First-of-its-kind resource aids legal practitioners in identifying elder abuse

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

As national conversations around the treatment of the elderly continue, academics from the University of Newcastle are supporting legal practitioners to act as another line of defence to better identify and combat elder abuse.

In collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney and the NSW Government, Professor John Anderson and Mr Shaun McCarthy from the Newcastle Law School have developed a first-of-its-kind toolkit for those on the front line.

Working with focus groups comprising medical practitioners, ACAT (aged care assessment) professionals and others who regularly engage with the elderly, the team found legal practitioners were not well supported in identifying signs of elder abuse.

“We knew that nothing was specifically available for legal professionals, and yet it’s these professionals who are regularly coming into contact with the elderly,” Professor Anderson explained.

“Lawyers are involved in developing or changing wills, designating power of attorney and other financial decisions that carry huge weight for someone considering the next stage of their life.

“This can be a particularly tricky area, especially when conversations can be short and if the elderly client’s family are involved in, or even controlling, those conversations.

“Elder abuse often happens behind closed doors hidden away from society. However as our population ages, our community is more comfortable engaging with a range of providers who need to be aware of, and feel confident identifying, the warning signs.”

The new toolkit includes background information on elder abuse, guidance on how to approach conversations with those at risk, checklists, screening questions and online resources to identify pathways for referral.

“Essentially, it's necessary for the legal practitioners having these conversations to take on a role more akin to social work in combination with their legal expertise, but there hasn't really been useful guidance to support them to do that,” Professor Anderson said.

“Our focus groups were able to help inform current process and identify the gaps that needed to be filled. We were also able to pilot the toolkit with our contacts to ensure consistency and best practice.

“We sincerely hope this resource becomes a widely used tool for those on the front line to feel confident and supported in identifying elder abuse, especially as the interest in Elder Law increases in prominence and the national enquiries into elder abuse continue.”

The Identifying and Acting on Elder Abuse toolkit will be officially launched at the National Symposium on Health, Justice and Ageing at UTS this Thursday, 21 March.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.