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The following resource is part of the Family Violence Initiative, funded by the RCMP. Find similar tools by searching for the FVIF tag or consult the list of available resources.

By Charmaine Spencer
Lawyer and research associate at the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre

On January 15, 2015, Statistics Canada released its newest report on family violence in Canada, including a special section on seniors. Using 2013 data, this report looks at violent criminal offences that come to the attention of police, where the accused person was a family member.

The report identifies important trends in family violence and counters several public misconceptions on violence against seniors. However, because the focus is on violence, it does not cover financial crimes against seniors by family or others, unless some form of violence occurred.

Dispelling some myths: In contrast to popular thinking, younger seniors may be more vulnerable to family violence than the older seniors are. The younger seniors are much more likely than older seniors to experience family violence reported to the police. Part of this may be that older women and men are much more likely to live alone.

The report also dispels another common belief that “seniors don’t report”. Statistics Canada notes violent incidents involving older adults are more likely to be reported to police, at least when compared to younger victims. This is a long time trend.

The good news: Seniors continue to have much lower rates of family violence than any other age group, and in particular, homicide of seniors continues to be rare.

The mixed news: The police-reported rate of family violence for senior women was 26% higher than the rate for senior men. This gap between the rates of family violence for older women and men is notably smaller than the gap observed between the sexes for younger victims.

Most of the family violence offences committed against seniors by family members (55%) were common assault. Most incidents (85%) involved the use of physical force (hitting, pushing, slapping) or threats. About one in six (15%) family violence incidents against senior victims involved a weapon.

A majority (61%) of senior victims of family violence did not sustain physical injuries, and most of those injuries required little or no medical attention (e.g., some first aid).

The bad news: The actual number of people aged 65 and over (8,900) who were the victims of a violent crime has increased from the 8,500 cases seen two years ago. As the number of seniors increases in Canada, the numbers of victims is likely to continue to increase.

Earlier Statistics Canada reports indicate that unlike trends in family-related murder-suicides overall, the rate of murder-suicides against seniors has been increasing since the early 1990s.

English and French versions of the report are available.

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Interview with Anh Ngo, Project volunteer, Vietnamese Women’s Association of Toronto Family Services

CNPEA: Tell us about your project.

Anh: Preventing Abuse of Loving Seniors (PALS) was created in partnership with Vietnamese Women’s Association of Toronto Family Services (VWAT), the Korean Canadian Women’s Association (KCWA) Family and Social Services, and the Hong Fook Mental Health Association. It is a three-year project funded by the New Horizons for Seniors Program. PALS uses a peer-leadership model to connect with Vietnamese, Korean, Cantonese and Mandarin ethno-cultural communities to talk about elder abuse. We have used the peer-leadership model successfully in other circumstances, such as domestic violence in the community, and decided to expand to elder abuse.

We began this project by asking long-term volunteers with our agencies to share our interest in elder abuse prevention work. Traditionally, most of our project participants have been with older women. For us a unique part of this project is the number of older men participating. The span of the project over 3 years was helpful because it gave us time to build up volunteers and implement creative formats to talk about elder abuse.

We wanted to do something creative and make the programming more of a social gathering. In the past we have tried straight elder abuse educational workshops and people are less interested in this type of programming, especially with the perception that people can look up information online.

CNPEA: Can you tell us about the engagement strategies you used to engage each community—similarities and differences?

Anh: VWAT is the lead agency in the project, with each of the other project partners personalizing the material for their respective community. For example, a lot of Korean participants in our project come from a religious community and we have adapted the material to be relevant to their religious teachings. With the Hong Fook community group we worked with Mandarin and Cantonese speaking elders. In terms of history between these two linguistically unique communities there are a lot of class differences in terms of cultural history, immigration and other factors. We had to be mindful of these dynamics in terms of staging workshops and hosting events.

CNPEA: It is interesting how your project uses different mediums to engage seniors on elder abuse issues. How did these mediums come together and are there key strategies you can share?

Anh: In this project, we worked with seniors to identify different mediums that would appeal to them, including educational theatre, digital story telling and a photo book. We began this project by thinking about what we want to achieve as an output and in what way it will benefit seniors. Usually with these types of projects the output is a final report that is not that useful for the participants. We involved seniors quite heavily in the project planning process before even submitting a proposal.

