Webinar presenter Jacke Schroeder answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "It Takes a Community: Building Community Based Safety Nets for Victims of Elder Abuse." Here are some of her responses.
Audience Question: You talked about you recognizing the need for elder support in your community and going through the process of establishing it. What was that timeline like? How long did it take for you to stand up or launch your program so that you could get to the point of start taking in clients?
Jacke Schroeder: We talked about it for many years and once we heard about the Weinberg Center and the SPRiNG Alliance, things moved really rapidly. Once we had access to Joy Solomon and learning all about the whole shelter model, we spent about a year and a half slowly building and now four years later, we have just really expanded really tremendously. We started with a redirected funding from Maryland state with a very small grant. We started raising money once we had a larger grant then we can start to expand.
I'm the only full-time person, I have half-time person, and social work students from the University of Maryland, and we have a fabulous partnership with Maryland legal aid. Their inner office and full-time attorney, full-time paralegal. Three days a week and the other two days they're with their colleagues at the legal aid office where they get a lot of support education. I highly recommend that every elder abuse program incorporate attorneys and build a partnership where you can get legal aid. We are where we are now. We are in our fifth year.
Audience Question: Talk about the connection between elder abuse and domestic violence. In other words, are you seeing that families that have had a history of domestic violence as those individuals age, does the likelihood of elder abuse grow? What are you seeing in terms of trends?
Jacke Schroeder: Actually, there is a lot of unexpected or expected things that happen over time where the relationship began to shift. I actually made a list of these thinking that I might like to talk about this. A lot of times what was physical will now become emotional and verbal. When we were younger we think if sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me. In this case, it is actually not true. Especially in the case of older adults, there's research that shows hospital emergency rooms visit increasing because of the stressors related to verbal abuse. Also, in two people in a long-term relationship where abuse has always been part of the relationship, the same tactics are used. The older adults who don't have the physical, mental, or emotional stamina to be able to take it whereas a push on a 3-year-old shoulder was just a push, a push on a 75-year-old shoulder can mean falling down the steps, or broken hip, or a broken shoulder. The abuse itself is a lot more serious due to age and health status.
What's really interesting is that older couples with serious health issues can be isolated. Isolation, where abusive couples are concerned, are at higher risk of homicide and suicide. Also, what once might have been an abusive relationship by one partner or a child maybe now turn directions and so has maybe become multi-directional. In other words, maybe it is a child who has been abused by his mother, and now that the mother is vulnerable, meaning frail, relying on them for getting to the doctors, getting to the grocery store, taking their medicine… Now is an opportunity for some people to retaliate, and that's how they think of it, "Now you're going to get yours, you gave it to me, you're going to get what's coming to you".
The homework of elder abuse is the expectation of trust. If you don't remember anything else from my presentation, just remember expectations of trust. Because older adults have to go from one trusted relationship to another. And the data that we hear is there's one in ten that's being abused. This is not inclusive of people in nursing homes being abused. This data comes right out of people who are living in their own homes or in the community.
Also, what I'm saying about this switching direction is that the control of the relationship related to this expectation of trust has now switched. If a person can get to the grocery store by themselves, or doesn't have any other way of getting food, they're vulnerable to having to do whatever it is that provider of that ride tells them they have to do. Even if it means you're going to stay in your room because my friends are moving in. Even if it means you're not getting out of your room until I let you out of your room, and now your house is being taken over by the sale of drugs or things like that. Abuse that predates cognitive problems may really now be exacerbated or increased. Cognitive decline makes a person very vulnerable to abuse by people who are going to be abusive.
Audience Question: What's the typical age range you serve? I know you serve and take people as low as 50.
Jacke Schroeder: From late 60s to early 80s. It's a wide range. Our oldest client so far was 90. We are working right now with someone who's 86 who was at risk of eviction because she was scammed out of all her live savings, three hundred and sixty thousand dollars and her social security check. This was a very highly educated woman, a Ph.D. in organizational development, licensed professional counselor. Adult Protective Services was going to close the case and she would have been homeless. We insisted that we help. First, we stopped the bleeding, we changed her phone number, deleted all of the messages from her phone. We didn't change the phone number, we did it with her with the phone company because she was not capable of doing that by herself. So, there were 7 people at a meeting with her and we convinced her. During the hour we were with her, her phone rang nine times by these scammers. We were able to negotiate a payout. We were able to get Adult Protective Services to actually state in the case they were able to get her on a waiver to reduce her rent, and we connected her with a lot of other social services.
Audience Question: How many clients do you typically work with at the same time simultaneously?
Jacke Schroeder: There are different levels of needs so right now, we're working with fourteen people, but we don't have anybody in the shelter right now. At the Weinberg Center in 2017, they had 23 clients. We worked with about 90 clients in 2017 but we only had 3 people in a shelter. The shelter is not the end all be all, but shelter is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the service options that an elder abuse program must have.
Audience Question: I work as a hospital interpreter and often elder patients are asked if they feel safe at home. Some say no, but they are discharged anyway because there's not much that can be done. They tend to believe that the adult kids who say their parents are crazy and I believe this is combined with a lack of resources to send them back to home to the abuser. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Jacke Schroeder: Whoever wrote that is right. You should listen to your gut and I think that it might be worth finding out if you have a domestic violence or family violence program in your hospital. Who can you speak with? Get the manager of that program to talk about how that question, "Do you feel safe at home?", could be broken down into a more trauma-informed couple of questions. Like, "Do you feel safe going back home?". There are a lot of people who don't tell anything until it's time to go back home. Or, "If you had a choice, would you go someplace other than home?".