Can there be an effective system for responding to elder abuse?

Although there are no definitive prevalence data for either elders or children, abuse and neglect of elders is likely to be much more extensive than child abuse, involving not only physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect, but also financial abuse and exploitation. In Australia, there is no system to respond to elder abuse, no agreed definition, and no system of support for victims of abuse. Further, there is no clear definition either of ‘abuse’ or of ‘elder’ and lack of consensus about these issues. Contrast this to child protection where there are clear definitions of ‘child’ and ‘abuse’ and very sophisticated systems for preventing, reporting, responding to incidents and supporting victims of abuse. However, the child protection system is dysfunctional and often seen as being in crisis, and therefore may not be the best model for elder abuse. Other systems which could be considered include the mental health stepped care system, the NDIS individualised funding and the system for responding to domestic and family violence, each of which has its own challenges. One of the difficulties faced in system reform is that the nature of systems, and the system drivers are difficult to pin down.

Drawing on research on elder abuse and ongoing research on child protection and mental health system reform in Australia and internationally, this presentation will discuss the nature of systems, and will discuss the potential for an effective system for responding to elder abuse which may avoid some of the pitfalls of other systems and may in turn offer a model for system reform in a number of human service domains.

Professor Ilan Katz has many years of policy, practice and research experience in children and family services. His research interests include evaluation of complex interventions, parenting, child protection, youth justice, prevention and family support, children, families and communities, comparative child welfare systems, migration, race and ethnicity.

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