Helping Civil Legal Aid Attorneys Identify and Respond to Elder Abuse

June 17, 2014

This blog is courtesy of Meg Morrow, an attorney advisor for the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).  Ms. Morrow manages OVC’s efforts to respond to elder abuse.

The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) joins with other components within the Department of Justice to acknowledge the prevalence of elder abuse in the United States and to recognize promising advances in the field.  Having recognized World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, 2014, we can glean hope from the increase in awareness and recognition of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation in this country while facing the challenges of the work that remains.

OVC believes that the more we educate victim service providers, criminal justice professionals and allied practitioners about victim issues, the better able those professionals are to serve victims who need those services.  In the area of elder abuse, OVC has worked diligently to develop training for the full range of professionals who interact with elders who may be victims of abuse, including victim service providers, physicians, nurses, law enforcement, adult protective services, aging services providers, judges and court personnel and community corrections professionals.

In that spirit, OVC teamed with the department’s Elder Justice Initiative and Access to Justice Initiative to develop an interactive, online curriculum for legal aid and other civil attorneys on identifying and responding to elder abuse.  As Deputy Attorney General James Cole said when he announced this collaboration, “Legal services programs have a unique opportunity to prevent and remedy elder abuse.”

Funded through the Elder Justice Initiative, this curriculum includes six one-hour modules that address a range of issues relevant to civil attorneys who serve older clients in the course of their practice.  This training has the basic information and tools attorneys can use to identify and address the needs of their older clients who may be experiencing some form of abuse.

This week, the Department released the first three modules of the curriculum: What Every Legal Services Lawyer Needs to Know About Elder Abuse; Practical and Ethical Strategies; and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.  The three remaining modules, Elder Abuse in Long-Term Care; Financial Exploitation; and Guardianship, Conservatorship and Surrogate Decision Making, are scheduled for release later in the summer.

Legal aid attorneys regularly work with older clients who are victims of elder abuse, but too often the attorneys do not recognize the warning signs of abuse or know where to turn for help.  With this curriculum, the department aims to ensure that these critical allied practitioners have the resources they need to identify the abuse and take action.

Later this summer, Access to Justice is issuing a case study, Civil Legal Aid Supports Federal Efforts to Prevent and Remedy Elder Abuse, which will be made part of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Toolkit that Associate Attorney General Tony West recently announced at the April 8, 2014, White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice.  This case study will explain the unique role civil legal aid lawyers can play in helping to prevent and remedy elder abuse.

OVC will continue to work with our partners at the department to expand services that address the needs of elder abuse victims.

I encourage legal aid lawyers, other civil attorneys and any other professionals seeking to learn about the identification of elder abuse to access the new training modules to learn more about what they can do to address elder abuse.

To learn more information on OVC’s efforts to enhance the response to elder abuse victims, please visit the office's website.

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