Making a Difference: Elder Abuse Networks

By Georgia J. Anetzberger, PhD, ACSW, NCEA Advisory Board Member

Jack Johnson may have written and performed the song “Better Together” for music fans, but it well could be the anthem for any elder abuse network in this country. Sometimes called coalitions, councils, or task forces, elder abuse networks bring together change agents, like policy makers and agency leaders, for collective action. Focusing on a system, community, or state, they identify, assess, and attempt to remedy problems in elder abuse detection, prevention, and intervention.

Elder abuse networks show enormous variation. For example, some establish formal agreements with participants, and others maintain informal relations. Some networks have a singular purpose, like public policy advocacy, and others engage in multiple types of activities, from public awareness campaigns to interdisciplinary teams. Finally, some are temporary, formed to undertake a defined project or special cause, and others are ongoing, often characterized by written procedures and paid staff.

Many believe that nothing beats networks for “making a difference” in addressing a problem as complex and seemingly intractable as elder abuse. I am one of those persons. Having helped to form a few in Ohio at both state and community levels, I have seen first-hand how much more and better accomplishments are through collective action than individual pursuit.

My initial recognition came in 1980. That year the Council on Older Persons (COOP), a membership group formed in the 1920s around the concerns of Greater Cleveland’s older population, decided that the state needed a less restrictive form ofprotection than guardianship. Therefore, it established a committee to draft and secure enactment of an adult protective services (APS) law, which the committee did within less than two years. The close collegial relations formed among the ten committee members who drafted the legislation, along with those resulting from statewide efforts to pass it, became the foundation for the two oldest, continuously-operating elder abuse networks in the country, the Consortium Against Adult Abuse (c3a) www.c3a5county.org and Ohio Coalition for Adult Protective Services (OCAPS) www.ocapsohio.org I was staff to COOP and its legislative committee and became the first Chair of OCAPS.

C3a is now in its seventh name, functions under the auspice of the regional area agency on aging, and serves the five counties of Greater Cleveland. OCAPS, formed in 1984, is an independent non-profit statewide organization, centrally located in Columbus. It would be impossible to list all of their achievements within the confines of a blog. Suffice it to say, they are many, far-reaching, and meaningful. For each, the achievements include annual conferences spanning over thirty years, educating thousands of varied professionals, along with successful advocacy to obtain and then increase APS funding and to reform state elder abuse and guardianship laws. In addition, among other things, c3a led local efforts to establish a volunteer guardianship program, accessible emergency shelters, and even another elder abuse network, the Greater Cleveland Elder Abuse/Domestic Violence Roundtable. Among OCAPS’ many achievements are a statewide elder abuse listserv and Ohio Hopes www.ohiohopes.org which provides resources, a monitored helpline, and support in reporting crimes.

Creating an elder abuse network may not be difficult. It takes vision, drive, and contacts. Sustaining one is more challenging, but as you can see from the Ohio examples, it can be done. Key is a willingness to address organizational issues as they arise and a commitment to “never give up,” knowing that it is “better together” in effectively stopping elder abuse.


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Special Thanks to Judith D. Tamkin

We are sincerely appreciative to Judith D. Tamkin for her gift to help establish the USC Center on Elder Mistreatment’s website. Her deep and personal commitment to eradicating elder abuse is helping to reshape our understanding of elder abuse and ultimately save innumerable older adults from abuse and neglect.