FCS seeks additional funding to help fight Elder Abuse

The following testimony was submitted by FCS Adult Protective Services Director Lisa Barnes at a Public Hearing, Wednesday, June 7, 2017 before the Monmouth County Office on Aging, Disabilities & Veterans Services:

Next Thursday, 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.  It’s estimated that each year, 5 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, becoming the fastest growing population in the country.

As Director of Adult Protective Services (APS) at FCS (Family & Children’s Service) I know first hand 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.  In 2016 in Monmouth County alone, we investigated 467 cases out of 826 referrals compared to 366 investigated cases out of 728 referrals in 2015.  That is 101 more investigated cases between 2015 and 2016.

Just last month, May 2017, we had a record 54 new cases assigned to our social workers.  In 2016, we averaged 38.9 new cases a month; however, there were two months we had 50 new cases and 4 months when we assigned 45-49 new cases.  So far this year, we are averaging 40.2 new cases a month, reflecting the continuing increase.

As the number of cases investigated increases, so does the caseload as well as the severity and complexity of the cases.  Every day we witness 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 2016.  In 2015 we had ten cases that required the appointment of a court-ordered Guardian; in 2016, that number more than doubled to 22; that does not include the one Access Order and one Protective Order for which we needed to petition the court.  These cases are complex and require more resources in terms of staff time and funding for the necessary attorney services.  Four of the cases were so egregious that we referred them to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

The increases in the number of cases, their corresponding complexity, and the additional time required to stabilize the client’s situation is becoming of grave concern in terms of staffing.  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 each year challenges the capacity and, at times, the morale, of our five APS social workers, because they are greatly concerned that they do not have adequate time to sufficiently address the clients’ needs in a timely manner.  Given these dramatic increases in the number of investigations and the time required to resolve them, we are in need of hiring another social worker to continue to provide efficient and effective services to our community.

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. 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 home bound 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. In Middlesex County the number is (732)746-3635.

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!

Lisa Barnes MSW, LSW

Director, Adult Protective Services for Monmouth & Middlesex Counties

Family & Children’s Service