Supporting Diverse Seniors Rights

Elder abuse comes in many forms and can affect people from all walks of life. Research from Australia and overseas shows that up to 14% of older people may be experiencing elder abuse, but the real number could be much higher as it often goes underreported. To help prevent elder abuse, Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, legal advice, support, advocacy, policy law reform and community education.

We recently spoke to Andelka Obradovic, a lawyer and Lyn Dundon, an advocate from Seniors Rights Victoria to discuss how their service supports older people who experience elder abuse from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

As a program of the Council on the Ageing, Seniors Rights Victoria provides information, support, advice, policy reform and education to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people. They are a free legal service which includes a Helpline, specialist legal services, short-term support and advocacy for individuals, as well as community and professional education.

If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, please call the Seniors Rights Victoria Helpline on 1300 368 821.

Andelka, Seniors Rights Victoria aims to prevent elder abuse and empower the elderly. What problems can older Australians face?

Elder abuse comes in many forms. In many cases, the person responsible is a family member, friend, professional or paid caregiver.

There are a range of problems that are usually referred to us. The most common problems include:

  1. Family violence

This can be form of control can be social, emotional, psychological or physical. In diverse communities, family violence is further amplified by various barriers, including language, discrimination, past trauma, lack of community support, fear of authorities and lack of understanding of systems that can provide protection.

  1. Financial abuse

Financial abuse is often perpetrated by people who the older person has entrusted to assist them with their finances. It could be someone they have appointed as their Power of Attorney or someone they have asked to simply help them with their shopping and bills. However, people can then help themselves to the older person’s property and money.

Other forms of financial abuse often happen when family members have requested a loan from the older person and not repaid it. They often claim it was a gift or take out loans in the older person’s name or with the older person as guarantor. If they fail to repay the loan, the financial institution seeks to recover the money from the older person.

  1. Property transfers

Property transfers usually happen when an adult child influences their parent to transfer their home into the name of the adult child as a gift. There are significant financial risks to the older person by gifting their home to the adult child while still alive, including potential homelessness.

  1. Free Rent

We often see cases where family or friends move in with an older person on a temporary basis but then refuse to leave or to contribute financially.

  1. Assets for care

Whereby an older person is encouraged to sell their home and move-in with an adult child into their home or into a granny flat and give the proceeds of the sale of their home to the child in exchange for the child providing them with care, but then refusing to provide the care they promised or to repay the older person.

  1. Disregarding wishes

Appointed guardians and administrators making decisions contrary to the will and preferences of the older person, while the person still has capacity to make decisions and after they lose capacity and making unilateral decisions without consulting the older person.

  1. Grandparenting

We also often see families withholding access to grandchildren for various reasons, which can understandably be very upsetting for the Grandparents, and at times manipulative.

  1. Overseas family

Adult children bringing their elderly parents over from overseas on the promise that they would provide for them if they gave them their money or looked after their children while they work and then not following through on the promise, but the parents are dependent on the adult child as sponsors for their visa.

Lyn, between 2012 to 2019, over 47% of Seniors Rights Victoria’s clients were born overseas. How does Seniors Rights Victoria support elders from multicultural communities?

Elder abuse can occur in any community, and the abuser or perpetrator can be from any walk of life. Seniors Rights Victoria acknowledges that older people are who are born overseas, may speak many different languages and come from a wide variety of backgrounds across Victoria. This can put them at further risk, as they face specific barriers to getting help.

Since 2012, Seniors Rights Victoria has worked closely and in partnership with Ethnic Communities Council in Victoria (ECCV) to train bilingual workers about elder abuse. They have in-turn worked in their local communities to discuss this issue too.

ECCV recently developed culturally appropriate community education resources with translations by Polaron Language Services. These resources includes 16 community education kits, in-language brochures and the ‘Within my Walls’ video series, available in 14 languages.

Seniors Rights Victoria also features fact sheets about elder abuse in several languages which you can find on their website here. They also have future planning videos, which Polaron translated and recorded the voiceover into Arabic, Hindi and Vietnamese.

Lyn, almost 14% of Seniors Rights Victoria clients require an interpreter. How does your helpline help them?

As around 300 languages are spoken in Australia, older people in Victoria may not be able to or want to speak in English, especially when discussing such serious topics. To help multicultural elders, the Seniors Rights Victoria Helpline staff regularly ring older people and family members with an interpreter through the National Telephone Interpreter Service, and elders can contact us directly via this service on 131 450. We also book interpreters for a free and confidential legal advice appointment between lawyers and advocates.

During COVID-19, we have had to make changes and our appointments have predominately been via telephone. If the older person has a support person who can assist them, we also offer to have an appointment online via zoom or teams, so people can still speak face-to-face during restrictions.

Finally, Andelka the pandemic has particularly affected vulnerable Victorians, further isolating elderly people from diverse backgrounds. What changes have you seen during the past two years and how is Seniors Rights Victoria supporting the elderly during COVID-19?

Seniors Rights Victoria wants to acknowledge that these two years have been incredibly difficult and stressful for older people particularly those experiencing family violence and elder abuse.  During the COVID-19 lockdowns, we know that older people struggle to find a safe place to connect with supports and may be restricted to who visits them, especially if they are living in aged care homes.

Many older people also have family members who may have lost their jobs and are coming back to live with them in their home. Older people may have stopped volunteering, going out with their social groups or visiting their family and friends, as they did freely prior to COVID-19.

As we have not been able to see clients in-person, we have employed other methods of connecting with our clients. For example, for clients who may be receiving services or are in a facility, with the client’s consent, we explore options for how and when it would be suitable to communicate with them or we make a time to connect with the client when they are out away from the perpetrator, such as in their car or when a support worker takes them shopping.

We have represented clients using telephone and video link in Tribunals and Courts right across Victoria, which we arrange directly with the Court on behalf of the client.

Please call Seniors Rights Victoria’s Helpline if you or an older person you know is experiencing elder abuse Helpline: 1300 368 821. Please remember that we are not a reporting agency for elder abuse.

If there is an emergency you should ring the police 000 and if you would like a welfare check, because you think an older person is experiencing issues of neglect and harm talk to the senior officer or family violence unit at your local police station.

Seniors Rights Victoria is a state-wide free community legal service specialising in elder abuse and we are a program of the Council of the Ageing (COTA) Victoria.

Watch the full Ticker Talks episode about seniors’ rights here.