Educational theater came up as a medium because a lot of participants at the VWAT group came from St. Christopher House, a theater group. We took the lead from the seniors in the group and worked on an elder abuse educational theater project to present at World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), June 15. The theater project was presented at WEAAD last June. It really showcased that senior participants had in depth experience and knowledge about elder abuse, and were able to promote positive problem solving for both the audience and themselves. All three agencies in the project participated in the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day event. Utilizing a theatrical performance, we were able to bring seniors possessing different languages and cultural backgrounds together to explore the disturbing issues they face. The seniors provided their skills, talents and willingness to create a safe and healthy environment for themselves and other seniors in the community.

The infrastructure and group dynamics of the KCWA group were great for doing a photo book project. The Hong Fook group is still working on their project and is creating an exciting video in Cantonese and Mandarin titled Living with Dignity of Aging.

CNPEA: What else would you like to share about your project—any other key learning’s?

Anh: Across all the work that we do there is an investment in the actual participants and the key peer leaders. A lot of other projects are asking us how we are engaging ethno-cultural communities, and the answer is that it is a really slow community development process. We have had relationships with our key peer leaders for years. Also, having a conversation with seniors about what type of programming they would like to see and aligning their vision with the funding agreement. It really helps with buy-in and honours community wishes for programming.

Along side community development work, we can’t do half of the work we do without partners. Community organizations are always struggling with smaller and smaller pots of funding and developing relationships is really key. However, it is very challenging for us when we provide training and staff capacity building for project workers in different agencies. As we are pursuing additional funding to move the project forward with our community partners and engaging seniors at a more detailed level to recognize abuse in their own networks, we need more support for the lead agency to monitor how the project is going in different agencies. This is a lot of work and we didn’t get more training or admin dollar for this part.

More information on the project can be found on the KCWA website.

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Interview with Lillian Nakamura Maguire, Yukon Public Legal Education Association

CNPEA: How is the legal education of older adults an important step in reducing elder abuse?

Lillian: If people have access to legal tools and are able to put them in place to handle legal matters, healthcare decisions or financial matters, it can hopefully prevent an abusive situation from happening in the first place. It is equally important to educate caregivers, friends and family members. The information sheets available on our website summarize complex issues such as wills, advanced directives and so on. Trying to present information in as many understandable, plain language means as possible is really important. We have a lot of print information on our website, but this is just one aspect of our work. We also do community presentations and outreach. On our website we also have an animated video called My Friend Anne which is bilingual and relatable for people in the North. Recognizing that ageist attitudes can lead to abusive type situations is very important.

CNPEA: In your practice, how do you connect with older seniors and elder abuse stakeholders from rural Yukon communities?

Lillian: Because I have lived in the Yukon for quite a while I’ve used personal contacts to get into many rural communities. In Yukon we have a lot of satellite college campuses that I have used to connect with communities as well as nurses, social workers, elder support workers and seniors groups themselves. There is also a Yukon Council on Aging that has been very helpful.

One of the first things I did in this project was form a stakeholder advisory group that represents the diversity of the North and is very helpful in reaching people. We also use webinars to connect people across geographic barriers. We did one pilot webinar on enduring powers of attorney in Whitehorse with 2 other groups outside of the city. This took a lot of technical support to set up but was a good way to connect with people.

CNPEA: How does your project work to empower older adults?

Lillian: I believe that if people have education it provides them with information to make better decisions. Because we are a legal education association we have concentrated on the legal tools that give people more control over their finances, legal affairs and health matters. In a sense you provide people with education and encourage them to put things in place to help them take control of their situations. Emphasis is on preventing abuse from happening in the first place.

I find it is easier to have a conversation about abuse of older adults by beginning with legal tools. For example, with powers of attorney we can have a conversation around should you become incapable how to select someone who is trustworthy and would be a good attorney. If you advertise a session about abuse nobody would show up; but if you advertise a session on wills or power of attorney people are more comfortable and you may be able to talk about those issues and have the conversation that touches on abuse once you develop some trust.

CNPEA: Is there anything else you would like to share about your project? What are the next steps?

Lillian: This project ends March 2015, so we want to make sure as much as possible gets done. There is a need for a community support network for the prevention of abuse of older adults and we are trying to form a local network to support community practice. We are connecting with women’s groups, transition homes, victim services, the Department of Justice, Golden Age Society, Yukon Council on Aging, RCMP and getting these groups together to work in a more cohesive way to address common issues and challenges.

