Prevent elder abuse. Pursue elder justice. To achieve these tall goals, we must work together. No one person, discipline, organization or system can do it alone.
This is why the field of elder justice has strongly endorsed multidisciplinary approaches. It’s why the ground-breaking strategic planning resource, The Elder Justice Roadmap Report, developed in 2014 “by the field, for the field,” identifies multidisciplinary responses and working in partnerships with related fields as priorities.
Yes, the complexity of the elder abuse epidemic requires specialized knowledge and adeptness. But to provide true person-centered care to elder abuse victims and their concerned others, we need to collectivize and coordinate our individual perspectives and skills. Together we can make the life of each victim significantly better.
Indeed, it is through multidisciplinary approaches – which have at their core this key concept of togetherness - that we can make an impact on all the elder justice domains outlined in the Elder Justice Roadmap: direct services, education, policy and research. Together we can also change destructive cultural norms – such as ageism – that sustain abuse.
The following are just a few examples of the rich and varied multidisciplinary approaches that are having national impact:
Elder Abuse Multidisciplinary Teams (MDTs): Many professionals, agencies and systems that respond to elder abuse operate in silos. They are unaware of parallel investigations and client histories and are unable to access the diverse array of knowledge and resources needed to respond effectively to the complexity of the situation. MDTs leverage existing community resources and raise the level of knowledge and professionalism. They have been utilized successfully to respond to elder abuse response challenges.
Information Dissemination: Multidisciplinary approaches rely on professionals knowledgeable about the most current elder abuse information relevant to their field. Thus, discipline and system-specific training is crucial. Technology has given us the ability to share training materials, attend webinars and webcasts from our homes and offices, listen to interviews with experts on podcasts during our morning commutes and share trends, advice and resources through blogs and listservs.
Community Coordinated Response Teams: The Office on Violence Against Women provides annual funding to support its Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life Program, which develops Coordinated Community Responses to elder abuse. In addition, the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life and the AARP Foundation have created materials to help localities begin their own strategic planning for a multidisciplinary network of coordinated abuse responders.
Coalitions: Coalitions have emerged across localities, states and the country to raise public awareness and shape policy. The NCEA worked with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse to identify these groups and in January 2014 published a list of more than 100 such groups.
Working together effectively to prevent elder abuse and pursue elder justice has its challenges. We must grapple with them and develop solutions. For example:
Replicate and Sustain MDTs: Indeed, The Elder Justice Roadmap Report identified “developing more MDTs throughout the country that have adequate support for facilitators and operations” as a “first wave action item”, but too few communities have such teams and others are unable to sustain them once they are established. With this mandate, in September 2014, a group of elder justice experts, funders and other stakeholders gathered in NYC to discuss challenges and solutions for replicating and sustaining MDTs throughout the country. This group’s recommendations are presented in a document, Elder Abuse Multidisciplinary Teams: Planning for the Future.
Build Workforce Capacity: In order to create capable MDTs and work together effectively in other elder justice pursuits, all professionals working with older adults need to learn about elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. Undergraduate and graduate programs should integrate information about the elder abuse epidemic into their coursework. States should require professionals to be trained in elder abuse, neglect and exploitation prior to receiving licensing. We also need more internships for students of all levels to learn about elder abuse and elder justice.
Revisit Nomenclature: As the elder justice movement matures, we would be wise to revisit our nomenclature now and then.
Does the phrase “multidisciplinary approaches” accurately capture the way in which we currently work across fields, systems, organizations and disciplines and seek out diversity of thought in our endeavors? Would another term – perhaps “cross-cutting approaches” – better capture the breadth and depth of what we aim for and want to achieve in the future? Let’s get this conversation started!
Do you have ideas for innovative multidisciplinary approaches, ways to overcome challenges to working together and/or resources to share? If so, let us know!
-Risa Breckman, LCSW
About the Author: Risa Breckman, LCSW, is the Director of the New York City Elder Abuse Center. She has long and passionately pursued elder justice through directly helping victims and their families, developing MDTs, educating professionals and working to impact policy locally and nationally.