Ever seen someone berating an elderly person over a trivial matter? Heard an older person being pressured to give their hard-earned savings to a close relative or newfound ‘friend’? Watched a wheelchair-bound adult left alone for hours in a crowded mall while his caregiver goes shopping?
If so, you’ve witnessed adult abuse, an emerging issue in today’s aging society.
While it’s difficult to determine the extent of the problem, BC’s Ministry of Health estimates that between four and 10 per cent of seniors will experience some form of physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse during their ‘golden’ years. People over the age of 19 with mental, physical, or emotional handicaps are equally vulnerable to similar mistreatment.
What makes these incidents even more heartbreaking, according to Burns Lake resident Kelly Turford, is that in most cases, they are perpetrated by family members or trusted friends.
Turford is executive director of Lakes District Community Services, an organization that provides a variety of amenities to residents of the area. It’s also the host agency for the Lakes District Community Response Network (LDCRN), a new initiative designed to tackle the problem of adult abuse here.
The LDCRN was formed Feb. 20 to develop a coordinated community response to adult abuse. While it’s only been in existence for eight weeks, the fledgling organization already has nearly a dozen members, including such key service providers as the Burns Lake RCMP detachment, Victim Services, Northern Health, the Southside Health & Wellness Centre, the Burns Lake Christian Supportive Society, and two local First Nations.
Turford admits that it’s difficult to ascertain how big a problem adult abuse may be in the Lakes District. Statistics on it aren’t readily available even at the provincial level, primarily because abuses of this type are rarely reported (and, in fact, their reporting isn’t even mandatory under BC’s Adult Guardianship Act). Yet she stresses that even if the problem is a small one here, it has the potential to impact people in a big way – and for this reason, the LDCRN is committed to addressing it.
“One of the things that we’re actually here to do, first of all, is create an awareness in the community of the issue,” she explained. “One of our goals, and one of the criteria that we will be adhering to, is to ensure that there is education out there.”
The LDCRN’s public education campaign, says Turford, could take many forms. Initially, the organization will use the funding it has received from the BC Association of Community Response Networks (the umbrella organization for the province’s 107 CRNs) to raise its public profile and improve local residents’ awareness of adult abuse.
“At the last meeting, we had sat down as a group and discussed where we would like to see this go over the next 12 months,” she said. “One of the first things we identified was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEADD), June 15, so in conjunction with National Seniors Week, June 1-7, we’ll be doing quite a campaign throughout the month of June to bring awareness to the community of the WEAAD event, and the creation of the CRN… National Seniors Day is in October, and so that’s something we also identified as a possible fall event for the organization.”
In addition to delivering general information about adult abuse and the LDCRN, the group hopes to offer more specialized ‘gatekeeper’ training that will instruct local service providers on how to recognize and report adult abuse. The LDCRN is also working on a brochure that will outline what people can do if they encounter incidents of adult abuse.
Developing the brochure is crucial, says Turford, because the LDCRN doesn’t handle or investigate complaints of this type.
“We’re working on the brochure as we speak,” she stressed. “Our next meeting is April 23, and I expect the group will be reviewing that brochure, ensuring its accuracy, and then printing it.”
While there may not be local guidelines in place yet for reporting adult abuse, Turford noted that some organizations within BC have a mandate to deal with incidents of this type. BC’s five health authorities, Community Living BC, and the Providence Health Care Society are all “designated agencies” under the Adult Guardianship Act, and as such, are legally required to report adult abuse to appropriate authorities. The act also provides them with a number of legal tools to protect adults.
Turford acknowledges that preventing adult abuse won’t be an easy task, regardless of the scope of the problem. She is convinced, however, that by working together, local residents can have a positive impact.
“People can continue to become involved,” she stressed. “It (LDCRN) is certainly not something that is closed off, or that you could only join initially. As we grow the presence of the organization within the community, we’re hoping that more agencies and individuals will come on board to support it.”
The LDCRN current meets monthly. Anyone wanting more information on the organization or its activities can contact Lakes District Community Services at (250) 692-7577.