Raising Awareness of Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) 2021 is coming up on Tuesday, June 15. This annual event was launched in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization within the United Nations.
The purpose of WEAAD is “to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older people by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.” The United Nations recognized that elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation was a significant public health and human rights problem in its International Plan of Action and established June 15 as a day “when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations.”
At the start of 2019, with initial funding through the King County Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL) and later additional funding via a federal grant through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office launched a joint venture with Aging and Disability Services and Adult Protective Services to establish the King County Elder Abuse Multidisciplinary Team (MDT). The MDT strengthens ties between the many agencies that respond to reports of elder abuse by bringing together professionals across disciplines and working collaboratively to improve the systemic response to cases of elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation in King County.
The MDT comprises King County prosecutors, Aging and Disability Services supervisors and case managers, Adult Protective Services administrators and investigators, a King County Sheriff’s Office deputy, a Developmental Disabilities Administration manager, geriatric medicine professionals, a full-time financial analyst, and a full-time program coordinator. The MDT invites other professionals to participate in specific cases, ranging from law enforcement officers to capacity evaluators, and financial managers to emergency services personnel.
Cases of elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation can be incredibly complex and difficult to investigate. Issues include complicated relationships between family members and challenging questions about cognitive decline and decisional capacity. Additionally, agencies that respond to elder abuse cases must determine where the fine line is between protecting the victim from current and future perpetrators and restoring the victim’s independence and dignity.
Our goal is to support victims in living their lives with as much self-determination as possible. This is why the MDT was formed—to provide a venue for the various professionals and organizations responding to these cases to maximize collaboration and efficiency and determine the best path forward in these incredibly difficult cases.
Since its inception, the MDT has staffed and followed over 38 cases referred from more than 10 agencies as well as concerned friends, family members, neighbors, civil attorneys, and financial advisers. Additionally, the MDT has followed or provided case consultations and resources for 22 cases, informally networked to assist in dozens of other cases, and assisted 15 different law enforcement agencies operating in King County.
Following is a recent case that was resolved by the team:
Amelia (not her true name) was 71 and living in fear in her own home. Her ex-partner, Ray, was her live-in roommate. He had mentally, verbally, and emotionally abused her for years. But in talking to a social worker, Amelia expressed concern that Ray’s outbursts had increased in frequency and intensity over the last several weeks and included clear threats to her home and property if she were to try to get rid of him or even lock her own bedroom door to keep him out.
Amelia had become so fearful of Ray that she felt she had to stay silent during his tirades or things would only get worse. She was also fearful of calling the police, as she had done so in the past and suffered retribution.
Amelia’s Aging and Disability Services (ADS) elder abuse case manager brought the case to the King County Elder Abuse MDT, voicing multiple concerns:
- Was Amelia currently safe, and if so, for how long? Ray was determined to have a gun in the house, though he had never threatened her with it.
- Ray had threatened, if forced out, to return and destroy Amelia’s home. If protections for Amelia were put into place, would they be adequate to keep her safe?
- Was Amelia so dependent on Ray for help that she would be unable to manage on her own?
- Amelia had signed a Power of Attorney giving Ray the ability to handle her finances on her behalf. She had also given Ray her debit card. So far, she had declined offers of help from her ADS Case Manager to set up caregiving services in her home.
- Amelia had expressed concerns about her ability to think clearly and remember things. Were these struggles due to cognitive impairment or were these difficulties due to the stress of her circumstances?
The MDT worked with ADS and Adult Protective Services (APS) to come up with a plan to address Amelia’s situation in a safe manner. The MDT discussed coordinating any actions taken with law enforcement, APS, and ADS so that Amelia could be kept safe and supported in her location after Ray was removed from her home. The MDT then worked to regularly follow up on the case to ensure that all parts of the plan were implemented.
Through a special grant made available to ADS, the ADS case manager arranged for Amelia to receive a cognitive evaluation in her home to determine her cognitive status. With the help of MDT members, a protection order was obtained on her behalf.
The cognitive evaluation helped MDT members understand what decisions Amelia could make, and results indicated that for her safety and well-being a guardianship would be recommended. APS assisted with this process and Amelia was eventually assigned a guardian.
The ADS Case Manager and APS helped to ensure that she received caregiver services in her home after Ray was removed. After being appointed by the court, her guardian was able to provide ongoing oversight of these services as well as Amelia’s necessary medical care and financial well-being.
The MDT is currently engaged in a broad outreach campaign to raise awareness of its capabilities and of elder abuse in general among financial institutions, healthcare providers small and large, and the many social services and case management providers and organizations striving every day to better the lives of older adults in our communities.
As we approach World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we thank all the incredibly hardworking case managers, investigators, law enforcement officers, family members, and individuals who work every day to lessen, mitigate, and help raise awareness of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
If you have questions about the King County Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse MDT or would like to refer a case to the MDT, e-mail ElderAbuseMDT@KingCounty.gov or call 206-263-3022.
If you believe that you or someone you know is a victim of elder or vulnerable adult abuse, please contact DSHS at 1-866-END-HARM (1-866-363-4276) or visit www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/reportadultabuse. If you believe a crime has occurred or somebody is in immediate danger, call 911.
Contributor Scott Rosenwood coordinates the Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Multidisciplinary Team in the Office of the King County Prosecuting Attorney.
For ideas how you or your organization can build elder abuse awareness and support prevention, visit the USC Center for Elder Justice’s WEAAD website.