World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2023: Building Strong Support for Elders
Chris Herman, MSW, LICSW,
Senior Practice Associate–Aging
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is observed on June 15 each year with three goals:
- increasing awareness about elder abuse (which can include neglect, financial abuse or exploitation, and physical, sexual, or emotional–psychological abuse)
- fostering action by individuals, organizations, and communities to identify, prevent, and address elder abuse
- reaffirming our society’s commitment to the principle of justice for all
The 2023 WEAAD theme is Building Strong Support for Elders. This year, WEAAD is part of a broader observance, WEAAD Week, observed June 9 through 16 and led by the federally funded National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA). This NASW Tips & Tools for Social Workers publication addresses the following topics, most of which are relevant throughout the year:
Why is elder abuse relevant to all social workers?
The ability to live free from abuse at any age not only is integral to a just society, but also is congruent with two core social work values in the NASW Code of Ethics: social justice and dignity and worth of the person. Social workers in any role and setting may encounter people who experience elder abuse or who engage in abusive behavior toward older adults. Moreover, social workers play integral roles in developing, implementing, and strengthening social supports that help prevent and address elder abuse. In fact, social workers have long been active in elder justice programs, education, policy, and research and are among the movement’s leaders.
What does every social worker need to know about elder abuse?
- Know how to identify the types and signs of elder abuse. Download and keep handy copies of the succinct NCEA publications Red Flags of Elder Abuse and Signs of Elder Abuse (each available in English, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese).
- Know how elder abuse is defined in your state or jurisdiction (including whether it includes self-neglect and, if so, how that is defined). The federally funded Elder Abuse Guide for Law Enforcement (EAGLE) initiative, developed by the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine, includes links to elder abuse statues and definitions for all 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC), Guam (GU), and Puerto Rico (PR). The American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Law and Aging also has a list of elder abuse definitions, last updated in June 2021, that includes the U.S. Virgin Islands (VI).
- Know the laws and regulations related to reporting elder abuse in your state or jurisdiction. The EAGLE list includes mandatory reporting requirements for the 50 states, DC, GU, and PR. Similarly, the ABA Commission on Law and Aging’s summary of reporting requirements on adult maltreatment—which summarizes who must report, when, and how—includes VI and was last updated in April 2022. Information about Adult Protective Services (APS) statutes for American Samoa (AS) and the Northern Mariana Islands (MP) is available from the Stetson University Center for Excellence in Elder Law; however, this information has not been updated since October 2016. If you have additional questions about your reporting responsibility as a social worker, contact the board that governs social work practice in your area. (Visit the Association of Social Work Boards directory, which links to boards that govern social work practice in the 50 states, DC, GU, MP, PR, and VI.
- If you work in an organization, know your employer’s policies and procedures for reporting and, if applicable, addressing elder abuse.
- Know which entity to contact in your area if you suspect an older adult is experiencing abuse, neglect, or exploitation or has been abandoned. If the person is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police number. If the person is not in immediate danger, contact your local APS office. (Visit NCEA’s state resources page to find contact information for APS in the 50 states, DC, AS, GU, MP, PR, and VI.) If the person is living in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or similar setting, such as a board and care home, contact your long-term care ombudsman program (LTCOP). (Visit the National Ombudsman Resource Center for a listing of LTCOPs in the 50 states, DC, GU, and PR. As of this writing, a LTCOP is also available, under the auspices of a Medicare quality improvement organization, in AS, MP, and VI.)
Read NCEA’s Frequently Asked Questions for additional foundational information about elder abuse and elder abuse reporting.
What does the WEAAD theme mean?
The WEAAD theme, Building Strong Support for Elders, is rooted in the evidence-based Reframing Elder Abuse communications strategy. This strategy, developed by NCEA and the FrameWorks Institute, promotes a solutions-oriented, community-based approach to elder abuse and the interrelated problem of ageism.
Throughout our lives, we each rely on systemic structures to maintain social relationships and engage in our communities. Yet, because such supports for older adults are often lacking or weak in our society, the risk of social isolation increases as we age. Social isolation is, in turn, the key risk factor for experiencing elder abuse.
