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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

Helpline received more phone calls than emails.

A majority of people who contacted Helpline learned about the service from professionals.

Concerned persons were overwhelmingly female. (Chart represents percentages.)

Adult children of elder abuse victims most frequently contacted Helpline.

Concerned persons in the lives of elder abuse victims provided a variety of services to older adults. Researching resources and providing emotional support topped the list of the services provided.

In addition to providing supportive counseling, Helpline referred a majority of callers to organizations and professionals.

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

2 Responses to Learnings from the “Soft Launch” of the Elder Abuse Helpline for Concerned Persons

  1. Lorelle Walshe Guglielmoni says:

    Thank you for recognizing and addressing the personal distress of non- abusing family members/concerned others. I do know first hand and am pleased others navigating these issues have a supportive outlet.
    Guiding/ explaining potential reporters of maltreatment as to the gaps and legal limitations of APS is very important: namely self-determination and “unbright” lines of legal competency/capacity standards. I would also urge family reporters to seek additional collaborative reporter(s) of the abuse in tandem, to avoid the APS loophole of…. if there are family members willing and able….
    The other caveat is teasing out self- neglect vs. active, documented caregiver neglect, especially when the neglecting party is the designated agent in force.
    Also if law enforcment involvement is anticipated technology can offer unrefuttable evidence for a criminal charge instead of the civil course of guardianship. Non- abusing family members need to be counseled on the do no harm dangers of invoking APS prior to the formal filing of a contested guardianship proceeding.
    Another option is to hire an independent geriatric nursing service to document the elder’s Home condition, physical and mental status and specific maltreatment to support an APS referral and or guardianship. This nurse can later be subpoenaed in a civil or criminal case….
    If one is concerned about the financial exploitation of their loved ones; By all means informally alert banking managers and investment brokers to scrutinize unusual activity.
    It’s their money and even if a Power of Attorney is in force the funds are for their best interest as per the general obligations law. Inpersonal banking makes this difficult but put the financial institutions on guard.
    An online support group forum with a moniter would strike both edges of this epidemc:
    Allowing those so painfully impacted to heal by supporting others in crisis.
    We can and will do much better!
    Again thank you Risa!

    • NYCEAC says:

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. We recognize the personal strength it takes to live through a traumatic experience involving elder abuse and deeply admire your willingness to share what you have learned to assist other concerned persons of mistreated elders to cope with their situation more effectively. Finally, we applaud your recognition of the policy work that needs to happen to create services and systems capable of fully supporting vulnerable elders.

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