World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: Research aims to improve care to prevent the mistreatment of older adults

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A professor’s research within the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) is helping to advance a better understanding about best practices to address the abuse of older persons.

In recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, Social Work Department chair and associate professor Victoria M. Rizzo said elder abuse and neglect takes many forms physical, financial, mental and emotional and interprofessional services have the potential to prevent future abuse.

From 2007 to 2014, Rizzo partnered with JASA, the largest social service agency for older adults in New York City, to conduct research focused on the provision of professional social work services to low-income older adults.

As a result of this work, Rizzo presented at a conference to discuss the research agenda and federal priorities for civil legal aid, serving as one of 40 international experts to discuss research on elder abuse and legal interventions. The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice and Office for Access to Justice sponsored the workshop with the National Science Foundation.

“This is the first study of elder abuse prevention that uses multivariate analysis, or analyzes more than one variable at a time, to examine elder abuse treatment and prevention,” Rizzo said.

The study examines the effectiveness of JASA’s LEAP program, which provides legal and social services for adults age 60 and up living in the boroughs of Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

According to Rizzo’s findings, the retention rate for clients in the LEAP program (which includes the services of lawyers and social workers employed within the same agency) was 71.7 percent and the risk of further abuse to clients was reduced by 68.2 percent.

Rizzo explained that JASA’s model of care is so successful because social workers and lawyers are working together as part of the same agency.

“The model allows clients to continue to receive services, even when they choose to abandon a legal claim of elder abuse, because the social worker can continue to implement the clients’ safety plans. Should clients later choose to reinstate the legal case, the lawyer can resume work from the previous stopping point,” Rizzo said. “This is possible because the lawyer and social worker are part of the same program in the same agency.”

“Social workers are vital members of interprofessional teams that address the complex needs of elder clients,” Rizzo said. “The research suggests that receiving legal and social services can lead to more favorable outcomes for clients when they are discharged.”

Rizzo’s study also attempts to address some current research limitations by designing the data collection forms to be reliable and consistent across cases.

“For the past decade, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day has been recognized as an opportunity for the community to raise awareness about the victims of elder abuse. The model I examined in my study illustrates the importance of collaboration between lawyers and social workers to effectively assist an underserved population,” Rizzo said.

The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable: Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop Report can be accessed from the U.S. Department of Justice web site.

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