The Central Coast Elder Abuse Service team of Chrissie Francis, Tanya Chapman, Tracy Jackson and Mary Lovelock recruited Lucy from Paws Pet Therapy to start discussions at a Seniors Fair at Umina Beach Library.
The Central Coast Elder Abuse Service team of Chrissie Francis, Tanya Chapman, Tracy Jackson and Mary Lovelock recruited Lucy from Paws Pet Therapy to start discussions at a Seniors Fair at Umina Beach Library.

Help at hand to beat abuse

ELDER abuse can be incredibly difficult to talk about, covering a wide range of issues including financial, emotional, physical or sexual abuse and neglect.

As with other domestic violence, adding further stress and complexity to the issue is the fact that this abuse is carried out by a family member or someone else you trust.

According to statistics, adult children represent about 50 per cent of abusers, but carers, neighbours and friends can also be responsible.

Thankfully, Central Coast seniors experiencing or at risk of abuse can now access free specialist help in Gosford from Legal Aid NSW's first dedicated Elder Abuse Service. The service opened in February, and senior solicitor Mary Lovelock said that by having a social worker in the team, they hope to "break down some of those barriers to speaking out" and better support some of the state's most vulnerable people.

"Clients experiencing elder abuse can feel humiliated and silenced by their experiences, especially when it involves family," Mary said.

In the first month of operation, she said, most of the problems they were seeing centred on money and housing.

"Older people moving in with family, or lending money to family to build granny flats - these are situations that can present challenges to family dynamics and can be risk factors for elder abuse," she said.

As well as the direct results, elder abuse can have more far-reaching consequences in the form of increased health risks, frailty, and financial and housing crises, which can stop people speaking out.

"Many of our clients experience elder abuse and, due to health and mobility issues, may not have a way to connect to our services," Mary said. "Our partners who work with these clients play a big role in connecting older people to us."

The service will work with eligible clients - those over 65, or over 50 if Aboriginal - who ask for help directly, but will also receive referrals from a range of stakeholders including health and mental health services, Centrelink, aged care providers and the NSW Guardian.

The Central Coast was chosen to host the three-year pilot project due to its high number of older people, including a large population of older Aboriginal people and high levels of homelessness and disadvantage. One aspect to be overcome in tackling elder abuse is the realisation that it can be a single act as well as a series of acts that cause the older person harm.

Research has shown there is serious under-reporting of abuse by older people, who often don't recognise what is happening as abuse as a result of generational expectations, or because they feel they have no options open to them.

The Central Coast Elder Abuse Service is based in the Gosford office of Legal Aid, 92-100 Donnison St. Phone 4324 5611.


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