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Training Program Helps Professionals Address Elder Abuse

June 25, 2008 — Many people's biggest fear is loss of their independence as they age. This often leads to a level of dependence on caregivers, and for 4 to 6 percent of the population, it will lead to elder abuse.
In numerical terms, that is 1.6 million victims in the United States. These figures were provided as part of a week-long training program offered to 26 members of V.I. law enforcement, social workers, Health Department staff and others who interact with the elderly. The training equipped the attendees with strategies and techniques to uncover and prosecute cases of elder abuse.
In the territory, as in the rest of the nation, elder abuse is on the rise, according to Murlene Van Beverhoudt, assistant administrator of Senior Citizens' Affairs.
The instructor training program, funded through the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, provided real strategies for identifying elder abuse, gathering evidence, providing appropriate services and report writing aimed to stop the abuse and put the perpetrators behind bars. Students also learned how to leverage the capabilities and equipment of each other's agencies.
One of the biggest indicators of elder abuse is the personal hygiene of the victim. When police or human services respond to a call, they can often detect a urine smell in the home where abuse is happening. Other indicators include the level of housekeeping in the victim's home, the care of their pets and the presence of bruises on the victim.
Designed as a train-the-trainer course, the instruction covered techniques for interviewing victims whose credibility may come into question. Morning is generally best for interviewing victims, and the use of charts is excellent for helping the victim identify bruise sites and other injuries.
Inconsistency in the victim's story does not mean the abuse did not happen.
"Don't discount the statements because of inconsistency," said trainer Ricker Hamilton. "This is especially important for first responders."
Report writers were cautioned not to leave out any detail and to think about all the different people who would read the report. The report will be used by prosecutors and defense attorneys, and may be read by family members, the media and the general public, to name just a few.
The training brought together all of the various parts of the government that deal with elder abuse, including the first responders and those the victim will encounter through the judicial system, including members of Adult Protective Services.
Adult Protective Services' mandate is to enforce the portion of the V.I. Code that deals with elder abuse and protective orders. The office of five serves St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island. There is another office for St. Croix.
The statute has never been enforced, but it gives her staff the authority to say that a person is at risk, Van Beverhoudt said.
"As the population ages, we want to be able to give services or intervention," Van Beverhoudt said.
However, Van Beverhoudt says that the office's budget is a problem.
"We have this very nice statute, but there is a need for funding to provide the services to remove a person to another place, or to provide counseling," Van Beverhoudt said.
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