Often agencies work in isolation from each other, so sometimes if a person is experiencing abuse they may not necessarily know who to turn to. If they go to the RCMP or Adult Protection the issue is out of their hands as soon as they report the crime, and it is all confidential information, so the person who reported the abuse may never find out what happened. There are these systems that are put in place that prevent people from working together. We hope to change that. The other major thing is we applied for Crime Prevention funding from the Yukon Government and will soon begin Neighborhood, Friends and Family training in the Yukon.

To access any of their legal information resources go to the YPLEA website.

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conversation2 300x297Interview with: Karen Kew, Community Integration Coordinator, Immigrant Services, Guelph Wellington

CNPEA: What is a mutual aid model and how does your project use it to support immigrant seniors?

Karen: The mutual aid model has been used in various environments and is similar to a self-help or peer support group model where people come together to tackle a problem and where groups form under many features of a community development model such as: autonomy, empowerment, lifelong learning and knowledge sharing. Ideally the learning comes from the group itself. The challenges are not knowing: how the group will come together; how they will support each other; what type of challenges will arise; and how much organizational work they can do on their own.

What we have found in terms of group formation is that the seniors groups really appreciate the organizational support that we provide. We did some training around the self-help model with the expectation that the trained seniors would then go on to start and run their own groups. Without organizational support it was very difficult to get the groups going and for the organizer to stay motivated. We learned that seniors really need organizational support to thrive because it creates a support network for the group. This could be something as simple as helping the group find a space and making warm referrals in the community.

CNPEA: What are you planning to include in the community toolkit and how can it be used?

Karen: The community toolkit is our main deliverable and will be accessible on our website in early 2015. Our target audiences are seniors, community members and grassroots organizations. The tools walk you through, in plain English, very basic steps for how to start a group, including, recruiting volunteers, volunteer management and working with immigrant seniors. We have created content for the following five main areas; Understanding Elder Abuse, Working with Diverse Communities, How to Start a Group, Complementary Income and Lifelong Learning.

Within the Lifelong Learning section we focus on three types of learning that we have noticed immigrant seniors really appreciate: computer clubs for learning computer literacy, English language practice groups, and wellness programs. In the wellness program we are bringing together the experience of being an immigrant senior with elder abuse awareness and physical and mental health. The mental wellbeing component in particular is really important because there are so many factors for an immigrant senior that intersect with mental health, for example not speaking English can be a barrier to accessing services, which can lead to isolation and so on. If there is a group that, for example, wants to start a yoga group, we have a tool that identifies gentle yoga exercises and also how to incorporate elder abuse awareness, family dynamics and mental well-being lessons into the program.

CNPEA: What strategies has your project used to engage isolated seniors?

Karen: We identified very early on that language is a huge barrier that isolates seniors. We worked to promote the importance of providing interpretation services with service providers and their front line staff, recognizing that interpreters are helpful but cannot address all community development needs. We shifted our focus from recruiting to our programs seniors who already speak English to encouraging specific language communities to start their own groups. Our community development approach is to engage people in various communities to support these groups. We find that intergenerational groups and activities that involve immigrant youth in particular are the most successful.

When Project Wisdom first started in 2010, there was a perception that immigrant seniors would not easily speak about their difficulties. We’ve discovered that immigrant seniors can and do speak about their challenges—but only if a safe space exists. Our settlement counselors received elder abuse training and are using better methods to identify potential cases of abuse and connect seniors with service providers in the community. Interpretation really helps, especially if the senior is in the hospital or a crisis setting.

CNPEA: What else would you like to share about your project?

Karen: We are also exploring using social enterprise components inside a mutual aid model. This allows the program to provide a little bit of extra income for seniors, especially for those who have low or no English skills and who may be totally financially dependent on their adult children under sponsorship agreements, while still using group peer support as a way to reach isolated seniors. There is a Knit a Knot social enterprise group that meets fairly regularly, but are not a knitting group per say; rather, they meet to drop off patterns and pick up wool. This group works well because they are goal-orientated seniors who have a way to connect with others for peer support when needed. If they do not feel comfortable coming out of their house to attend formal programming they can still participate at home and know they are a part of something bigger. Even the little bit of extra income that they can earn through this program is very significant as it can make the difference of being able to say, buy a buss pass and have access to transportation or not. The group is very straightforward and participants knit very simple, easy to learn patterns such as headbands.

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Interview with Janet Wilson, Violence Against Women and Healthy Family Programs, Family Services Toronto

CNPEA: How does the Healthy Families, Safer Families Project peer support model work?

