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 Protecting the Rights of Older Australians

What is elder abuse?

The Australian Government is committed to preventing and responding to elder abuse. 

Abuse of older people is a complex issue which is often caused by someone who is trusted by the older person, such as a family member, friend, professional, or paid caregiver. Abuse can occur in a number of settings, including the older person's home. Sometimes, both the victim and perpetrator do not recognise that what is occurring is abuse. Abuse affects both men and women, and people from all walks of life.

At present in Australia, rather than one commonly recognised definition, there are a range of definitions and frameworks to describe the abuse of older people. Two commonly used definitions include:

Any act occurring within a relationship where there is an implication of trust, which results in harm to an older person. Abuse may be physical, sexual, financial, psychological, social and/or neglect (Australian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, 1999).

Elder abuse is 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. It can be of various forms: physical, psychological/ emotional, sexual, financial or simply reflect intentional or unintentional neglect … Elder abuse is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of injury, illness, lost productivity, isolation and despair (World Health Organisation, Toronto Declaration on the Global Prevention of Elder Abuse 2002).

Elder abuse in Australia

Around 15 per cent of the Australian population is aged over 65 – approximately 3.7 million people. Australia has an ageing population and this number is predicted to rise to 23 per cent of the population by 2055.

While there is no established level of prevalence of elder abuse in Australia, studies in the United Kingdom and Canada have found that between 2 per cent to 8 per cent of people aged over 65 experience at least one form of abuse in any one year.

Evidence also suggests that most abuse of older people is intra-familial and intergenerational, making it challenging and complex to address.

The response to elder abuse

As part of the Australian Government's 2016 election commitment, $15 million was provided to implement Our Plan to Protect the Rights of Older Australians.

The funding is:

  • supporting implementation of the National Plan on Elder Abuse
  • supporting the development of an Elder Abuse Knowledge Hub
  • strengthening our understanding of the nature and prevalence of elder abuse in Australia, through targeted research activities.

As part of the 2018-19 More Choices for a Longer Life package, the government provided an additional $22 million in funding across four years to tackle elder abuse. The funding will increase specialist front-line services to support older people and their families seeking help. It includes support for specialist elder abuse units, family counselling and mediation services, and advancing health-justice partnerships. It will also support the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission's Age Discrimination Commissioner in tackling ageism.

It is a further priority for the government to work with states and territories to reform enduring powers of attorney arrangements. This initiative is currently the subject of discussion with states and territories.

National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians

On 19 March 2019, the Attorney-General launched the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians (Elder Abuse) 2019-2023.

Developed in collaboration with state and territory governments, the National Plan provides an overview of the issues that all governments need to act on as a priority, as well as early agreed actions to address them.

It sets out a framework for ongoing cooperation, action and monitoring against five key priority areas:
  1. Enhancing our understanding
  2. Improving community awareness and access to information
  3. Strengthening service responses
  4. Planning for future decision-making
  5. Strengthening safeguards for vulnerable older adults

These priority areas will result in:

  • access to better information about elder abuse, to enable governments to target effective responses
  • better co-ordination across jurisdictions, as many families live across multiple states or territories and may struggle to navigate systems and rules operating in different locations
  • an improvement in people's access to information about elder abuse, including driving greater service responses, such as the Australian Government's recent investment in front-line support services
  • greater attention on the benefits of planning ahead and making it easier and safer for older people to utilise future-planning tools such as powers of attorney.

The plan complements, but does not replace, Commonwealth and state and territory policies about ageing and elder abuse.

The plan's release meets a key recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission's 2017 report, Elder Abuse: A national legal response.

Companion documents to the National Plan

The National Plan is supported by three companion documents:

National Plan Monitoring

An Implementation Executive Group (IEG), comprising senior-level committee of representatives from the Australian, state and territory governments will monitor and oversee the the implementation of the National Plan and Implementation Plan. The Implementation Plan will be reviewed periodically throughout the life of the National Plan (2019-2023).

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National Research Program

The government is focused on strengthening the evidence base on the nature and prevalence of elder abuse in Australia.

In 2019, Australia's first national study into the prevalence of elder abuse in our society will be conducted. The study comprises two main elements:

  • An older persons survey – this will collect data on personal experiences of elder abuse to enable comparison to the prevalence of elder abuse in other countries, such Canada and the UK.
  • A general community survey – this will explore attitudes and behaviours that may enable or permit elder abuse, and collect information about family-identified concerns of elder abuse.

We anticipate findings from the study will be available in mid-2020.

On 12 March 2019 two complementary research reports, which were developed with financial assistance from the department, were released:

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Elder Abuse Service Trials

The Australian Government has committed $18.3m over four years to support the delivery of front-line services to older people experiencing elder abuse. Funding will be allocated through grants covering the 2018-19 to 2021-22 period.

The Elder Abuse Service Trials comprise the following components.

Specialist elder abuse units

The units comprise lawyers, social workers and other specialist and support staff, who will work side by side with clients to develop a case plan and respond to the individual's needs.

Health-justice partnerships

Older people in the health care system who are identified by health care workers and social workers as being at risk or potentially subjected to elder abuse, can access specialised legal support services. These work in partnership with the health system and related referral agencies, such as community aged care services. Early evidence suggests this model reaches very vulnerable people who are not otherwise identified, such as those experiencing neglect and/or isolation.

Case management and mediation services

Case management and mediation services work with the older person and their family, to find solutions to the underlying problems driving abuse. Elder abuse can have its roots in complex family relationships, where there is conflict between adult children, family breakdown, family violence and mental health problems. This model recognises that older people may seek to first address issues within their family before seeking external assistance.

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Eligibility for services

Generally, these services will assist people aged 65 and over, or 50 and over for Indigenous Australians.

To access support from a service trial, you may be referred from another service or you can contact them directly to determine eligibility for assistance.

Each service trial will focus primarily on the older person, but depending on the support required, other family members may use the services (particularly family-based mediation services).

Services will be available in circumstances of elder abuse, but it is possible abuse may be co-occurring with other issues (eg gambling addiction, substance abuse or lack of alternate accommodation), and referrals to other support providers may be required.

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Grant recipients

The following services have received grants under the program.

Grantee

Trial type

Jurisdiction

Eastern Community Legal Centre Inc

Specialist elder abuse unit

Vic metro

Uniting Communities Inc

Specialist elder abuse unit

SA metro

Legal Aid Commission of Tas

Specialist elder abuse unit

Tas regional

Kimberley Community Legal Services Inc

Specialist elder abuse unit

WA regional

Legal Aid Commission of NSW

Specialist elder abuse unit

NSW inner regional

Justice Connect NSW

Health-justice partnership

NSW metro

Eastern Community Legal Centre Inc

Health-justice partnership

Vic metro

Caxton Legal Centre Inc

Health-justice partnership

Qld metro

Relationships Australia (Qld)

Case management and mediation

Qld metro

Relationships Australia (NT)

Case management and mediation

NT metro and regional

Relationships Australia Canberra and Region Inc

Case management and mediation

ACT metro/
NSW regional

Relationships Australia (WA)

Case management and mediation

WA regional

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Elder abuse phone line

1800 ELDERHelp (1800 353 374) is a free call phone number that automatically redirects callers seeking information and advice on elder abuse with the existing phone line service in their jurisdiction. The phone line has been established in collaboration with state and territory governments.

Elder abuse phone lines are not crisis support services, and operating hours and services vary across jurisdictions.

If you require immediate assistance in an emergency or life threatening situation, contact Triple Zero (000).

For assistance with other aged care issues, visit My Aged Care or call 1800 200 422.

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