Thus, by emphasizing that elder justice requires building strong support for older adults, WEAAD and WEAAD Week remind us that realizing elder justice requires community solutions, such as social programs and effective public policies. It also makes clear that elder abuse has implications for all of us. Communicating effectively about the causes of and solutions for elder abuse is essential to eradicating the problem. Together, we can build the social supports that enable all of us to age safely and with dignity.
Which free, nationwide virtual events are occurring on WEAAD and during the month of June?
These events are unaffiliated with NASW and are listed in chronological order. Continuing education credits are not provided.
- Annual WEAAD Summit, focused on financial exploitation of older adults—Thursday, June 15, 9 a.m.–noon EDT (registration not yet open); hosted by the National Adult Protective Services Association in partnership with the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association
- WEAAD 2023 Webinar: Trauma-Informed Practices to Address Abuse and Build Resilience—Thursday, June 15, 2:30–4:00 p.m. EDT (registration required); hosted by NCEA in collaboration with SAGE (Advocacy and Services for LGBTQ+ Elders), Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center, Diverse Elders Coalition, National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care (Consumer Voice), and USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology
- NCEA’s social media events, #WEAADWeek Twitter Event (June 12–16, 1 p.m. EDT) and the #WEAAD615 Challenge (June 15, throughout the day)
- Protecting Older Americans from Financial Fraud webinar—Tuesday, June 20, 2:00–3:00 p.m. EDT (no registration required; click on link to join webinar); hosted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
- Reporting and Recovering Funds webinar—Tuesday, June 20, 3:00–4:00 p.m. EDT (registration required); part of a webinar series on scams and fraud hosted by the ACL-funded Adult Protective Services Technical Assistance Resource Center
- Identity Theft, Scams, & Older Adults webinar—Thursday, June 29, 2:00–3:30 p.m. EDT (registration required); hosted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
What are other ways in which social workers can participate in WEAAD and WEAAD Week?
NCEA and ACL have developed a robust WEAAD microsite to equip individuals, organizations, and communities to get involved in WEAAD and WEAAD Week. (Please advance to the end of this publication for a list of other NCEA resources, other government-funded resources, and resources from national nonprofit organizations, including NASW.)
- Visit the About page for a brief history of WEAAD and five succinct NCEA fact sheets:
The fact sheets and flyer are each available in Armenian, Chinese, English, Farsi, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
- 12 Things Everyone Can Do to Prevent Elder Abuse
- 5 Things Anyone Can Do to Prevent Elder Abuse English
- Red Flags of Elder Abuse
- Signs of Elder Abuse
- The Facts of Elder Abuse (also available in flyer format)
- On the Tools and Tips page, find a World Day Tool Kit that includes outreach guides (some in Chinese or Spanish), the WEAAD logo, outreach tools for various NCEA-suggested WEAAD activities, and links to public service announcements (PSAs).
- Check the Take Action page for ideas and resources for engaging older people, empowering communities, and involving youth.
- Find virtual and in-person WEAAD events across and beyond the United States on the Events page. Add your own WEAAD event to the page to attract participants and spur creativity.
- Visit the Social Media page for downloadable WEAAD graphics and PSAs, sample social media posts, social media profile headers and banners, and information about the #WEAADWeek Twitter Event (June 12 through 16) and the #WEAAD615 Challenge (June 15).
- Learn about topics and find sample messages, graphics, and resources for each day of WEAAD Week:
- Discover how you can participate in NCEA’s virtual Walk for WEAAD, even while physically distancing.
What is NASW doing to prevent and address elder abuse?
As the NASW resource list at the end of this publication makes clear, educating social workers about elder abuse prevention and intervention is a high priority for the association. Additionally, NASW collaborates closely with many of the governmental entities and nonprofit organizations included in the preceding resource list. Staff serves as a peer reviewer for the American Society on Aging’s annual Aging in America conference, which includes substantive content on elder abuse, elder justice, and ageism. Staff has also served on the NCEA advisory board for a number of years and was most recently invited to serve on the advisory committee for the National Center for State and Tribal Elder Justice Coalitions, a new initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice. In these advisory roles, NASW both provides a social work perspective on the work of these national centers and keeps abreast of national developments in the elder abuse–elder justice arena. Staff also monitors the work of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC), a federal interagency body convened by the Administration for Community Living (ACL) that coordinates federal activities related to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. (Access EJCC meeting materials.)
