This Sunday, June 15th is Father’s Day. It is also World Elder Abuse Awareness Day; a day set aside to shed light on the importance of preventing, identifying, and responding to this serious, often hidden problem. It’s estimated 2.1 million older Americans face abuse and neglect every year, and for every reported case, experts believe as many as five cases go unreported.
Unfortunately, as Director of Adult Protective Services for Family & Children’s Service, I am keenly aware of the problem of elder abuse. Our team of 11 social workers is responsible for investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults living in Monmouth and Middlesex counties. Last year, our Monmouth County office alone received more than 600 referrals of suspected abuse. It’s an upward trend that is expected to continue as more and more baby boomers enter their later years, further impacting nonprofit agencies like ours, which provide critical services to vulnerable senior clients.
Elder abuse, like domestic violence and child abuse, comes in many forms. It can be physical or emotional abuse, financial exploitation or neglect. It can happen to anyone, regardless of income or ethnicity, and can occur anywhere at anytime; in a person’s home, in nursing or assisted living facilities, even in hospitals. No one is immune.
Elder Abuse happens, but there are things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. Know the risk factors and the signs. Lack of food, basic hygiene, appropriate clothing or medical aids are all warning signs. 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, if you suspect something, don’t be afraid to report it! In Monmouth County, the number to call is 732-531-9191. In Middlesex County the number is 732-745-3635.
For more information about elder abuse and what you can do to prevent it, visit the U.S. Department of Health Administration on Aging website at www.aoa.gov.
One of the best ways to prevent elder abuse is to reduce isolation. This Father’s Day, consider giving the gift of time. Spend the day with Dad if you can, or check in on an elderly friend or neighbor. Show them how much you care by looking out for their well-being. Let’s protect our seniors. They deserve nothing less.
Lisa Barnes, LSW, MSW
Lisa Barnes is Director of Adult Protective Services (APS) for Family & Children’s Service. She supervises a team of 10 APS social workers in Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. Prior to joining FCS in 2008, Lisa coordinated a transitional housing program for homeless mothers and children. She earned her Masters in Social Work from Fordham University.