November 01, 2019

Year in Review: COLA Works to Prevent, Identify, Remedy Elder Abuse

The Commission works to improve the justice system's role in identifying, preventing, and remedying elder abuse.

The Commission works to improve the justice system's role in identifying, preventing, and remedying elder abuse.

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 2.)

By Lori Stiegel

The Commission continued its endeavors to improve the justice system’s role in preventing, detecting, and remedying elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation (“elder abuse”).  Increasingly, victims and their family members seek redress to this devastating and costly problem from the civil, criminal, family, and probate courts.  Staff also continued work on other projects addressing the intersection of elder abuse and guardianship; those projects are discussed in our supported decision-making and guardianship articles.

The Commission completed its project to enhance and evaluate the capacity of elder abuse fatality review teams (EAFRTs) to improve the delivery of services to elder abuse victims. The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime (DOJ/OVC), building on the foundational investment made by DOJ/OVC in 2001 when it funded the Commission to provide seed funding to some of the earliest EAFRTs and to develop Elder Abuse Fatality Review Teams: A Replication Manual (ABA, 2005). 

DOJ/OVC made these investments in the EAFRT concept because these teams examine the deaths of individuals that may be caused by or related to elder or adult abuse with the goal of identifying system gaps and improving victim services.

We collaborated with Dr. Jason Burnett, an elder abuse researcher and program evaluator at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, to identify 35 teams in 13 states.  Of the 35 teams, 30 are EAFRTs and five are domestic violence FRTs that review some elder deaths.  (Other teams may exist or be in development.)  Using three questionnaires, we obtained information from the leaders, coordinators, or members of 24 of the 35 teams about team documents such as confidentiality forms, case review forms, data collection tools, and reports/recommendations; team members and processes; and team outcomes. 

EAFRTs members represent an array of agencies and services.  The four largest categories of members are adult protective services, the medical examiner’s or coroner’s office, law enforcement, and prosecutors.  Not surprisingly, we found that teams differ in the types of cases they review, criteria for conducting a review, and who selects cases to review. 

We asked team members about the impact of EAFRT participation on themselves, their organizations, and their community (county, region, or state in which the team operates). Seventy-eight percent (n=62) of the responses were from members who had served on their team for more than one year; 44 percent (n=35) had served for four or more years.  Team members indicated the following benefits of EAFRT participation:

  1. EAFRT participation enhances members’ knowledge and ability to do their jobs
  2. EAFRT members share what they learn at EAFRT meetings with their colleagues
  3. EAFRTs often advance systemic changes in their communities and states 

We also created an EAFRT web page on the Commission’s website.  That page provides information including a list of teams and the jurisdictions they serve; team documents organized by category and by team; 11 charts updating or expanding the charts contained in the 2005 replication manual; fact sheets about team operations and team outcomes; and links to other useful resources.  This information will benefit individuals involved with existing teams and those who may be considering establishment of an EAFRT. 

We continued supporting federal, state, and community efforts to improve laws and practices related to elder abuse, by providing information and technical assistance to congressional committees, federal agencies, state AARP offices as consultants to AARP’s State Advocacy and Strategy Integration Team, and to numerous state and local providers of legal and other services to older persons. 

Efforts to educate lawyers, judges, and allied professionals continued in various ways.  We provided or sponsored in-person presentations or webinars about elder abuse to thousands of lawyers, judges, and other professionals primarily through the National Aging and Law Conference and National Center on Law and Elder Rights webinars. 

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