Moreover, NASW advocates throughout the year for federal policies and programs that prevent and address elder abuse. The association is a member of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO) and the Elder Justice Coalition, both of which advocate for federal funding for APS, long-term care ombudsman programs, and Elder Justice Act funding and implementation. Additionally, LCAO advocates for programs funded by the Older Americans Act, which help reduce social isolation and prevent and address abuse. (Read LCAO’s most recent budget advocacy letter, cosigned by NASW.) Another particular area of elder justice–related advocacy for NASW is improving the quality of nursing home care. The association collaborates closely with the Consumer Voice, AARP, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Elder Justice Coalition, Long Term Care Community Coalition, National Association of Local Long-Term Care Ombudsmen, National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs, PHI, labor unions (AFL-CIO, AFSCME, and SEIU), and other advocates to strengthen requirements and enforcement for federally funded facilities and to bolster the nursing home workforce. (Read NASW’s recent comments to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [CMS] in response to proposed rules addressing nursing home disclosure of ownership and management information and skilled nursing facility payment; read NASW’s 2022 comments urging CMS to improve staffing standards for social workers and all levels of nursing—direct care workers [DCWs], licensed practical nurses [LPNs]–licensed vocational nurses [LVNs], and registered nurses [RNs]—and a Consumer Voice–led letter to CMS, cosigned by NASW, supporting a staffing study and minimum staffing standard for DCWs, LPNs–LVNs, and RNs.) NASW staff and members also provide subject matter expertise to the Moving Forward Nursing Home Quality Coalition. This coalition, funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation, is working to advance recommendations from the report The National Imperative to Improve Nursing Home Care: Honoring Our Commitment to Residents, Families, and Staff, published in 2022 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
A task force of NASW members is currently collaborating with staff to revise the association’s Standards for Social Work Services in Long-Term Care Facilities. The updated publication (which will address long-term services and supports (LTSS) provided by social workers not only in facilities, but also in home- and community-based settings) will include content about elder abuse. NASW will invite members to read and comment on a draft when such a draft is available.
How are you working to prevent and address elder abuse? NASW wants to know!
NASW’s 2022 report Social Work Roles in Elder Abuse Prevention and Response featured the work of approximately 40 NASW members from 13 chapters in the domains of education, policy, research, and direct services. Because members are NASW, staff would like to continue learning how social workers are working to prevent and address elder abuse in these four domains. If you are an active NASW member and would like to have your recent or current elder justice work considered for a future NASW publication, please send a message to EndAgeism@SocialWorkers.org with the subject line “Another social worker for elder justice.” Please include the following information in the body of your message:
- your full name and personal pronouns (What are personal pronouns, and why do they matter?)
- your NASW chapter affiliation and (if different) the geographic area in which you work
- your role (use of position title optional)
- your organization or, if you prefer, type of employment or volunteer setting
- a few sentences describing how your work has helped or will help prevent and/or address elder abuse; several examples or prompts follow:
- What new or creative activity did you do for WEAAD 2023?
- How are you involved in a specific intervention or program to prevent, identify, or address elder abuse? (Remember that reducing social isolation and increasing social connectedness are primary strategies to reduce elder abuse occurrence and to speed identification and intervention.)
- How have you educated your clients, colleagues, or students about elder abuse prevention, identification, or intervention?
- What policy or procedural changes have you helped develop or implement within your organization to improve elder abuse identification and response?
- In what local, state, national, or Tribal policy or organizing efforts are you involved to prevent or address elder abuse?
- What have you written about elder abuse, whether for formal publication or dissemination within or by your organization?
- What research are you doing related to elder abuse?
NASW welcomes information from members in all settings and specialties; you do not need to specialize in elder abuse or in working with older adults to participate. NASW staff will follow up with each member to confirm (and, if needed, clarify) information before proceeding with publication. Given that the information may not be published until 2024, social workers will have ample time to clear use of organizational affiliations, if necessary.
By sustaining, enhancing, and creating policies and programs that strengthen social supports in our communities, we can prevent elder abuse—and we can address the problem more quickly and effectively when it does occur. Let's work together to build a just society for all.
What resources are available to help social workers address and prevent elder abuse throughout the year?
