Senior Solutions receive grant to combat elder abuse

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Project partners recently met to discuss their roles in preventing elder abuse in southeastern Vermont using a $395,000 Department of Justice grant. From left to right, Hartford Police Chief Phillip Kasten, Windsor County Special Investigation Unit Director Julie Gaudette, Senior Solutions Executive Director Carol Stamatakis, Windsor County States Attorney David Cahill, and W.I.S.E. Assistant Director Abby Tassel. Photo provided.

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Older adults in Windsor County will be better protected against abuse thanks to a $395,000 federal grant awarded to the region’s largest social service provider for older adults. Senior Solutions (Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont) the Hartford Police Department, the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office, WISE of the Upper Valley, and the Windsor County Special Investigation Unit will work cohesively in identifying and prosecuting elder abuse in their communities. The three-year grant, one of only four awarded nationwide, is funded by the US Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women.

“We need to concentrate on awareness, understanding and lead an organized effort in assisting older victims of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, neglect and financial exploitation,” said Senior Solutions Executive Director Carol Stamatakis.

“We’ve successfully prosecuted the perpetrator in these cases, but I’ve never had a sense that from a holistic perspective the victim was actually better off,” said Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill. “I am excited for the potential this grant provides; that we can consistently provide a better outcome for seniors through more effective intervention.”

Beginning in 2018, project partners will provide training opportunities for victim service organizations, governmental agencies, courts, law enforcement, and nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations serving victims of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, who are 50 years of age or older.

“The need for the improved training among first responders and human service providers in recognizing the vulnerabilities and understanding the needs of Vermont’s growing senior population cannot be overstated,” said Hartford Police Chief Phillip Kasten.

“Unless regional law enforcement and social service providers are given specific and detailed reports of elder abuse, it is unlikely intervening measures will be made because of the lack of training in identifying and addressing these problems,” added Stamatakis. “This is a very vulnerable population that has not up to this point received the same level of attention and resources as other groups.”

Social service professionals believe elder abuse victims in rural Vermont face many obstacles in getting the help and services that they need, including a resistance to accepting public assistance, particularly for a problem that could be perceived as embarrassing. Victims may also be intimidated by threats of being placed in a nursing home. Abuse such as financial exploitation may be dismissed due to claims that the older person is confused. Professionals may perceive a victim’s injuries as arising from aging, illness, or disability instead of recognizing that the injuries may be attributed to violence in the home or a care facility. Older victims themselves are often reluctant to label their experiences as abuse or domestic violence.

“This has been a huge need in our community,” noted Abby Tassel, assistant director of the Lebanon, N.H. based WISE of the Upper Valley. “Our services have always been available to seniors, but getting the word out is difficult; we need to get information out to people and help them access our services.”

The grant partners will facilitate opportunities for dialogue, advocacy, education, and support among state agencies, community agencies and institutions, advocacy groups, and the public; and work to expand the knowledge of grantee partners about the emotional, physical, psychological and economic impacts of elder abuse on individuals and communities, especially in smaller communities.

Senior Solutions is one of five non-profit area agencies on aging in Vermont. Known for many years as the Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont, Senior Solutions has provided Older Americans Act and other services to Vermonters 60 years and older, their caregivers and families for more than 40 years.

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