Each morning, it’s enough to break one’s heart many times over. I read the news stories delivered to my email in-box from the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA). They are reports from around the nation of elder financial, physical, and even sexual abuse and they’re unremitting.
I became a listserv subscriber through my unhappy Nevada guardianship licensing legislative work in 2007, an effort ultimately derailed because of opposition from the state’s private professional guardians. The NCEA does invaluable work. And they do more than report. They take action.
The NCEA listserv is private, intended to provide “a forum for professionals working in the area of elder mistreatment to share and solicit information to improve prevention and response efforts for elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.”
To some, these daily, seemingly endless reports on elder abuse from around the country might appear numbing. But they’re are not. Quite the opposite. The reports aggrieve. They affront. They galvanize.
One of a handful of groups, the National Association to STOP Guardian Abuse, for one, deems the abuse problem an epidemic. Reading the news items, it’s hard not to agree with such an assessment, especially when its scope is so far-ranging, encompassing not only guardians but caregivers, family-members, even lawyers.
From the high profile case of the now convicted Anthony Marshall, son of the late Brooke Astor, Anthony Marshall Gets Prison for Stealing From Brooke Astor .., and his lawyer, Francis X. Morrissey, also sentenced to state prison for defrauding and stealing from Astor, to those more immediate stores from literally around the corner or within one’s family circle.
It’s no wonder then, that the people working in the field seem almost overwhelmed. They’re moved to action by first-hand encounters with a system that too often fails to adequately monitor, regulate, and discipline. Instead, that system works as an enabler in not infrequently empowering others to skirt the ethical edges and to eventually cross over those boundaries to the realm of unlawful conduct.
An old woman’s story.
I was 12 or 13 when I encountered first hand the financial abuse of the elderly. My parents did volunteer church work on Sunday mornings. On one of their Sunday rounds, they met an elderly widow in a local nursing home. They soon befriended her. And soon thereafter, she was a regular and welcome guest at our table for Sunday supper. I never forgot her story. It stayed with me, even though years later I sadly learned it wasn’t unique nor uncommon.
The woman’s granddaughter and grandson-in-law moved into her home ostensibly to help take care of her. Before long, the granddaughter had inveigled, pressed, and convinced her grandmother into deeding over her home to her and her grandson-in-law – – – all to supposedly secure the elderly woman’s long term care in her home. The predictable and oft-repeated occurred next. The granddaughter forced grandmother out of her own home. And grandmother ended up in the nursing home where my parents first met her.
Guarding the guard wall.
When high waters crest and threaten to spill over, a guard wall is supposed to protect us from flooding. So who guards the guard wall to secure its integrity?
Until reforms become more widespread and budgets, training, focus and enforcement become efficaciously commonplace, it’s going to be up to the cadre of family, friends, volunteers, and ethical professionals. They’re the ones who will advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable and especially, to guard the guardians to prevent the wall from washing out when flood waters overtop it.
Special Advocates for Elders (SAFE).
One tangibly effective way for a community to get involved is through programs like the Special Advocates for Elders or SAFE. SAFE is modeled on the successful Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program for children, which advocates for the timely placement of abused and neglected children in safe, permanent homes and for the highest quality of their care while they are under the court’s jurisdiction. See Home – National CASA
The number of SAFE programs around the country remain few. I knew of the SAFE program in Washoe County, Nevada because of their aggressive oversight of the guardians, public, private and professional. Indeed, my first impression of their worth came when I noted the ill-disguised disdain for SAFE from some of the private professional guardians.
Like CASA, SAFE relies on volunteers to assist judges by gathering and evaluating information about elders who are under or are facing guardianships and to provide essential companionship that improves their quality of life. The volunteers become eyes and ears of the courts. They give voice and friendship to an at-risk elder while protecting their rights, dignity, autonomy, safety, and well-being.
This past week, I was delighted to learn that a new SAFE group has been formed in Douglas County, Nevada. This is surely a sign of a community’s awakened awareness.
My hope is that programs like SAFE will increasingly become important advocacy and oversight tools. They can stand as bulwarks guarding the guardians and protecting the wards from over-topping flood waters. See Volunteers step up to aid elderly in court | RecordCourier.com