Jun 17, 2019

Mediation can help protect older people from financial abuse

Mediation can help to protect older people living in culturally and linguistically diverse communities from becoming victims of financial abuse, according to an expert in the field.

Associate Professor Dale Bagshaw will speak about preventing elder abuse in CALD communities at this week’s inaugural Ageing in a Foreign Land conference, being held at Flinders University.

The AIFL conference brings together expertise in multicultural communities with government, researchers, academics, policy makers and services, and aims to respond to the voices of older people in multicultural communities.

What is elder mediation?

Elder mediation is a cooperative process in which a professionally trained elder mediator helps facilitate discussions that assist people in addressing the range of changes and stresses that can occur through the family life cycle, Assoc Prof Bagshaw told HelloCare.

Elder mediation can help to prevent the financial abuse of older people in CALD communities, she said.

“It is a voluntary, focused, preventative, respectful process – usually multi-party, multi-issue and intergenerational,” said Assoc Prof Bagshaw.

“The mediator facilitates discussions focusing on present strengths and assists participants in addressing their stated wishes or concerns.”

Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse

“Financial abuse is the most commonly reported form of abuse of older people in Australia, often accompanied by psychological abuse.

“More often than not the abuse is perpetrated by adult sons and daughters,” Assoc Prof Bagshaw explained.

“Where there are allegations of financial abuse by a family member or carer, or where an older person is deemed to be at risk of abuse, a facilitated meeting of family members and significant others can be called and plans can be put in place to prevent the abuse from happening or to stop any abuse that has been occurring.

“Older people from CALD communities are unlikely to call the police or engage in adversarial processes, in particular when the abuser is a family member,” she said.

What is financial elder abuse?

Financial abuse of older people is defined as “the illegal or improper use and/or mismanagement of an older person’s money, property or resources without his or her knowledge or permission’.

“It can include forgery, stealing, forced changes to a will, involuntary or unusual transfer of money or property to another person , incurring debts for which the older person is responsible, withholding funds from the older person, failure to repay loans, lack of financial information provided to an older person by their Power of Attorney, or abuse of the Power of Attorney’s power.”

What are the possible outcomes of elder mediation?

Elder mediation is a confidential, voluntary process and can:

  • open and facilitate communication between family members, and between family members and the older person
  • include significant others who are involved with the older person
  • raise awareness of the rights of older people
  • provide a context and process that enables the ‘voice’ of the older person to be heard (directly or indirectly) and their interests, needs and wishes to be respected
  • provide opportunities for older people to take ownership of and be empowered by the process
  • assist the participants to handle differences or conflicts in a constructive way
  • increase the accountability and responsibility of family members and significant others
  • address the ageist, gendered and cultural contexts in which  abuse occurs
  • develop preventative/early intervention strategies where there is a risk of abuse
  • develop interdisciplinary understanding and collaborations
  • involve the social network surrounding an older adult who may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation
  • and thereby enhance the safety of the older person.

Ageist and racist views create a lack of respect

There are a number of reasons that older people from CALD communities are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse, Assoc Prof Bagshaw told HelloCare.

They may rely on family members and their communities for support and care, and may be financially dependent on them. They may have communication and language difficulties, and be socially isolated. Cultural norms may prevent them from speaking out, and their carers may lack the relevant knowledge or skills to help them.

Migrants or refugees may have limited or no access to extended family or supportive communities to help them.

Assoc Prof Bagshaw also said that ageist and racist community attitudes can also lead to a lack of respect and concern for the safety, interests, needs and rights of older people from CALD communities.

The barriers to older people from CALD communities reporting abuse include:

  • lack of knowledge of their rights and/or resources
  • diminished cognitive capacity
  • mental or physical disability
  • poor or restricted mobility
  • lack of awareness of what constitutes abuse
  • social isolation or fear of alienation
  • the need to preserve a family relationship
  • dependency on others in the family
  • the stigma and shame associated with abuse (in particular if the abuser is a family member)
  • literacy and language barriers
  • religious, generational and cultural barriers
  • fear of reprisal from the perpetrator and
  • a perceived or actual lack of options or access to services.

To find out more about elder mediation you can visit the elder mediation website.

The Ageing in a Foreign Land conference will be held on 19-20 June, at the Migration Museum, Adelaide, South Australia.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know is a victim of elder abuse, you can call the elder abuse help line on 1800 628 221.

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