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March 14, 2012

Protecting the Vulnerable ( AUSTRALIA)

By Linda Starr
12 March, 2012

Ahead of her upcoming appearance at a public forum on the issue, Professor Linda Starr writes for INsite today on elder abuse and what professionals can do to stop it
The United Nations has estimated that the number of people over 60 years of age across the globe will reach 1.2 billion in 2025. In Australia we currently have approximately 2.8 million people over 65 years of age and it is estimated that by 2056, one in four will have reached that age.
We know that older people can face a number of health risks including chronic illness, physical and mental fragility and, vulnerability to abuse. As such it is essential that the global society puts considerable effort into the care and protection of older people to provide for their future health and safety needs and for their protection from abuse.
Elder abuse
Elder abuse includes a wide range of behaviours and is commonly defined as: “A single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
Elder abuse presents in various different forms and can be broadly defined as either neglect, physical, financial, psychological or sexual abuse. Whatever form it takes it is a breach of the older person’s civil and human rights and may also be a crime.
Accurately estimating the incidence of elder abuse is difficult for a number of reasons including ineffective reporting systems and wide variations in the definition of abuse and the global legal response to this form of interpersonal violence. However, it is estimated that in Australia the incidence of elder abuse is approximately 4.6 per cent of the elder population, a percentage that falls within the range of global figures where it is estimated that between 1 and 35 per cent of people over 65 years of age will be or have been a victim of abuse.
Developing a legal framework
There has been a mixed global response regarding the adoption of mandatory reporting laws for elder abuse. Overall, the US and some provinces in Canada have taken the lead in this important law reform. In Australia the approach had been to leave each state and territory to provide legislative protection to older citizens through their existing criminal justice frameworks. However, these proved to be drafted to narrowly to address the unique issues involved in elder abuse, leading to patchy law reform that criminalised abusive behaviour toward the older person but fell short of mandatory reporting and arguably achieved little toward improving the safety of vulnerable adults.
National law reform
A highly publicised case of alleged elder abuse alleged in a Victorian nursing home led to a national response when the Commonwealth government adopted a new attitude toward the protection of older Australians, introducing a framework of law reform including amendments to the Aged Care Act that made reporting of sexual and serious physical assault in approved residential aged care facilities compulsory as of July 1, 2007. There is no doubt that this is a step forward toward building the nation’s capacity to respond effectively to some forms of elder abuse in some environments. Has this been effective?
In the first year of mandatory reporting there were 925 reports made under the amendments to the Aged Care Act. Two hundred of these reports were for sexual assault and 725 were for excessive physical force, although it is understood that only six charges have been laid by police and even fewer have made it to the criminal courts. Each year the number of reports has increased.
In my PhD research I aim to explore the experiences of registered and enrolled nurses and carers in identifying and reporting abuse in order to identify what factors hindered and what helped them in this process. I will also be exploring the experiences of the investigating officers and police who receive and investigate these reports in order to determine how these contribute to their capacity in establishing a case of abuse. The emphasis of this study is to improve the reporting of elder abuse rather than identifying any agencies or facilities where abuse occurs.
Linda Starr is an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing at Flinders University, South Australia. Along with senior lecturer at Flinders University Dr Lana Zannettino, Starr will appear at a public forum on elder abuse, being hosted by the Flinders University School of Nursing and Midwifery on April 11

 SOURCE:      The Aged Care INsite
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