Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Combating Elder Abuse through a Lawyer/Social Worker Collaborative Team Approach: JASA Legal/Social Work Elder Abuse Prevention Program (LEAP)

Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Combating Elder Abuse through a Lawyer/Social Worker Collaborative Team Approach: JASA Legal/Social Work Elder Abuse Prevention Program (LEAP)

Article excerpt

I have been a prisoner to this. When it stopped, I felt as if I had been reborn.

Ms. S, JASA LEAP client

Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect (United States Census Bureau, 2000). This statistic may not tell the whole story, however, because for every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts estimate that there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported. Recent research suggests that elders who have been abused tend to die earlier than those who are not abused, even in the absence of chronic conditions or life-threatening disease (National Center on Elder Abuse, 2005). Within the greater New York area, over the past few years there has been an exponential growth in the scope of the problem, a societal awareness of the problem and interventions developed to deal with elder abuse in general.

Since 1990 the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, JASA, has established innovative interventions to prevent and assist in situations of elder abuse, an increasingly pervasive and signifi- cant issue. In this article, we focus on JASA's Legal/Social Work Elder Abuse Program (LEAP).

BACKGROUND

JASA was established and incorporated in 1968 by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York to identify and respond to the needs of the frail, the poor, and isolated elderly regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. JASA's mission is to sustain and enrich the lives of the aging in the New York metropolitan area so that they can remain in the community with dignity and autonomy, and the agency has developed a comprehensive, integrated network of services that provides a continuum of community care. Among JASA's service divisions are case and group services, housing, legal services, mental health, and home care. The agency sponsors more than 100 different programs, and its elder abuse programs are central to its mission.

Beginning in 1995, with funding from the United Jewish Association (UJA)-Federation, JASA established the JASA/LIJ Elder Abuse Program, linking JASA's community services to the hospital services of Long Island Jewish Hospital and Elmhurst Hospital to identify and intervene in elder abuse cases. Concurrently, the attorneys working in JASA's Legal Services for the Elderly in Queens (LSEQ) were referred cases on elder abuse issues.

In 1998, JASA introduced the Legal/Social Work Elder Abuse Program (LEAP) as a small pilot program in Queens to join together social workers and attorneys in support of abused senior citizens. As they cooperated on cases, social workers and attorneys began to discuss challenges they faced in their intervention strategies. The most difficult situations involved cases where victims had to be counseled to take legal action against their abusers when the sources of abuse or exploitation were their children or spouses. These victims experienced profound shame and a desire to protect their abusers despite their own suffering. With the intervention and support of the LEAP team, clients were able to overcome these challenges and stop the abuse in their lives.

The elder abuse definition used by JASA LEAP is that elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person. Abuse and neglect can be categorized as follows:

* Physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, financial, self-neglect, passive neglect (the withholding of goods or services without conscious intent to inflict physical or emotional distress). Often this is conducted by a well-meaning caretaker who is unable to meet the older person's needs.

* Active neglect (the willful deprivation of goods or services necessary to maintain physical or mental health). Between 1 and 2 million Americans 65+ have been abused by someone they depended on for care or protection. In domestic settings, only 1 in 14 incidents is reported. …

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