Prior to the lockdown, SAIF had 18 calls in January/February 2020 for elder abuse. This year, the number of elder abuse calls in January/February was 32.
The provincial government is offering more support to organizations that intervene and help prevent elder abuse.
“We’re very hopeful that the money’s come forward. We’ve seen a lot of senior services being cut, sort of like death by 1,000 cuts, it’s all these little cuts … So this funding has come at a really good time,” said Areni Kelleppan, executive director of Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF) Society.
On March 17, the province announced it would be providing $750,000 over two years to the Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Council to provide one-time funding to the 31 eligible co-ordinated community responses (CCRs) to elder abuse in the province.
“We know seniors have really had a difficult time with the pandemic – everybody has, but seniors have been particularly affected … We are cautiously optimistic, and we’re grateful that the province recognized this is a need because elder abuse is a growing problem. And the numbers keep climbing,” said Kelleppan.
Elder abuse has been a growing concern over the course of the pandemic. In September, the Gazette reported calls to SAIF about elder abuse had increased by 30 to 50 per cent in a period of six months.
Those numbers don’t seem to be getting better. Prior to the lockdown, SAIF had 18 calls in January/February 2020 for elder abuse. This year the number of elder abuse calls in January/February was 32. SAIF supported 92 clients and their families dealing with elder abuse in 2020. As of the end of February, they had 18 active client files.
The additional support for this issue will be available to eligible CCRs, which are multidisciplinary partnerships that can include local governments, non-profit organizations, businesses, health service providers and police services.
SAIF is an eligible CCR but there is no guarantee they will receive any money. Kelleppan said they still have to go through the grant process, and she isn’t certain about when the funding will be available, but the fact the funding covers a period of two years is significant.
“They’re saying it’s two years and that’s significant because we don’t have any money after the end of this year – we keep cobbling it together, but we don’t have any certainty year to year,” she said.
She is hoping the funding will allow SAIF to continue to pay its co-ordinator and any other costs of the program can be covered through community support.
“This community has come together. When we lost our funding in 2019, this community came together and continued to fund elder abuse (responses) because they believed it was so important and they allocated the funds to do so. That’s both from the community, that’s donors, fundraisers and also the city,” she explained.
Kelleppan said there are two big issues when it comes to elder abuse over the course of the pandemic. One of the issues they are seeing is family members, who have possibly lost their source of income, taking advantage of seniors.
“They begin to steal, or they move back in, and they start intimidating and coercing and stopping home-care from coming to visit and taking care of their loved one. So, things like that, we’ve seen a growing side of that,” she explained.
Another issue is the lack of eyes on seniors right now. Normally, people would notice if a senior wasn’t up and about, or if they were behaving differently. That isn’t currently happening.
“When they haven’t been able to socialize, that allows abuse to continue in secret – that’s been a big issue. Seniors haven’t been able to rely on their friendship and family networks,” she said.
It typically isn’t the seniors themselves who call in about the abuse. It is friends, family members and neighbours.
“Very rarely do seniors who are being abused or who are at risk of being abused call in, and mostly because they are afraid. They’re afraid of losing their independence and being put into a home. They’re afraid of turning in a loved one, or their only means of support,” she explained.
The best thing for people to do to look out for each other right now, said Kelleppan, is to reach out.
“If you have the capacity and ability make a phone call and just check in. That is sometimes the most gentle way to find out how they’re doing, you might not hear everything, but you’ll be able to check in,” she explained.
“We talk about nosy neighbours, but sometimes you see a lot just in your home, out your window. If you are concerned, if there are patterns that are changing significantly for an older neighbour that you have, or if there’s something going on at an older neighbour’s house that isn’t typical and is happening consistently now – that’s a good time to just raise the alarm. If calling the police seems a bit too much, call us. We’re happy to look into that kind of thing,” she said.
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