Janet: I’m a big believer in the peer support model because it’s not only about getting support to seniors, but also empowering seniors to give support. Peer seniors who provide support feel as though they have something offer which increases agency, self-efficacy and resilience. Seniors appreciate receiving support from someone who has had a similar lived experience, is from the same culture and who speaks their preferred language. Peer leaders were trained to provide peer support and were given information and resources that would be helpful to a senior experiencing abuse. In addition to peer support, seniors, their families and the community members at large were offered educational workshops on the issue of elder abuse. Each community used peer support in a way that suited their community.

CNPEA: Can you tell us about how you used different strategies to work with different ethno-cultural communities?

Janet: The Spanish speaking community, in Toronto, is very volunteer based, so in this community we trained 40 volunteers who wanted to be peer leaders, and offered honoraria for each day of training in which they participated. 10 of these trainers worked on advocacy issues related to elder abuse and presented at seniors groups in the community. Other peer leaders, who were already involved in volunteering with our partner organization on a seniors support line, were given more education and knowledge about elder abuse, so that when a senior calls they know how to guide them to appropriate services. We also continue to host a movie morning series, where we show a movie that has something to do with seniors and elder abuse. The movies are quite varied and can be romances, comedies or other dramas, as long as they have a scene related to an elder abuse situation. Our peer leaders then use the movie to lead the group of seniors into conversations about elder abuse.

In the Somali community volunteerism is not as prevalent. These seniors come from a war torn country and their priority is often settling and adjusting to life in Canada. As a result, we decided to hire 5-6 peer leaders who were also trained to provide peer support, information and referrals to other seniors. As seniors from ethno-cultural communities are often looking after their grandchildren, many are isolated. Because the Somali community in Toronto is in a specific geographic location, peer leaders were able to identify apartment buildings with a high density of Somali seniors living there. This facilitated connecting with seniors through door to door outreach. The seniors were offered accompaniment to appointments, doctor visits and so on. Through outreach we were able to recruit over 40 Somali senior volunteers. Peer leaders have also facilitated small groups, and have provided one to one support through drop-ins at seniors centres.

CNPEA: In what ways do you connect with isolated seniors? What strategies were most successful?

Janet: Both communities were connected with media, particularly the radio. So, even if a senior is isolated this was one way to connect them with the outside world and us to them. Through a Spanish-speaking radio station, we established a weekly show focusing on seniors’ issues, including the topic of elder abuse. We also managed to speak about the issue on three Somali radio shows.

The Spanish-speaking group created calendars, with elder abuse information and resources on each page. These calendars are in high demand and this year we are sending out 3000 copies. In addition to reaching out via radio and a calendar, we recognized that a lot of seniors would make more of an effort to attend programming that was fun and enjoyable rather than something on elder abuse directly. That’s why we started the movie mornings. They are more appealing for seniors

Outreach with the Somali was largely achieved by going door to door and by creating easily accessed space to hold drop-in programming. Instead of creating a calendar, the Somali community, having a strong oral tradition, decided to write a book of seniors’ stories and poems illustrating their resiliency, which will be shared with the whole community.

CNPEA: Working with two culturally and linguistically unique communities, Somali and Spanish-speaking, have you noticed any similarities in challenges or strengths?

Janet: In addition to what I mentioned earlier with regard to different engagement strategies, the Somali community, like other communities that have experienced war in their homeland their primary focus was on surviving the greater violence of war, rather than what’s happening in their own home. In fact, in the Somali language there is no word for ‘abuse’. Both immigrant communities had similar cultural values, where the family expects them to hand over their income and put it towards a family shared income. The potential for financial abuse is present in both communities. Because the peer support model is a very grassroots model, it appeals to and can be easily applied in most communities—so this approach proved to be extremely effective.

CNPEA: What advice would you give to a project hoping to explore ethno-cultural community engagement?

Janet: Ethno-cultural community work needs to be very flexible. The intrinsic aspects of community engagement are applicable, but have to be adapted to suit each community. Build on the strengths and go with outreach methods that work for them. We worked with these two communities in particular because we had a pre-existing relationship with them and were able to hire people in the community who know the people and the issues well. It is important to be continually thinking of how to develop community capacity by strengthening the capacity of both individuals and organizations within the community.

Over the course of our project, we had three knowledge exchange meetings, bringing together the two distinct communities to share their learnings, challenges and strategies. This was of great interest to both communities, as it supported them to identify their similarities and their differences.

 

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