A View of Elder Justice in Guam

By Jessica Lee

March 20 , 2023

      The Guam Elder Justice Center – Legal Assistance Program (EJC) began providing legal assistance services to the island’s Manamko’ (older adults) in March 2021 as a limited term pilot program. Created in partnership between the Department of Public Health and Social Services Division of Senior Citizens, the Guam State Office on Aging, and the Public Defender Service Corporation, the EJC is funded by Title III-B of the Older Americans Act of 1965 for older adults sixty years of age and older. The program has received additional funding under the American Rescue Plan to expand its services to older adults between the ages of 55 and 59. In October 2021, the EJC officially became a permanent entity within the Government of Guam under the Public Defender Service Corporation’s Civil Law Center. It shares its office with The Advocacy Center, which is another program that provides legal assistance to victims and survivors of violence. It provides no-cost legal advice and services for individuals needing assistance with obtaining protective and restraining orders. Clients of the EJC may also use the services of The Advocacy Center.

      In addition to providing legal services, the EJC is a mandatory reporting agency. In the event an individual discloses any abuse or neglect towards older adults, children, and/or individuals with disabilities, the EJC is required to report to the appropriate agencies. Several reports have been filed with the Guam Adult Protective Services Bureau (APS) since inception of the pilot program. In 2021, Guam APS responded to 243 Referrals/Intakes, averaging 20 cases per month. Of the 243 Referrals/Intakes received, 233 were determined to be appropriate for investigation and 10 were determined to be an Inappropriate Referral/Intake. The Referrals/Intakes received are categorized as Elderly, Elderly with a Disability and Adult with a Disability.

      The most frequent type of abuse reported is financial/property exploitation, which ranges from stolen bank cards to deeds of gift. Historically, families on Guam are “land rich,” but “money poor.” This often leads to older adults gifting a deed to their children or someone they trust to keep the property, but instead they sell the property for money. Sometimes the older adult is kicked out of the property and left homeless. It is also common for older adults to entrust their finances to these people because they may be receiving a pension or social security income directly into their account. There have been cases where tens of thousands of dollars are taken from one account alone.

      Although the abuse exists, the island’s Manamko’ refuse to report their loved ones. Many state that they would rather have their children steal from them than be left alone. Loneliness is a common factor that plays into the abuse. Guam’s culture involves family, the notion that blood is thicker than water. Traditionally, families would try to resolve conflict among the family members. It is rare to involve third parties which makes reporting less likely and allows for continued abuse.

      When abuse or neglect is disclosed to the EJC, the protocol is to ensure the safety of the individual(s), write a formal report, and directly deliver the report to the Guam APS Bureau for investigation. The EJC also has resources and information for emergency food, water, and shelter in the event the individual(s) cannot safely return home.  When an individual is in immediate danger and requests to be accompanied by a staff member of EJC to a safe place such as the Guam Police Department, The Advocacy Center, the Guam APS Bureau or a participating program partner, EJC will coordinate an escort. The Elder Justice Center continues its efforts in providing legal assistance to the island’s Manamko’ and is a public resource for those who are in need.

Guam Elder Justice Center – Legal Assistance Services Program (guamejc.org)

Jessica Lee is the Senior Law Clerk at the Civil Law Center where she is handles legal intake for the Elder Justice Center and is an advocate for the Advocacy Center.