As we mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) today, I find myself reflecting on our amazing accomplishments these past several years, particularly because this is the last WEAAD I will commemorate in my capacity as Assistant Secretary for Aging. My national “perch” allows me to see the peaks and valleys on our collective journey towards elder justice. In the past seven years, we have had many high points and we’ve made much progress along the road. I want to celebrate that progress with all of you.
I’m proud of this Administration’s focus on elder abuse. I am also proud of what ACL has accomplished. Over the last seven years ACL has:
Established a federal home for Adult Protective Services (APS)
Created the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative
Allocated and distributed $5 million in funding for elder abuse prevention research (2013)
Developed the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (2014)
Produced Voluntary Consensus Guidelines for APS Programs (2016)
Allocated $7 million in funding for State APS Enhancement grants (2016)
Strengthened the National Center on Elder Abuse
I am excited about the work that has been done across so many federal departments and agencies. To this end, ACL is providing leadership for the Elder Justice Coordinating Council, which is a forum for federal departments to share information and align its work for the purpose of creating a national response to elder abuse. Elder justice was also a focus of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging. There we were able to bring in community organizations, businesses, and university collaborators. It is clear our impact is greater when we work together.
In a country where one in ten older people is abused, neglected or exploited each year, America cannot rest on the journey towards elder justice. We must forge on.
First, we must continue to support a national dialogue about the value of older adults and we must confront ageism in all its forms. Older people are vital, contributing members of our society. They work, volunteer, and raise young people. They hold our nation’s memory and are a deep repository of the rich traditions and cultures that make our nation diverse and vibrant. The abuse or neglect of any one of them diminishes all of us.
Second, we must support the frontline programs that interact with victims and survivors of elder abuse, such as APS, the Long-term Care Ombudsman Programs, the Protection and Advocacy network, domestic violence programs, victim services, and law enforcement. We must invest in more research to demonstrate the impact and outcomes of these programs. But, while we wait for this research to inform our future program design, we must counter years of chronic underfunding to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of today’s older adults.
Third, we must instill in the American public the belief that they can make a difference in the fight against the epidemic of elder maltreatment. Research tells us that collective action is necessary. Elder abuse is a societal problem that can be tackled at the systemic level. We must educate policy leaders about elder abuse and encourage them to support programs at the local, state, and tribal levels that provide services to prevent abuse or to support victims. Additionally, social media’s “virtual community” is increasingly a place where we can come together across geographical boundaries to create a chorus of voices sharing stories, teaching one another, and promoting elder justice.
Looking back along the road we’ve traveled to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2016, I am grateful to each of you for the roles you’ve played and for the partnerships you’ve established with me and ACL. We’ve gathered strength from each other and we’ve challenged each other to do better. Looking ahead, though our destination is still in the distance, the way forward is clearer and the goal of elder justice closer than ever. I know we will get there eventually, together.