In September 2017, the New York City Elder Abuse Center (NYCEAC) “soft launched” a pilot program designed to meet the complex and often unrecognized needs of the non-abusing family members, friends and neighbors in the lives of elder mistreatment victims. Called the Helpline for Concerned Persons, this service represents the first-known dedicated service addressing the emotional stress and informational needs of these caring individuals. The Elder Abuse Helpline is a non-emergency phone and email-based service for concerned persons which provides supportive counseling, information and timely referrals.
The idea for Helpline was inspired by national research that NYCEAC and partners conducted in 2016 which uncovered that concerned persons experience significant distress warranting attention. In 2017, with generous funding from The Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation and The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, NYCEAC hired a Helpline Service Specialist to form an Advisory Board, answer phone calls and emails from concerned persons and to conduct limited community outreach to inform professionals and the public about the availability and purpose of the service. (We conducted limited outreach because with only one person covering the phone and doing outreach, we did not want to generate more calls than we could handle. At the time we did not know how long each call would take, how many follow-up calls each caller would need, or how much time it would take to identify the resources callers were seeking.) We also developed a brochure and a webpage describing the Elder Abuse Helpline’s services – Click here.
The Advisory Board is comprised of a geriatric psychiatrist, a geriatrician, two social workers and two concerned persons who are both elder justice advocates: Philip Marshall, who courageously and lovingly sought safety and justice for his grandmother, Brooke Astor, and Nancy Oatts, who compassionately sought safety for her neighbor. Nancy Oatts, a graphic designer, developed our logo.
NYCEAC collected data during the “soft launch” phase to understand the demographics of concerned persons, the ways in which these individuals support elderly victims of abuse, and to better understand – and address – the distress they encounter in their role as helpers. Here are some of the key learnings:
- The Elder Abuse Helpline for Concerned Persons fills a unique and previously unmet need for the friends, family and neighbors of elder abuse victims. We learned that individuals appreciated having a person to speak with about their concerns and worries who would listen empathetically to them. One caller said, “I appreciated that the Helpline Specialist just let me talk,” which illustrates the importance of callers having someone to listen to their concerns. Others expressed gratitude towards the Helpline Service Specialist for validating feelings. The Helpline Service Specialist also assisted other ways, for example: empowered concerned persons by helping them identify options for action and examine the ramifications of each one so that the concerned person could make an informed decision about potential next steps; helped concerned persons direct their advocacy efforts more effectively, (e.g., by explaining the elements of an Adult Protective Services [APS] report so that the caller would have necessary information prepared when placing a call to APS); and helped concerned persons manage their expectations by providing information about the APS process and time table for response, or by explaining the ways in which different agencies can and cannot address elder abuse.
- Concern for NYC-based victims of elder mistreatment knows no geographic boundaries. Family members, friends and neighbors of older adults living in NYC reached out from across the country and internationally to discuss their concerns. People seeking support from the Elder Abuse Helpline called from 11 states (including New York State and Puerto Rico) and as far away as the country of Barbados.
- Adult female children of victims of elder mistreatment were the most frequent utilizers of the Elder Abuse Helpline services. Adult offspring of elderly victims constituted the majority of callers to Helpline; daughters made the most calls, by far.
- Concerned persons provided a range of concrete and emotional supports to the older adult about whom they expressed concern. These services included researching resources, emotional support, assistance helping the elder to meet basic needs such as food and shelter, physical care and financial assistance.
- Concerned persons who called the Elder Abuse Helpline, as well as the professionals who referred individuals to it, correctly understood the intended audience and scope of services. We hoped to learn whether consumers of the Elder Abuse Helpline would be able to distinguish the difference between being a “helpline” for concerned persons versus a “HOTline” for victims. In fact, our results show that we are successfully reaching the target audience of the service: only about three percent of unique contacts (calls or emails) came from victims of elder abuse. (Note: When speaking to elder abuse victims, the Helpline Service Specialist provided information and referrals to agencies more suited to address the immediate needs of the victimized elder.)
The Elder Abuse Helpline’s “soft launch” at-a-glance:
What services and supports do YOU think are important for family members, friends and neighbors of victimized older adults? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment box below.
– By Leslie Mantrone, LMSW, NYCEAC’s Helpline Service Specialist, and Risa Breckman, LCSW, NYCEAC’s Executive Director