Building Community Based Safety Nets for Victims of Elder Abuse: An Interview with Jacke Schroeder

The proverb that “it takes a village” doesn’t just apply to children. Often it takes a village to help solve a variety of issues, including creating resources to help the victims of elder abuse.

Check out this recorded webinar, as Jacke Schroeder from CHANA‘s SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders program shares:

  • elder abuse shelter movement and how the shelter model uniquely leverages existing community resources to fill the critical services gap for vulnerable victims,
  • a variety of unique program models designed to fill this critical gap,
  • how a faith-based coalition came together to provide emergency shelter, awareness education, crisis care management, counseling and legal support.

 

Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Jacke, you’re a new presenter for us here at Justice Clearinghouse. Share with us a bit about your background.  What drew you to this career path and area of expertise?

Jacke Schroeder: What most inspired my career path was witnessing my maternal grandmother struggle to navigate her life while suffering from clinical depression due to complex trauma.  My grandmother lived with my family throughout my childhood.  Later, my father suffered a profound stroke which was followed by my mother’s untimely death.  Observing how they each were responded to by their medical and social services systems, I became passionate about changing how society views and treats our elders.

I’m an LCSW-C (Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical) with over 30 years of practice in administrative and clinical social work.  I’ve focused on healing and transformation for myself, my clients, and organizations, throughout my life.

 

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…Just in the month of June (2017),

80% of our calls were from men.

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Earlier in my social work career, when my own family was young, I was focused on direct services and the redesign of the services delivery system for severely emotionally disturbed children and youth, and their families.  When I became an empty-nester, I dedicated my time to developing my spirit and working as an inspirational thought partner and intuitive business coach.

That work led me to become ordained as a Maggidah—in the ancient Jewish tradition, a teller of stories about the journey of the soul—and a three-time published “Heal My Voice” author.  At CHANA I’ve been given fortunate opportunities to blend being a Maggidah and Clinician, where I co-facilitate the “Finding Your Voice” writing and speaking series for adult women survivors of childhood abuse, domestic violence and other forms of trauma. Also, I speak locally, statewide and nationwide about healthy relationships, elder abuse, and the sheltering of elder victims.

I supported and cared for my parents during the endings their of lives.  Ultimately, my father moved into an Assisted Living Facility.  I was passionate about ensuring his rights were respected and protected.  Some of what I consider to be horrific, such as sending him by ambulance to the hospital alone when he wasn’t able to speak, and giving him someone else’s medicine to take with him for a day-long outing with me, led me to become trained as a volunteer Long Term Care Ombudsman. I thought of myself as an “advocate animal” and decided that being an Ombudsman would be a productive way to channel my fury.

Once I reached the developmental stage of being a grandmother, my career turned with laser focus to our elders and the development of a coordinated community system response specifically aimed at the prevention of elder abuse.

 

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The creation of an elder abuse response system relies on local, state and nationwide

prevention education at all levels.

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JCH: Tell us a bit about your organizations SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders (SAFE) and CHANA.  Who are these organizations and what is your role in helping to address the challenges of elder abuse?

Jacke: I am the Director of SAFE: Stop Abuse of Elders (SAFE).  SAFE is a program of CHANA and is part of The Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.  SAFE is committed to helping create a coordinated and collaborative community response for elder abuse victims.

SAFE does this by providing high-quality trauma-informed and senior-friendly services, including:

  • emergency sheltering of elder abuse victims,
  • crisis response,
  • danger assessment,
  • safety planning,
  • trauma-informed counseling,
  • short-term service coordination,
  • court advocacy, legal advice, and representation through the Maryland Legal Aid.

Two hallmarks of SAFE are elder abuse sheltering and an expertise in serving the Jewish and Orthodox Jewish community.  Eighty percent of SAFE clients are not Jewish.  Currently, SAFE has one elder abuse shelter that is located in a Long Term Care facility, and a second shelter —  a community-based senior-friendly apartment.  Also, SAFE is a member of the SPRiNG Alliance, a national elder abuse sheltering “movement.”

SAFE also provides a tremendous amount of consultation—talking with survivors, family members, professionals and institutions about options and resources for addressing individual or systemic elder abuse matters.

The creation of an elder abuse response system relies on local, state and nationwide prevention education at all levels.  SAFE’s keynotes, workshops, and talks span relevant topics such as elder abuse 101, healthy relationships, financial scams and legal rights, and more.  SAFE is sought after to educate people in senior centers and older adult communities, public, private and religious institutions, advocacy and professional groups.

Currently, SAFE is implementing a 3-year Federal program through the Office of Violence Against Women to train police officers, state’s attorneys, victim services providers and judges about elder abuse.  Additionally, SAFE recently received funding from the Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to hire a Statewide Elder Abuse Advocate to create a Statewide Elder Abuse Coordinating Council.

CHANA is an organization that offers a Jewish community response to the needs of people who experience abuse and other forms of interpersonal trauma.  In providing expert crisis intervention, education and consultation, CHANA advocates for community awareness, safety and healing.  CHANA envisions an aware and responsive community where all individuals are empowered to live with security and self-determination.

 

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The abuser is often the only avenue for the elder to get their essential needs met,

e.g. food, medicine, transportation.

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JCH: What is the biggest myth or misconception you feel people have about Elder Abuse? 

