Q: I am a social worker in an older people’s team in southern England and am concerned about one of my clients, a 90-year-old woman living at home supported by her son and daughter-in-law. The carers are verbally abusive towards me and it’s difficult to see the woman alone. I’ve long suspected that they are keeping her isolated and possibly taking her money but I haven’t been able to talk to her alone for a proper assessment. What should I do?
Gary FitzGerald of Action on Elder Abuse answers…
A: The key challenge is gaining the entry to interview the woman without family presence, particularly as they are aggressive and obstruct you. Because you are outside Scotland, a “right of entry” does not exist, so you may have to gather information by other means, perhaps by tracking who in the community knows the family, visits or has other contact. (It is possible that the GP is on the ball and may discuss matters.)
Your starting point, however, regardless of which UK nation you are in, is to discuss matters with your manager and then make a referral within your adult safeguarding procedures.
Investigations should take place within a designated timeframe, and with a safeguarding plan as an intended goal. Because this process is multi-disciplinary you have a greater opportunity of identifying successful strategies for intervention, drawing upon the knowledge and expertise of other professions. As part of that process it will be important to ascertain the mental capacity of the older woman, and that the conclusions are ultimately in her best interests.
Of course, the difficulty remains that, outside Scotland, gaining access to the older woman will require the cooperation of the family.
The Scottish approach, which allows social workers to return with the police to gain entry, suggests that some level of co-operation in the process automatically occurs. Ultimately, Scotland now has powers of intervention not available elsewhere.
Gary FitzGerald is chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse
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