A while ago, we told you about REACH’s federally-funded effort to protect vulnerable elders from abuse by bringing together community partners and improving communication. Here’s an update on how things have been going since then:
The project, Waltham Against Abuse in Later Life (WAALL), officially kicked things off with a successful event in October. Forty-one service providers who work with Waltham’s elder residents joined us for the event, and representing a variety of services: batterer intervention, domestic violence, elder/disabled housing, faith-based, government, health, home-based care, law enforcement, mental health, nursing & rehabilitation, ombudsman, prosecution, protective services, and sexual assault. Attendees participated in a series of small group discussions led by two national trainers who joined us for the day: Bonnie Brandl, Executive Director of the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life, and Tara Patet, Senior Prosecutor of the City of Saint Paul (MN) Office of the City Attorney. They told us about a case of a couple in their late 70’s over a 7-year period until the wife died of natural causes. What we learned was that throughout the 7 years, the husband was abusive and controlling, and many of the systems set in place to protect victims were ineffective in helping the wife. It was a meaningful education for all of us who were there.
Shortly after the kickoff event, all of the police officers on the Waltham force attended one of four full-day law enforcement trainings in October and November. Local experts (specially trained under this grant) led the seminars. These experts came from four different disciplines: domestic violence/sexual assault, protective services, law enforcement, and prosecution. With a major focus on investigation, they studied elder abuse through the lens of domestic violence, sexual abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. The officers responded positively to the training, telling us in their written evaluations that what they learned will help them know what to do when they encounter elder abuse. They also appreciated the “legal resources card” we gave them that lists Massachusetts laws specific to elders on one side and local agencies with telephone numbers and hours of operation on the other side. The laminated card is designed to fit easily in the glove box of their patrol cars.
WAALL’s first formal Coordinated Community Response (CCR) team met in December. This is a group of service providers, many of whom came to the kickoff event in October, who have committed to meeting on an ongoing basis to discuss ways to improve the safety of Waltham elders at risk of being abused. After introducing ourselves, we talked about what elder abuse looks like in Waltham and how much of it there is, and how important it is to actually have conversations with elders about abuse. We looked ahead to a Victim Service Provider Training that was recently announced, happening on May 5th, and the 11th annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15. The CCR will be meeting every other month, and working collaboratively in between meetings. For example, recently several partners were able to discuss concerns expressed by a volunteer, and together decided that it was appropriate to file a report with the Department of Elder Services and take steps to protect an older person who was being abused by a relative.
You might also recall that one of the first things we did under this grant was distribute and then collect a Needs Assessment last spring. We used the feedback and information from this survey to develop an “Outreach and Services Strategic Plan” which was recently approved by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence against Women. We will be implementing the plan in the near future, expanding our presence in the elder community and supporting directly the victims of elder abuse in Waltham.
If you are someone who works with elders in the City of Waltham, we want to hear from you! Contact Pat Cooper, our Elder Services Project Coordinator and Advocate, at (781) 891-0724 ext. 118 to let her know how you’d like to be involved.