Jacke: First, that it’s not happening! People don’t want to believe it, accept it, and especially they don’t want to talk about that it exists in their families, their places of worship, or to their neighbors.  Additionally, and of most concern, is that many people don’t know it’s happening to them, that what their family members are doing to them is abuse, and in many cases that it is against the law.

Second, for those people who do believe or know it’s happening, most think it’s happening to only women; male victims aren’t at all on their radar.  Twenty percent of SAFE clients have been males. They are being abused by their spouses, adult children and grandchildren.  We expect that percentage will increase over time. For example, just in the month of June (2017), 80% of our calls were from men. Regardless, the number of older adult women murdered by elder abuse far outweighs the number of men.

It’s accepted within the field that elder abuse is occurring to an underreported 1 in 10 older adults, and that for every 1 report there’s an estimated 23 incidents left unreported. There are very good reasons for underreporting.  Most mothers will do everything in their power to protect their adult children and grandchildren.  And the abuser is often the only avenue for the elder to get their essential needs met, e.g. food, medicine or transportation.  In some SAFE clients, domestic violence has grown old. Not uncommon in those relationships, there is retaliation for abuse by the abuser when the abuser turns to needing care from his or her lifelong victim.

Spanning cross public, private and nonprofit agencies and organizations, there is an absence of inclusion of elder abuse programs and services.  Although they are set up for children and families, older adults are not included in the family component.  Older adults programming is siloed into “aging,” a category most people have no enthusiasm for unless there’s a focus on wellness and longevity.

At SAFE, we are dedicated to the belief that the more we talk about elder abuse and the less we beat around the bush about it, the more people will be willing to talk about it, too.  And the more people know the signs and symptoms, the more they’ll recognize what is happening to them and reach out for help.  Also, the less likely a person will be satisfied in being a silent bystander.  We tell people who might be bystanders, they don’t have to prove abuse is happening—there are others who can do that; they only have to listen to their intuition and make a call to us and we can help them figure out what next steps to take.

Gathering inaccurate data about elder abuse incidents, if any data is collected at all, which it rarely is, is pervasive.  How first responders document elder incidents occurring at in the home is one example of what’s needed.  If an elder was pushed and fell as a result, and as a result of the fall suffered a head trauma, the reported incident is documented and counted as a head trauma—not a fall, and not an elder abuse incident.   A person should be asked, “Did someone push you?”

 

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Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi says

“An elder is a person whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience

and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.”

I believe it’s our job to keep elders safe in order for them to do this legacy work.

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JCH: Without giving away the webinar, what are a few areas that most people/agencies forget in terms of building safety nets for their elderly? 

Jacke: There are many issues needing consideration when responding to elders being abused. First and foremost is the fact that when you’ve seen one elder abuse case, you’ve seen one elder abuse case.  Each case is individualized and highly complex, and serving those elders is time-consuming and costly. Additionally, families are complicated and it’s likely there are long-standing patterns that the abused elder isn’t able to easily untangle from.

There aren’t domestic violence shelters that cater to the needs of older adults with frailties, vulnerabilities, medical and transportation needs, etc.  An older adult doesn’t want to be living in a crisis situation having to leave their home and stay in a shelter with women in their 20’s with small children.  Unlike a younger woman, an elder can’t hop in her or his car, find a new apartment and get a different job.  They often can’t simply be given a telephone number to call for helpful resources such a to find an attorney or navigate through a phone system for information about their insurances.  Older adults need supporters to do things with them and often for them.

As all people do, yet more so for elders, coordination of their care needs is essential.  One hospitalization can fragment an entire plan of care that’s been in place for an elder, and upon discharge putting the pieces back together may not be realistic for the elder to accomplish on their own.  “Warm” handoffs are essential.

 

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Elder abuse is occurring to an underreported 1 in 10 older adults,

and that for every 1 report there’s an estimated 23 incidents left unreported.

~~~~~

 

 

JCH: While I know you are passionate about what you do, there are a lot of demands placed on our those in the social field who protect our most vulnerable people these days. Given everything that you see, what keeps you motivated to keep going?

Jacke: A combination of deep compassion and value for life, my life purpose has been about finding my voice and speaking for what’s humane and respectful—the dignity of our elders.  I’ve spent time thinking about what it means to be an elder and who is an elder.  I think Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi’s definition of an elder from his book, “From Aging to Sage-ing” says it best.  “An elder is a person whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.” I believe it’s our job to keep elders safe in order for them to do this legacy work.

Frankly, I feel an urgency, and also have an odd sort of sense that I’m “saving” myself!  With the silver tsunami underway, with dementias running rampant, caregivers underpaid, systems not in place to respond and protect elders, I don’t want to be in a situation where lack of system swallows me up rendering me without healthy and kind options and ultimately harmed.  And I don’t want that to happen to anyone else either.  I am one of “them,” as we all are, and I want to do everything I can to show people they’re worthy of receiving help and that help exists.  In order for the help that’s needed to be available, we have to act now to create those systems.

Not inconsequential, my lifestyle helps me remain healthy while working with elder abuse victims and professionals.  I’m a long time meditator.  Meditation helps me with having healthy boundaries and to stay centered. I rarely have lingering thoughts about clients once I go home.  Also, I no longer eat sugar, flour, and processed foods.  This dietary change has helped me to have nearly unlimited energy and clarity of mind.

 

Click here to Watch “It Takes a Community: Building Community Based Safety Nets for Victims of Elder Abuse.”

 

 

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