Tasmanian Elder Abuse Helpline

Free call: 1800 44 11 69
Mobile & Interstate call:
(03) 6237 0047
Monday - Friday
9am - 4pm
Free, confidential, and statewide: information, advice and referrals.
Email: eahelpline@advocacytasmania.org.au

What is the Helpline?

The Tasmanian Elder Abuse Helpline (the Helpline) is a new service operated on behalf of the Tasmanian Government by ATI.

The Helpline is one part of the Government's Elder Abuse Prevention Strategy "Protecting Older Tasmanians from Abuse".

The Helpline provides callers with information, advice and referral on actions they can take to prevent and respond to elder abuse in its many guises; emotional, physical, financial, social, sexual, and neglect. Its role is to assist older people, families, service providers and the wider community to better access existing supports and services. Most people are unsure who to call regarding suspected elder abuse. The Helpline provides a central point of contact via a toll free statewide 1800 number.

You can download a brochure and fact sheet about the Helpline, from the Elder Abuse Prevention Resources section on our publications page.

Tasmanian Government has launched its community awareness campaign - 'elder abuse is not okay'

The campaign features television, online and newspaper advertisements and posters aimed at informing the community about elder abuse and to send a clear message that elder abuse will not be tolerated in our community.

What is elder abuse?

The definition of elder abuse used by "Protecting Older Tasmanians from Abuse" and by the Helpline is consistent with that adopted by the Australian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (ANPEA) and with international and national agreements on what constitutes elder abuse.

Abuse of older people is a single or repeated act occurring within a relationship where there is an implication of trust, which causes harm to an older person.

Abuse of older people is typically carried out by someone close to an older person, with whom they have a trusting relationship. The trusting relationship can be between the person being abused and; partners, children, in-laws, grandchildren, carers, neighbours and friends, and paid support workers. It may be formal or informal, voluntary or imposed.1

An older person will often be dependent on the perpetrator for care and housing. Queensland statistics indicate that 75 per cent of alleged abusers were family members of the older person.2

Types of elder abuse3

Abuse of older people can include physical, psychological/emotional, financial, sexual and social abuse as well as intentional or unintentional neglect.
Physical abuse
is where pain, injury and or physical force are inflicted upon another person. It may include hitting, slapping, pushing, burning, pinching, kicking, strangling, physical restraint, or the misuse of medication.

Psychological or emotional abuse
results in an older person experiencing feelings of shame, humiliation and powerlessness. Fear is often a large factor and can be inflicted through physical and or verbal intimidation and or threats of violence, even threats of being put in a home. The withholding of affection or contact with family and friends, or the threat to do so, along with acts of continued harassment also constitutes abuse.

Financial and material abuse
is where someone else misappropriates or takes control of an older person's finances, valuables and/or property, usually in a manner that benefits someone other than the older person. The older person may be forced to change their will, grant a Power of Attorney, sign over personal funds or real estate, or surrender their pension.

Sexual abuse
covers a range of unwanted sexual acts, including sexual contact, rape, language or exploitative behaviour, where the older person's consent was not obtained or the consent was obtained through coercion.

Social abuse
includes the forced isolation of older people, which may hide abuse from others or stop contact with others.

Neglect
can be intentional or unintentional and occurs where the basics of life are not provided by those responsible for the care of an older person. Neglect includes the inadequate or delayed provision of housing, bedding, food, clothing, hygiene, medical or dental attention as well as the inappropriate use of medication such as under-medication or over-medication.

Key principles underpinning the service

The Helpline is guided by the same core principles adopted by the Tasmanian Government Elder Abuse Strategy. These core principles come from the Tasmanian Plan for Positive Ageing and national and international strategies4 on the abuse of older people.

The principles are:

Informed choice

Older Tasmanians have a right to have access to information that enables them to make informed choice.

Self-determination

Older people are entitled to make decisions on matters affecting their lives. Older people are entitled to participate in the development and implementation of services, policies and programs affecting them.

Competency

All adults are considered competent to make decisions unless determined otherwise.

