Q: When should I contact Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) or the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA)?
Contact SRV if your client is able to communicate their instructions to a solicitor, or would like further consultation.
Contact OPA if your client has a cognitive impairment and is unable to communicate their instructions to a solicitor.
Q: When do I contact the police?
Contact the police on 000 if the person is in immediate danger. Police can also do a welfare check on the older person and insist on speaking to them without the carer present.
Police may take out an Intervention Order on behalf of the older person for their protection and safety from further violence.
Q: What are my ‘duty of care’ obligations?
Workers owe a ‘duty of care’ to their clients. Founded in the law of negligence, ‘duty of care’ is based on ’reasonableness’.
Essentially, workers are required to conduct themselves in a manner that is considered reasonable for someone in their position. ‘Reasonable’ may be thought of as that which is:
- Right, or
- Within reason.
All workers are expected to show the skill and proficiency of a competent worker in every situation. If a worker’s conduct falls below the required ‘reasonable’ standard and results in foreseeable harm to an older person, they can be sued for negligence.
Breaches of duty of care could include:
- Becoming aware of an abusive situation and not acting
- Not seeking advice from your supervisor
- Not referring the matter to someone able to deal with the issue
Q: How do you balance self determination vs. the need to protect the older person?
There are a number of ethical and practical issues to consider. The law assumes, for example, that adults are able to make their own choices.
This is an important issue for workers who must ensure that the older person is in control of any attempt to stop the abuse. This means the older person should make the final decision and provide consent to implement strategies to stop the abuse.
Strategies utilised to address the abuse should follow as closely as possible to the known wishes of the older person.
Go through these questions with your supervisor — or get independent advice — to help you determine the appropriate response to abuse, especially about whether or not the older person can make their decisions.
- Do I have reasons to think that the older person is unable to make their own decisions and understand the consequences?
- Do I think this because the older person is making the decision that I don’t personally agree with?
- What can I do to ensure that this older person has enough information to make an informed decision?
- Will the older person be able to understand the information?
- What role can I play in assisting the older person to understand and use the information?
If you think the older person is unable to make decision on their own behalf, consult your supervisor and OPA.
Q: When should I act on suspicion of abuse? What should I do?
All suspicions of abuse need to be acted upon. This involves directly asking the older person. A worker has a duty of care to follow up any suspicions or indicators of abuse.
Q: What are the legal implications if I don’t act on suspected abuse or actual abuse?
You have a duty of care to act on suspected or actual abuse.
Q: When is elder abuse a crime in Victoria?
Elder abuse is family violence and is a crime in Victoria.
Q: What if the older person has capacity but denies abuse is happening despite showing signs?
A worker must respect the decision of an older person with capacity who chooses to stay in an abusive situation.
In this situation, a worker provides ongoing support and safety planning, and may be able to refer the person to a domestic violence outreach service.
Q: What if I am concerned that the client’s capacity has deteriorated?
Discuss this with the person’s GP, the Aged Care Assessment Service (ACAS), or contact a private neuropsychologist.
Q: How can I protect myself when dealing with abusive situations and threats from the family or perpetrator?
Form a buddy system with fellow workers and have regular meetings/coffees for support.
Discuss your workplace safety with your supervisor and devise strategies to improve your safety. This may include avoiding the front desk at work, arranging to be escorted to your car, providing VCAT evidence by video or online, or attending VCAT hearings with a colleague and informing security staff of the risk.
Q: How do I apply to VCAT?
Visit the VCAT website for further information about applying for a VCAT hearing.
Q: How do you appeal a VCAT decision?
Guardianship orders are reviewed yearly and administration orders are reviewed every three years. A person can apply for a reassessment at any time.
A person can apply for an application to be reheard, but they must apply within 28 days of the original hearing.
VCAT decisions can be appealed by applying to the Supreme Court. People who wish to appeal will need legal advice. The case is heard by a Supreme Court judge, at VCAT.
A solicitor from the Office of the Public Advocate is on site at VCAT to provide advice to applicants.
Q: How can you ‘let go’ when you have had a serious case?
Seek outside supervision, establish a buddy system of co-workers for support , home visits and VCAT hearings.