Friday, June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day; a day set aside for communities around the world to raise awareness about elder abuse, and to shed light on the importance of preventing, identifying, and responding to this serious, escalating problem. Jessica Reyes, FCS Director of Adult Protective Services for Monmouth and Middlesex Counties, recently testified before the Monmouth County Office on Aging, Disabilities & Veterans Services on the need for sustained funding of services to protect the growing number of vulnerable adults in our community. Here is her testimony:
It’s estimated that each year, five million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, and for every case that is reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported. Experts agree this upward trend will continue for at least the next decade, as more and more baby boomers enter their later years. In addition, people over age 80 are the fastest growing population in the country.
As Director of Adult Protective Services (APS) at Family & Children’s Service, I know the toll that elder abuse is taking on our own community. Our social workers are responsible for receiving and investigating all reports of suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults over the age of 18 in Monmouth and Middlesex Counties.Since 2008, we have seen a steady increase in both the number of referrals to APS and the number of cases investigated. The increase in referrals is being felt throughout the state. In 2017 in Monmouth County alone, we investigated 550 cases out of 1015 referrals compared to 366 investigated cases out of 728 referrals in 2015. That is 184 more investigated cases between 2015 and 2017, a 50% increase!
As the number of cases investigated increases, so does our social workers’ caseload. Additionally, the severity and complexity of the cases we handle is rising. Every day we are witnessing more and more vulnerable adults living alone and unable to care for themselves, lacking adequate food or shelter, robbed of their personal belongings or life savings by a trusted family member or friend, and stripped of their personal dignity.
In addition to the increase in the number of cases, we saw a stunning increase in the number of Guardianship cases in 2017. In 2015 we had 10 cases requiring the appointment of a court-ordered Guardian; in 2017, we were involved with 18 Guardianships; that does not include the one Access Order for which we needed to petition the court. Not to mention that two of the cases were so egregious that we referred them to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office! These cases are complex and require more resources in terms of staff time and funding for the necessary attorney services.
These increases in the number of cases, their corresponding complexity, and the additional time required to stabilize the client’s situation became of grave concern in terms of staffing over the past few years. We are required by law to send a social worker within 24 business hours of receiving a report of abuse and within 72 business hours for every other case. The increase in the average caseload challenged the capacity and, at times, the morale, of our five APS social workers, because they were greatly concerned that they were unable to sufficiently address the clients’ needs in a timely manner. We are very grateful to have been granted funds to employ an additional social worker for our team which will make a significant difference.
Unfortunately, we still lack sufficient funds to support the essential services we provide for clients such as completing guardianships, paying for temporary home health care, and assisting with purchasing items to help them function independently in the home. Starting January 2018, we had $4,069 in Specific Assistance grant monies to supplement these needs. By February, we had depleted those funds due to the high amount of guardianships we incurred, which cost $1,000.00 per client. Due to this expense, we are only using the current funds for guardianships and we are seeking funding from additional sources for the other services. Those funds amounted to about $7,000 and as of May 2018 we are already down to a little more than $1,000.
I want to add that no one is immune. Abuse occurs in every demographic, and can happen to anyone—a family member, a neighbor, even you. Like domestic violence and child abuse, elder abuse comes in many forms. It can be physical, sexual or emotional abuse; neglect, abandonment and/or financial exploitation. In many cases, the abuser is a family member or friend. Often the abused do not want to report the people who have abused them because they are dependent on them for support.
What can I do, you ask?
- Know the risk factors. The U.S. Department of Health Administration on Aging website at www.aoa.gov is a great resource for information.
- Take an active interest in watching for signs of possible abuse in elderly relatives or neighbors. Red flags can include changes in the person’s personality, behavior or physical condition and should prompt you to start asking questions. Check in on your elderly neighbors or relatives. Volunteer to be a friendly visitor to a nursing home resident or homebound elder in your community. Provide respite for a caregiver by filling in for a few hours or more.
- Most importantly, report suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation to the appropriate authorities. In Monmouth County, the number to call is 732-531-9191.
All of us have a role in protecting the most vulnerable among us. Join us in this fight and help create a safer, more compassionate world for all.
Thank you for doing your part in protecting some of the most vulnerable among us! And please wear purple on June 15th to show your support for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day!
Jessica Reyes, LSW
Director of Adult Protective Services Monmouth and Middlesex Counties