National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) Resources
Many resources on the WEAAD microsite can be used throughout the year. NCEA also offers the following free resources:
- Support & Tools for Elder Abuse Prevention (STEAP, a partnership of NCEA and USAging)—free, ready-to-use materials (including a brochure, fact sheets, presentation slides, and outreach guides, all of which can be customized with your organization’s name, logo, and contact information) to engage and educate your community about the role each of us can play in preventing and addressing elder abuse
- reframing elder abuse resources—include a reframing video lecture training (developed in collaboration with the FrameWorks Institute), on-demand webinars, reframing quick tips, frequently asked questions, and the recently published Tips and Tools to Reframe the Conversation on Aging and Elder Abuse
- NCEA Blog—includes the newly published WEAAD 2023 and Elder Abuse Networks by NASW Ohio Chapter member Georgia Anetzberger, Advancing Elder Justice for LGBTQ+ Elders (SAGE, May 2023), and Social Work and Elder Justice: A Mutually Essential Relationship (NASW staff, 2021)
- practice resources—include information on prevention strategies, elder rights, evidence-based practices, intervention partners, multidisciplinary teams, and elder mistreatment and diverse communities
- research briefs, compilations, summaries, and statistics and data
- education and training materials—include videos, webinars, curricula, adult learning principles, and the Training Resources on Elder Abuse (TREA) database
- public policy resources—include semiannual elder justice policy highlights
- complete list of fact sheets and other NCEA publications, some in multiple languages, addressing the following topics: adults with disabilities, APS, cultural communities, dementia/capacity, families and caregivers, guardianship–conservatorship, health care, intervention strategies, law and legislation, public policy, research, substance use, types of elder abuse, abuse in nursing homes, tips and tools, training and professional development, and prevention, education, and outreach
- listserv and semiannual newsletter
NASW Resources on Elder Abuse and Elder Justice*
Practice and Policy Publications
NASW Press Books
Free, One-On-One Phone Consultations*
- Ethics consultations with staff from the Office of Ethics and Professional Review for NASW members who have ethical concerns about possible or actual elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation
- Legal consultations with staff from the Office of General Counsel for social workers who have legal concerns about possible or actual elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation
* These consultations do not constitute specific practice or legal
advice and are available only to individuals with an active NASW
Related NASW Resources*
- Aging practice microsite—information hub for practice tools, policy and news updates, and other resources pertinent to social work with older adults
- Chapters—offerings may include continuing education and committees, special interest groups, or task forces focused on social work with older adults
- Code of Ethics—available online in English and Spanish
- Specialty Practice Sections—optional benefit for NASW members; sections include Aging, Social & Economic Justice & Peace, and Social Work & the Courts
* For a more comprehensive list of NASW’s resources related to social work with older adults, please visit another publication in the Tips and Tools for Social Workers series, Older Americans Month 2023: Aging Unbound.
Federal and Federally Supported Entities and Resources for Elder Justice
- Administration for Community Living (ACL)—includes the Administration on Aging (AoA) and an Elder Justice Hub; program and policy areas include Prevention of Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation and Protecting Rights and Preventing Abuse. ACL supports the following centers and programs that also work on elder abuse:
- Adult Protective Services Technical Assistance Resource Center (APSTARC)
- Developing a Better Understanding of a Unique Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) Model: The Elder Abuse Forensic Center—grant to the University of Southern California (USC) Center for Elder Justice
- Eldercare Locator—online database and toll-free phone service connecting older adults, families, and service providers to Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), and Title VI Native American programs; managed by USAging
- National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS)
- National Adult Protective Services Training Center (NATC)
- National Aging Resource Consortium for Racial and Ethnic Minority Seniors—composed of the Asociación Nacional Pro Personas Mayores (ANPPM), National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA), National Caucus and Center on Black Aging (NCBA), and National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA)
- National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)—based at the USC Keck School of Medicine
- National Center on Law and Elder Rights (NCLER)—managed by Justice in Aging
- Native American Elder Justice Initiative (NAEJI), formerly the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI)—being transferred from the University of North Dakota to the International Association for Indigenous Aging
- National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center (NORC)—managed by the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care
- National Pension Assistance Resource Center (PARC)—managed by the Pension Rights Center
- National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging—managed by SAGE
- National Resource Center on Women and Retirement—managed by the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER)
