Advocates for the elderly in New York are asking for an increased focus on elderly abuse.
Jeanne Zieff is a social worker and elder abuse program coordinator for a nonprofit agency, the Community Agency for Senior Citizens, based on Staten Island. She and her coworkers are seeing their elderly clients struggle with relatives who have been demanding their FEMA checks or moving into their homes, and are facing everything from verbal mistreatment to physical neglect.
Various groups and agencies across the U.S. are working to support the elderly and raise awareness of elder abuse, but the like Zieff’s office on Staten Island, they have funding issues and face a crushing workload. Zieff’s office has faced recent cuts, and must lobby every year to stay open. The office is one of five which shares a yearly fund of $800,000 – – a minuscule amount for the territory they cover and the caseloads they juggle.
Most Senior Citizens agencies work in similar straits – a small staff, an underfunded program, and daunting cases which need expert training and a delicate touch. Elder care social workers must conduct intensive case work, accompany clients to court hearings and bank errands, fill the role of therapist in counseling sessions, make daily home visits, stay on top of all documentation, hold outreach sessions for everyone from bank tellers to first responders to educate them to identify signs of elder abuse, and update agencies such as Adult Protective Services.
As baby boomers age, the demographics mean that even more seniors will be facing elder abuse. Financial exploitation continues to be the most common type of elder abuse, with the adult children of the elderly helping themselves to funds or even pocketing their parent’s monthly Social Security check. Often, the first sign of elder abuse is when the senior seeks help for an impending eviction or other financial issue. The case manager may stumble across elder abuse without ever suspecting it.
Social workers and other elder care advocates know that elder abuse affects all ethnicities and social groups, and, as one of the most underreported crimes, continues to be a hidden public health crisis. Ninety percent of the perpetrators are the children of the elderly victims. A study from 2010 looked at the prevalence of elder abuse in New York State; for every reported case, as many as 24 others go unreported. Some 120,000 seniors in New York City over the age of 60 experience some form of elder abuse during any 12-month period. For older seniors, that rate is 14 percent.