Ending the Abuse of Older People in New South Wales: A Policy Agenda for 2030

By Relationships Australia

At least 1 in 6 older people in Australia experience abuse, most commonly from an adult child, a friend, or their partner. Relationships Australia NSW has supported older people and their families through our Let’s Talk service for over five years. We already see huge unmet need for services, with social and demographic changes that mean this challenge will only grow. 

  • Nearly one-third of older people in NSW live outside of Greater Sydney, with less access to health and community services and increased risk of climate-related disaster events.  
  • Half of people over 65 have a disability and the number of people living with dementia in Australia is expected to double before 2060.  
  • More than half of adult children under the age of 30 live with their parents, with economic pressures on younger generations increasing risk of abuse to older people. 

State governments are responsible for some of the most critical services that reach older people experiencing abuse, including health and hospital care, policing, housing and homelessness and community services. Since its 2015 Parliamentary inquiry, NSW has made important progress, including establishing the Ageing & Disability Commission. However, our service system remains underfunded and fragmented and supports that fall under State responsibilities are lagging those funded Federally. 

NSW is now at a crossroads. With an ageing population, the costs of inaction are already being borne in our health and aged care systems and in lost revenue related to financial abuse. Over six months in late 2023, Relationships Australia NSW conducted a research study to understand the current state of the NSW response, and with the NSW Ageing & Disability Commissioner, convened a Roundtable event bringing together key stakeholders working on the abuse of older people. Our Policy Agenda is the result of this collaboration. 

Together, we can end the abuse of older people in New South Wales. As service providers, we are eager to work collaboratively with the NSW Government to sustain the progress we’ve already made, and set a new agenda that rises to the challenges of the next decade.

Our policy proposals form an ambitious but realistic agenda for the NSW Government to 2030, grounded in research and the expertise of stakeholders involved in work to end the abuse of older people. They include measures to: 

  1. Strengthen the NSW service system, including improving service sustainability, service integration and service options. 
  2. Consider legislative reform, including changes to prevent abuse of older people in the first place and to provide a more robust response to abuse when it happens. 
  3. Build a resilient workforce, including sustainable service funding, capacity and skill mapping across sectors, and a new Training Framework. 
  4. Leverage data for innovation, including consistency in data collection across interventions and exploration of the specific needs of marginalised groups. 

Hidden Gems: The Unique Role of Collaborative Approaches in Preventing and Responding to the Abuse of Older People 

This study, led by researchers from Relationships Australia NSW, involved a review of policy documentation and interviews with 21 practitioners, service managers, educators, legal professionals, academics and policymakers involved in responding to the abuse of older people.

Key findings from the study were: 

  • Older people deserve greater political ambition. National commitments must be brought into line with those on violence against women, investing in action to not only prevent violence, but to end the abuse of older people. 
  • Political and media attention has increased public awareness of the abuse of older people, supporting people to identify abuse and access services. However, ageism in the media presents an ongoing risk of enabling abuse. 
  • Australia’s ageing population is creating greater demand for services, and greater complexity of support needs. Intersections of geography and climate risks, disability, identity-based marginalisation, and population-wide economic distress require coordinated service responses. 
  • Older people experiencing abuse and their family members need a range of service options in addition to legal intervention. As demand for services increases, investment is required to ensure existing providers retain and expand their supports, rather than narrowing what they offer to be able to serve more people. 
  • Older people experiencing abuse need collaborative service models that engage their family members outside the legal system. Many older people want or need to maintain their family relationships and need non-adversarial, non-criminal routes for support. 
  • Collaborative service models such as Let’s Talk are a unique and critical offering within the service system responding to abuse of older people. We found that people valued its specialist blend of conflict resolution, counselling, and casework for its empowerment of older people, its ability to engage family members productively, and its capacity to facilitate service coordination and education. 
  • Endemic ageism in Australian society remains a contributing factor to abuse, and a barrier to identification of abuse and effective responses. Working towards ending the abuse of older people will require a long-term strategy to address social, structural, and institutional ageism. 
  • Investment is needed to continue innovating collaborative models, building on the existing strengths of elder mediation and support services. Innovation requires support for research and evaluation, to develop and apply models in local contexts and understand efficacy. 

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Relationships Australia NSW will be closed from Saturday 23 December 2023 until Tuesday 2 January 2024.  

Click here for more information. 

If you are in crisis, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Relationships Australia NSW will be closed from Saturday 23 December 2023 until Tuesday 2 January 2024.  

This closure includes all local centres, head office and our customer care team. For any enquiries during this period, please email enquiries@ransw.org.au and a member of our team will be in touch as soon as we reopen.

Click here for more information. 
If you are in crisis, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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