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Elder abuse
Help line gets more calls than expected
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 31 mai 2012

In its first year of operation Quebec’s Elder Abuse Help Line received 4,879 calls, 50% more than anticipated.

The help line is staffed by three specially trained social workers located at CLSC René-Cassin, part of the CSSS Cavendish.

A recently released research report analyzed the nature of the calls between October 2010 and October 2011. It evaluated the risks and what was done in response.

A third of the calls were from the elderly themselves. Forty-three per cent were women between the ages of 70 and 89. Another third came from family members, while the rest were from witnesses who suspected situations of elder abuse. Most of the complaints concerned both financial and psychological mistreatment.

Social worker Maryse Soulieres at CLSC René-Cassin is a principal co-author of the study. The high call volume shows that “the elderly need someone to talk with anonymously about problems of abuse. It’s rare that they’re in crisis when they call - the situation usually has been going on for many years.”

Twenty per cent of the calls from relatives related to suspected cases of abuse in long-term care facilities. But with only the complainant’s version of the story to go on, the social worker cannot suggest interventions until the situation is verified. Unlike Quebec’s Youth Protection program, social workers are not empowered to intervene without the consent of the presumed victim. What they can do is offer information, advice and referrals.

A case in point: A daughter calls to report that her brother has been harassing her elderly mother for money. The social worker who takes the call first tells the daughter to have the mother call in anonymously. The mother is concerned that her son will get in trouble, she doesn’t want to cut her relationship with him, but she wants the threatening to stop.

“We help the elderly set limits so they can get what they want without the abuse,” said Soulieres. “The social worker can tell the woman to meet her son in a public place, a restaurant say, where he’d be less likely to threaten her. Or he suggests that the woman transfer a monthly amount into her son’s bank account so that she doesn’t have to see him that often.”

Another reported scenario involved a mail carrier who noticed that the woman who used to greet him at the door regularly wasn’t doing that anymore. He noticed that a truck was now parked on her property. He called the Elder Abuse Help Line to say that he was worried about her welfare because it seemed that someone had moved in with her. He was advised to go to the police and ask them to check in on her. In cases where social workers believe restraining orders or injunctions may be necessary, they provide CLSC and police phone numbers and advise callers how to explain their situation. “If we feel that a person is not able to do that and they really need a follow-up, we ask them if it’s okay if we call and we also ask them to call back,” Soulieres said.

Studies show that 6 to 10 % of the elderly are victims of abuse. Souliere’s research report includes recommendations for the Quebec Ministry of Health to continue funding the Elder Abuse Help Line and further research on its clinical relevance. “I think it’s a really important service,” she said. “The elderly now know which door to knock on. They can call here and get the information they need no matter where they live in the province.”

The Elder Abuse Help Line can be reached at 1-888-489-2287. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

[ Gerri Barrer ]

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