Perpetrators of financial abuse of older people are most often trusted family members or friends, most commonly a son, and to a lesser extent, a daughter of the older person. It is important for practitioners to know who their client's family is, and who is assisting with financial matters.

Planning ahead

The planning ahead checklist (PDF) is to aid practitioners when counselling an older client or preparing their affairs for life in their retirement. 

The aim is to help the client become aware of the existence, nature and causes of financial abuse, and the desirability of making preparations that avoid it. As a practitioner, you might use this checklist to ensure the client understands the potential issue and their options for protecting against it.

Use this checklist when:

  • preparing for a meeting with an older client who has not formalised their future plans
  • drawing up an action item list following an interview with the older client
  • as a tool for making your employees aware of the issue and for developing protocols within your firm for addressing it.

Implement an organisational policy and practice

It is recommended that every organisation develop an elder abuse prevention policy and procedures. Specific policy and procedures formally raise awareness of the issue of elder abuse. They provide a framework for an organisation to express its commitment to prevention of elder abuse and set expectations for work practices. They make clear an employee’s responsibility to respond to elder abuse and generally provide guidance as to appropriate work practices and actions that need to be implemented. Practical implementation could include:

  • a professional development approach that includes using case studies for discussion and the challenges to responding to signs of potential elder abuse
  • develop a process of genuine consultation between employees around potential elder abuse situations
  • Remove any uncertainty as to how and when to respond to suspicions of potential elder abuse
  • foster a positive attitude to prevention as an element of their duty of care to the clients. Emphasis that early intervention can preserve relationships. Link to key messages
  • develop effective support in high impact areas such as specific types of transactions and situations. Identify the work roles or areas of work where contact with clients is more likely to require employees to be alert to potential elder abuse. Link to listing of high impact situations
  • identify an organisational champion that has responsibility for supporting employees and discussing their concerns. Encourage them to be the go-to person in the organisation and they will gain experience in responding when an employee wants to discuss or report potential elder abuse. 

How to respond to an employee raising concerns

It is important to recognise that an employee may be very uncertain as to the potential for elder abuse or quite emotional about the situation. It is important in order to foster a genuine dialogue about elder abuse that employees are encouraged to talk about situations. 

Firstly, it is important to ensure the person is calm and believes that you are prepared to listen and will take their concerns seriously. Often a person will blurt out their information or their thoughts or what they think needs to happen in such a way that it is difficult for you to assess the situation with any certainty. Reassure them that because you want to be able to respond to this situation you need them to go through it again and will need them to answer some questions. Let them know that you will need to ask questions for the purpose of making sure you understand the situation. This helps remove the possibility that the person reporting thinks they you doubt them and becomes defensive. 

You do need to be careful they do not feel that they are on trial, even if you are having trouble understanding the situation they are describing. This may be the case when the employee is quite uncertain or just has a feeling  and often just wants to talk it through rather than be seen as reporting it.

How to investigate the concerns

  • Be genuinely interested in the discussion with the employee.
  • Encourage the person reporting to you to give you the information in chronological order.
  • Ask them to describe what they saw or heard exactly. Let them know that you will be interested in hearing their opinion as to what they think the situation may indicate after you get down the “facts”.
  • Tell them that you will ask questions to clarify before you ask questions.
  • Receive the information and make notes. Try not to interrupt unless there is a good reason such as their information is becoming subjective or the timeline is getting confused. Always identify that you are interrupting. “Sorry to interrupt but I need you to […] so that I can understand this situation.”
  • Ask questions without using words such as “are you sure”, “could you have been mistaken” or any other phrases that may indicate you doubt them. Direct the focus of the need for questions on yourself. Have I got these dates right?
  • You may want to paraphrase the information to confirm your notes. “I want to check that I have understood you correctly, is this right?” and repeat back the points you have made from their information.
  • Ask them their opinion. Why do you think [...] ? It is very important to separate the facts from what they feel or think but this does not mean you do not seek out this information.

They need to know their insight is valued. They need to understand you welcome them raising their concerns.

Explain the course of action you will take and any tasks or actions they need to take. Ensure that any timelines are clear. If they do not need to take any more action it would be appropriate to promise to report back to them about any resolution or actions taken. Ask them if they have any questions about the way forward.

Champions guide

  • Encourage all employees to raise and discuss elder abuse, ask questions and seek advice
  • Contribute your experience of responding to elder abuse in meetings
  • Listen careful and provide opportunity for discussion when asked for advice by colleagues
  • Contribute to consultation, planning or review of response policies and procedures in your workplace
  • Support colleagues who have reported potential elder abuse that was not substantiated
  • Support awareness of the principles of empowerment of older Australians.