- National Voluntary Consensus Guidelines for State APS Programs
- Senior Medicare Patrol—helps beneficiaries prevent, detect, and report Medicare fraud
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—information about reporting Medicare fraud and abuse
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)—information, tools, and resources specific to older adults
- Elder Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC)—federal
interagency council convened by ACL
meets twice a year
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and CFPB—Money Smart for Older Adults
program, available in English and Spanish
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—Pass It On campaign (available in English and Spanish) and consumer.gov; information about scams & identity theft
- Health Resources and Services
—elder abuse education and training offered by some
Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) sites
- Social Security Administration
(in English and Spanish) on avoiding, detecting, and reporting Social
fraud and scams
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
—in partnership with CMS, established the Center of Excellence for Behavioral
Health in Nursing Facilities
, which provides training, technical assistance,
and other resources to support federally funded nursing homes in caring for
residents with serious emotional disturbance, serious mental illness, substance
use disorder, and co-occurring disorders; these supports may decrease the use
of psychotropic medications
- U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)—includes multiple initiatives and resources regarding elder abuse:
- Elder Abuse Guide for Law Enforcement (EAGLE)—developed by the USC Keck School of Medicine
- Elder Abuse Peer Support Community
- Elder Justice Initiative (EJI)
- Elder Justice Network Locator Map
- Elder Justice Roadmap—strategic planning resource developed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and stakeholders nationwide; report coauthored by NASW member Risa Breckman
- Multidisciplinary Team Technical Assistance Center (MDT TAC)
- Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)—funded projects include (1) the National Center for State and Tribal Elder Justice Coalitions, operated by Lifespan of Greater Rochester in consortium with the Minnesota Elder Justice Center (MEJC), New York City Elder Abuse Center (NYCEAC) at Weill Cornell Medicine, Ohio Coalition for Adult Protective Services (OCAPS), and Jacque Gray, PhD (Native American specialist and (2) the National Elder Abuse MDT Training and Technical Assistance Center, led by NYCEAC at Weill Cornell Medicine in partnership with Lifespan of Greater Rochester, National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life, NCEA, Red Wind Consulting, and the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology
- Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)—funded projects include the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), which provides technical assistance to OVW Abuse in Later Life grantees & houses Abuse in Later Life National Resource Center
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service—mail scam information for older adults
- U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—investment fraud information for older adults
- U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging—hearings and resources on elder abuse, especially in regard to finances and nursing homes
Nongovernmental National Organizations and Resources Addressing Elder Abuse
- American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Law and Aging—includes resources on elder abuse, capacity, guardianship, and other related topics
- American Society on Aging (ASA)—open-access special issue of Generations journal, Taking Action Against Elder Mistreatment (2020)
- Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR)/Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination (model developed in collaboration with NASW)
- Council on Social Work Education—Elder Justice Curriculum Modules for MSW Programs (prepared by NASW DC Metro Chapter member Joy Swanson Ernst)
- Center for Medicare Advocacy—copublishes, with the Long Term Care Community Coalition, an Elder Justice Newsletter addressing abuse, neglect, and other types of harm experienced by nursing home residents; advocacy and educational efforts include nursing home reform and misleading marketing by Medicare Advantage plans
- Elder Justice Coalition
- International Association for Indigenous Aging (IA2)
- Justice in Aging
- Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC)—advocacy and educational foci include inappropriate use of psychotropic medications in nursing homes
- National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA)
- National Association of Local Long-Term Care Ombudsmen (NALLTCO)
- National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs (NASOP)
- National Association of Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Assistance Administrators (NAVAA)
- National Center to Reframe Aging (NCRA)—counters ageism by implementing the FrameWorks Institute’s evidence-based communication strategy about growing older; led by the Gerontological Society of America (GSA)
- National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care (Consumer Voice)—provides information and advocacy for and on behalf of people who use LTSS, especially nursing homes
- National Guardianship Association (NGA)
- National Network of State Elder Justice Coalitions (NNSEJC)—launched in 2019 by five social workers, including NASW members Georgia Anetzberger (Ohio), Risa Breckman (New York City), and Paul Caccamise (New York State Chapter)
- SPRiNG Alliance—network of shelters for people experiencing elder abuse