prevention of elder abuse as an investment, not an expenditure. Responding to and preventing elder abuse will save Medicare and Medicaid dollars in addition to ensuring the dignity of older adults.
Mr. Blancato emphasized that we need to make people feel uncomfortable about elder abuse and the fact that it is happening in our communities and impacting a large portion of our older adults. To do this we need to hear more voices from the field. Mr. Blancato called on the field to relentlessly apply pressure to ensure that the rights and dignity of older adults everywhere are secured.
By Elizabeth Bloemen, MPH, NYCEAC Social Media Associate