Choice - ‘Building justice options with older people’
The World Health Organisation defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person."
Elder abuse is happening to thousands of older people in Wales every day, with more than 39,000 older people in Wales per year – a proportionately higher figure than the rest of the UK – estimated to be victims of abuse (Prevalence Study, Department of Health & Comic Relief, 2007).
Within the UK there has been considerable media coverage of elder abuse in hospitals, care homes and other institutional settings. However, older people are also abused in their own homes and many feel unable to stop it happening - often because they do not know where to find the help and support they need and want. Previous research has found that many victims of elder abuse fail to get justice and that criminal prosecutions and actions under the civil law are rare.
Abusers may be family members, people who are supposed to provide care, or so called friends. The impact of abuse on the older person is often significant leading to social isolation, poor nutrition, fuel poverty and debt.
Although in some cases prosecution may be the right thing to do, often older people do not want to criminalise a family member as they feel this may worsen the situation. For example, an older person who is financially abused by a grandchild, may not want to see them prosecuted as this could impose a strain on the family and potentially lead to a breakdown within the family and the older person being deprived of wider family support.
As Professor Alan Clarke, Principal Investigator, has commented, ‘the issues around mistreatment of older people are complex, so new solutions for justice are needed, which are more tailored to local services and personal choice and take into account the wishes of the older person. The Choice Project aims to increase the range of justice options available for older people who experience abuse in their own homes’.
The Centre for the Study of Ageing, Abuse and Neglect within theDepartment of Law and Criminology, Aberystwyth University has been awarded a Big Lottery grant to carry out a research project on justice and elder abuse.
Pictured L to R are Professor Alan Clarke, Senior Research Fellow Sarah Wydall and Professor John Williams.
They are the three Principal Investigators on the Choice project.
Choice has grown out of a number of research projects the Centre has carried out over the past few years into different aspects of elder abuse.
The three and a half-year long Choice project runs from 2015 to 2018. The project is working in partnership with national charities such as Age Cymru, Hafan Cymru and Welsh Women’s Aid. We have also had considerable support from local authorities and the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.
Choice is working with older people, professionals and volunteers to design and test a new approach based on restorative principles. A Choice Support Worker will support older people referred onto the project. The Choice Support Worker will work with clients to explore a range of options, civil, criminal and restorative to promote choice and empowerment in local settings.
The research team will evaluate the choices older people make when they are being mistreated by a family member in their own home.
The project operates within existing Social Service safeguarding procedures and measures.
What Choice offers:
- Choice is working together with older people, volunteers, local communities and professionals in two pilot areas (Carmarthenshire and Cardiff) to design an additional approach to justice based on restorative principles. This new approach will form one of three options introduced to the client by the Choice Support Worker.
- Older people will be involved from the beginning in all discussions and decisions as to the best course of action and will be empowered as a result of this involvement.
- Qualified and trained project staff will liaise with the older person and other family members to agree how best to resolve their situation.
- The Choice Support Worker will work with the older person for up to 18-months
Sarah Wydall, Senior Research Fellow, at Aberystwyth University said;
“This project addresses a failure of existing procedures to provide victims of elder abuse with a sense of justice and reassurance that the abuse will not continue. It is highly innovative in its approach, particularly the involvement of victims and the integration of research and practice. Although based in Wales, the findings of the project will have international significance.”
The reason Choice is needed
Professor John Williams, Head of the Department of Law and Criminology at Aberystwyth University has said;
“Our earlier research shows that victims of elder abuse want two things.
First, they want the abuse to end.
Second, they want justice.
What justice means is often unclear. It does not necessarily mean criminal proceedings. Other justice options are needed which ensure that the abuse ends and provides the older person with a sense that justice has been done.”
- Many older people who experience abuse within their own homes are often unaware of how to find out what help and support is available to them.
- Many do not want to involve the police or pursue someone through a civil court case – so no other solution is available to them and their case is not taken up by anyone.
- This type of elder abuse is very complex, often involving a family member as the perpetrator, where the older person may be reluctant to try and do anything to stop the abuse because that would impose a strain on the wider family, possibly create a family breakdown and deprive them of family support.
- Therefore, new options and solutions are needed, which reflect the needs of the individual being abused and are more tailored to the local services available in their area.