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Q&A - Tips and Tools for preventing elder abuse by Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (APEA)

How does ARAS work with people experiencing abuse where there are some concerns regarding a person's decision-making capacity?

Answered by ARAS

If the older person does not have the mental capacity to make decisions, we would speak with their legal guardian.  On the other hand, if there is no formal diagnosis of dementia and no legal guardian, we would visit the person with their permission. If the Advocate at the end of the meeting, has concerns that the older person might not have the capacity to make important decisions, i.e. financial, care or lifestyle decisions, we would seek permission to contact their GP and inform them of the situation by suggesting an assessment by a geriatrician.  If the outcome is that the older person does not have the capacity to make a decision, an application to SACAT should be made.

A resident has a walker with a holder for her oxygen bottle. She was walking on her own outside. A staff member came up to her and told her off for walking outside on her own. The resident felt belittled and ashamed that she had broken the rules. And decided not to join in an activity I was running later that day because of these feelings. She has now decided to limit her activity to only go outside when and only when a Carer can go with her. Is this going against the standards? Is this elder abuse?

Answered by ARAS

If this was the first time the resident walked outside on her own, the staff member should not have spoken to her in a demeaning way instead spoken to the resident of her concerns.  In this scenario, we have to ask was the resident aware of any procedures that she had to follow if she went for a walk outside the facility, i.e. sign out and let staff know?  Was she aware of the consequences of not letting people know when she was leaving the facility and where was she going? Missing persons in an aged care facility is a concern and need to be reported to SAPOL and the Aged Care Quality & Safety Commission under the Aged Care Act. People living in an aged care facility do have choices, so it is important to uphold the residents choice to go for walks outside the care facility in a safe way.  Supporting the resident to do this can be done in consultation with staff and the resident and then followed through with directions and information in the resident's Care Plan in the way this activity can be safely undertaken. 

We should never take away residents right to choose if they have abilities to undertake certain activities. So, communication and consultation is important for both the resident and the staff to ensure residents rights are upheld. A residents Care Plan and their timely reviews are important to upholding residents rights in receiving and undertaking appropriate care and lifestyle activities. The Standards are also designed to uphold residents rights. So, it is an abusive practice if residents rights are not upheld. For further information on residents rights please read the Charter of Aged Care Rights in particular 1, 2,7, 8 and 9.

What do the police do where an older person is experiencing financial and psychological abuse, particularly where someone is being coerced?

Answered by SAPOL

Financial and psychological abuse is an offence. These are acts that result in or are intended to result in unreasonable and non-consensual denial of finances and emotional or psychological harm. The abuse is more likely to be carried out by a relative such as an adult son or daughter, spouse or domestic partner, grandchildren, friend or neighbour, or paid or unpaid carer.

An older person who is experiencing financial and psychological abuse is able to make a report to police by:

  • attending their nearest police station; or
  • if they are unable to get to a police station call 131 444:
    • you will need to advise why you can’t get to the police station (e.g. mobility issues, living with a disability, no one is willing or able to drive you to a police station).

Prior to attending a police station or calling 131 444

In preparation to attend a police station or calling 131 444, if possible:

  • Gather any evidence you may have - for example, bank statements, receipts, bills, personal details of the person responsible for the abuse (including a photo).
  • Write out a timeline (in a diary or sheet of paper) that includes dates and times when the abuse and offences occurred.

Attending a police station

On attending a police station explain to a police officer what is occurring, who is responsible, what their relationship is to you and what you want police to do about the abuse/offences.

Calling 131 444

The 131 444 operator will ask you what you want to report to the police and you may be asked to attend a police station. Explain to the operator why you can’t get to a police station. The 131 444 operator will take details over the phone about the offence/ abuse that is occurring and will task a general duties police patrol to attend your address. The police will ask you questions about what type of abuse/offences is occurring and what you would like to do about it.

What police can do

Police may or may not be able to recover the older persons’ finances taken as a result of the financial abuse, however are able to stop further financial abuse from occurring.

There are several options available to support an older person who is a victim of this type of abuse:

  • Make a report of the abuse/offences only and not take any further action:
    • A statement may not be taken, only brief details outlining the abuse/offences.
    • Police then may make a referral to a supporting government agency, for example, the Adult Safeguarding Unit (Office for Ageing Well) or non-government agency such as Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS).
  • Make a report of the abuse/offences and agree to progress the matters further through the criminal justice system (court):
    • A comprehensive statement is taken detailing the abuse/offences.
    • The abuse/offences are further investigated by police.
    • A Police Interim Intervention Order could be completed.
    • Police from the Child and Family Violence Investigation Section may also become involved (especially if the perpetrator is defined as being in a domestic relationship with you).
    • Police may also make a referral to a supporting government agency, for example, the Adult Safeguarding Unit (Office for Ageing Well) or a non-government agency such as Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS).
    • The perpetrator may be spoken to by police and as a result, be reported or arrested for the abuse/offences.
    • The older person may be required to attend court and provide their evidence.
    • A support person can be arranged to attend court with the older person.