Elder Mediation and the Financial Abuse of Older People by a Family Member

Date01 July 2015
Published date01 July 2015
C R Q, vol. 32, no. 4, Summer 2015 443
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21117
Elder Mediation and the Financial Abuse of Older
People by a Family Member
Dale Bagshaw
Valerie Adams
Lana Zannettino
Sarah Wendt
is article analyzes quantitative and qualitative data collected from
three Australian national online surveys with chief executive offi cers of
organizations providing services to older people and their families and
family mediation agencies, service providers working in those organiza-
tions, and older people and their relatives. Respondents were asked to
identify risk factors for the fi nancial abuse of older people by a family
member, comment on the potential usefulness of elder mediation as a
strategy to prevent this commonly reported form of abuse, identify the
specialist knowledge and skills an elder mediator would need, and iden-
tify other factors to be considered.
Financial abuse can be defi ned as making improper use of an older
person’s property or money without his or her knowledge or permis-
sion (Smith 1999). It includes the illegal or improper use of an older
is research project was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the South
Australian government’s Department for Communities and Social Inclusion and Department
for Health and Aging. As ARC-Linkage partners, the following South Australian organiza-
tions also contributed in-kind support for the project including to the project’s reference group:
Department for Communities and Social Inclusion, Department for Health and Aging, Offi ce
of the Public Advocate (SA), Relationships Australia (SA), Alzheimer’s Australia (SA), and
the Guardianship Board (SA). A representative from the Aged Rights Advocacy Service also
participated in the reference group.  e views expressed in this article do not necessarily refl ect
South Australian government policies.
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person’s property or fi nances, such as misappropriation of money, valuables,
or property and forced changes to a will or other legal documents. It also
includes the denial of the right of access to or control over personal funds
(Kurrle, Sadler, and Cameron 1992, 674).
Advocacy services in Australia have conducted three studies of fi nancial
abuse of older people. First, the Aged Rights Advocacy Service in South Aus-
tralia identifi ed fi nancial abuse in one-third of one hundred cases over two
years (Cripps 2001). Second, the Offi ce of the Public Advocate in Western
Australia found that between 1995 and 1998, 10 percent of applications
alleged fi nancial abuse and relatives were most often the alleged perpetrators
(Offi ce of the Public Advocate 2005).  ird, the Crime Research Centre at
the University of Western Australia with Advocare Incorporated found that
nancial abuse was the most signifi cant type of elder abuse identifi ed in both
the qualitative and quantitative data (Clare, Blundell, and Clare 2011).
Further research involving an international literature review and inter-
views conducted with key stakeholders in Australia found a strong link
between abuse and dementia. People with dementia are particularly vul-
nerable to fi nancial abuse and require high levels of service (Weeks and
Sadler 1996). An increasing number of people being diagnosed with
dementia, specifi cally in the older age groups, will not be able to manage
their fi nancial aff airs. Predictions indicate that the number of Australians
who will develop dementia will steadily increase. In 2009, people with
dementia represented 1.1 percent of the total population in capital cit-
ies (149,000 people) and 1.2 percent of the population in the balance of
the states (97,000 people). By 2050, these proportions are predicted to
increase to 2.9 percent in capital cities (681,000 people) and 3.8 percent
in the balance of the states (449,000 people) (Access Economics 2005). In
addition, there are other vulnerable older people who need assistance with
their fi nancial management even though they have not lost their decision-
making capacity. Planning about future decisions is now strongly recom-
mended to everyone as they age (Brown 2006).
Until recently, there has been a relative paucity of conclusive Australian
research available about the experiences of older people who are targets of
abuse from a family member. However, in the past decade or so, Austra-
lian researchers have been identifying it as an important social and health
issue (Kosberg 2009; Kurrle 2008; Schofi eld et al. 2002; South Australian
Department of Human Services 1998; Tilse et al. 2006; Tilse, Setterlund
et al. 2005; Tilse et al. 2007; Tilse, Wilson, and Setterlund 2003; Tilse, Wil-
son, et al. 2005; Setterlund et al. 2007; Wilson et al. 2009; Bagshaw, Wendt,
Elder Mediation and the Financial Abuse of Older People by a Family Member 445
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and Zannettino 2007). Increased intrafamilial care as a consequence of
governments’ aging-in-place policies, the rapidly aging population, limited
resources for extrafamilial care, and international agreements about human
rights, in addition to the “complex and diverse nature of elder abuse” (Liver-
more, Bunt, and Biscan 2001, 41), demonstrate that understanding and
preventing elder abuse is a priority social justice issue.
Several Australian researchers have concluded that the most common
form of reported or suspected abuse is fi nancial abuse, followed by psycho-
logical and physical abuse, though they also recognize that several types of
abuse may occur together. In addition, some have found that the people
most likely to commit abuse are the older person’s adult daughter or son
(Brill 1999; Cripps 2001; Faye and Sellick 2003; Livermore et al. 2001;
Boldy et al. 2002).  e Offi ce of Senior Victorians (2005) has stated that
nancial abuse is emerging as a signifi cant form of abuse and highlighted
the need for fi nancial literacy training, support from the fi nancial services
industry, education, and specialized legal services.
Many factors suggest vulnerability to fi nancial abuse, including that
most abused people are older women (Rabiner, O’Keefe, and Brown 2004).
Other factors that increase the likelihood of fi nancial abuse are social isola-
tion, the recent loss of loved ones, and loneliness. Perpetrator characteristics
can also contribute to fi nancial abuse, for example, substance abuse, men-
tal health, gambling behavior, and fi nancial problems. Factors relating to a
sense of entitlement are linked to fi nancial abuse, particularly if the perpe-
trators are heirs. Status inequality may also be implicated as a risk factor;
for example, unemployed children living in the home of an older person
might be more likely to exploit an older person than children with a steady
income. However, one needs to be mindful that what is considered normal
in relation to fi nancial matters varies across cultures. Power and exchange
dynamics and the extent of control each person in a family has over the
other are also factors that need consideration (Rabiner et al. 2004).
Family Mediation Involving Older People
e literature suggests that elder mediation may be a useful intervention
in family situations involving older people who are vulnerable to elder
abuse and intergenerational confl icts, along with counseling and advocacy
(Craig 1997; McCann-Beranger 2012).  e Australian House of Repre-
sentatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Aff airs report,
Older People and the Law (2007), recommended “that the Australian

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