Rights and best interests

The interests of an older person's wellbeing are paramount and even when they are unable to make decisions themselves their views should be taken into account.

Support and empowerment

Actions should be supportive and empowering to help older people experiencing abuse to make their own choices.

Diversity

The diverse needs, interests and abilities of older people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds must be recognised.

Collaboration

Effective prevention and responses to the abuse of older people relies on partnerships between individuals, families, communities, businesses and governments that recognise the complexity of the issues involved.

Safety

The safety of an older person is paramount and the safety of those working with older people should be protected.

Relationships

Any responses to allegations of abuse should be respectful of the existing relationships considered important by the older person.

Responses to abuse

As described in the section Types of Elder Abuse, elder abuse comes in many forms. Therefore, there is no single response that will address all types of abuse. Elder abuse exists on a continuum from humiliating and embarrassing the older person, or pressuring to provide money; through to criminal assault and fraud. Each situation requires its own, unique response. The Helpline will provide callers with information and advice as to the options available for responding to their particular situation.

Responses will differ depending on various factors, including whether or not the situation constitutes an emergency, whether the older person has the mental capacity to make informed decisions, and if so, whether they have consented to intervention by someone (e.g. the police, or a service provider). Mental capacity refers to the person's ability to understand the nature and effect of a particular decision or action; and their ability to consider the consequences of various options and communicate their final decision.

If the older person has capacity, their right to self determination and autonomy must be respected. They should be provided with comprehensive information about options and strategies to address the abuse, and any action taken to assist them must be according to their wishes.

Where the older person lacks capacity, and requires a substitute decision maker, these are appointed by the Guardianship and Administration Board.

Helpline response strategies

In order to provide a consistent approach to response strategies, the Helpline has adopted a model used in South Australia.

Responses to abuse can be informal, formal or protective depending on the circumstances, level of capacity of the older person and their preferences. Often a combination of strategies will achieve the most positive outcome. Abuse thrives in secrecy, so the more connections a person has the less likely they will be to experience abuse.

Informal responses

Informal strategies would include advising people of their rights and options, determining whether the person is able to self advocate or whether other family members or friends could provide support. Often people are unaware of their rights or how to access information. Social clubs and religious or cultural groups also provide informal support, keeping the older person involved in community activities and enabling the development of friendships outside the immediate family.

Formal responses

Formal strategies might involve accessing community or private services (e.g. HACC, Home Care Packages, ACAT, counselling and mediation) thereby reducing reliance on an alleged abuser to provide support. It may also be necessary to advocate with other agencies on behalf of the older person so that their situation is fully understood and elicits a prompt response (e.g. regarding housing, accessing emergency financial assistance, access to legal advice, assessment for services).

People may choose to move to residential care or alternative accommodation and may need help completing documentation and with the move itself. They may also need assistance to access and fund respite.

Protective responses

Protective strategies include exploration of alternative accommodation, legal options and the broad range of police responses depending on the type of abuse (e.g. restraining or intervention orders, welfare checks, criminal charges). Banking arrangements may need to be changed and advance directive documents, such as enduring power of attorney and enduring power of guardianship, drawn up or revoked.

Elder abuse prevention resources

Visit the Elder Abuse section of our publications page for a selection of prevention resources. Information is available in a range of different languages.


References:

  1. DPAC, Abuse and Mistreatment of Older People – Towards a Tasmanian Response, p.4
  2. Elder Abuse Prevention Unit, Annual Report 2007-2008. Queensland Government: 2008, p.14
  3. DPAC, Abuse and Mistreatment of Older People – Towards a Tasmanian Response, pp.8-9
  4. ACT Government. ACT Elder Abuse Prevention Program Policy, February 2010.
    Office of Senior Victorians, Victorian Government. Victorian Government Elder Abuse Prevention Strategic Implementation Plan 2006-2009, August 2007
    K. Glasgow and J.L. Fanslow, Family Violence Intervention Guidelines: Elder Abuse and Neglect, Wellington: Ministry of Health, 2007