Our community elder abuse prevention coalitions are comprised of members who work with and care about older adults in their community. As a regular feature of this blog, we plan to highlight members who have committed their knowledge, passion, skills, and time to protect older adults in their community.
Norah Al-Wetaid is a Protective Services Worker at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services and a member of the Cambridge Elder Abuse Prevention Coalition
Question: Could you let us know what you do as a Protective Services Worker at SCES?
The life of a Protective Service Worker is very dynamic and no two days are ever the same. At the most basic level, the role of a Protective Service Worker is to respond to and investigate elder abuse allegations and then work with the elder to develop a plan to reduce risk. Our cases range from self-neglect such as evictions or hoarding to more extreme cases such as physical abuse. Most of my job is largely about harm reduction and is the product of a collaborative effort with the elder and other individuals involved in their life. The plans developed can include any number of interventions including connecting someone with in-home services, installing lifeline or a medication dispenser, providing advocacy, safety planning, obtaining restraining orders, eviction prevention, money management assistance, referring to other community providers and in some rare cases pursuing guardianship or conservatorship. Protective Services is short-term, so we try and connect people with more long-term assistance whenever possible. I love my job and the ability to help people remain safe in the community. All of us in Protective Services strive to increase understanding of Elder Protective Services, and we hope to remove some of the stigma or fears associated with our name. We also strive to ensure that people understand that we are not the elderly equivalent to Child Protective Services. Unlike with children, elders with decision-making capacity have the right to self-determination and the right to make decisions regarding their life, regardless of whether or not they are decisions that you or I might make.
Question: What drew you to the Cambridge Elder Abuse Prevention Coalition?
I was drawn to the Cambridge Elder Abuse Prevention Coalition for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons was because it offered an opportunity to be involved in efforts to prevent elder abuse, rather than purely responding after the incident has occurred. Protective Services is frequently crisis oriented and generally responsive as opposed to being preventative, so we often don’t have a chance to participate in explicitly preventative work. The Coalition is also an amazing opportunity to directly participate in prevention work and efforts. It has also offered the chance to engage with a wide array of service providers and community members that I may not normally be able to work with. It has been incredibly helpful to hear about other people’s perspectives on elder abuse, issues that they see and to find out about their experiences with Protective Services. The Coalition also allows me an opportunity to talk directly with community members and providers about Protective Services and what we do.
Question: What do you think is the best way to prevent elder abuse?
This is such a hard question. I think that one of the best ways to prevent elder abuse is outreach, education and awareness. Outreach efforts should include an emphasis on both elders and community members who encounter elders (banks, medical providers, building managers, neighbors, family, friends, etc). An important step in raising awareness is to ensure that people are aware of elder abuse in its many forms, knowledgeable about the resources, and ensuring that everyone understands that elder service providers place a high emphasis on respecting elder’s autonomy and right to self-determination. I strongly believe that if elders know about resources, ways to access help and also know that we will respect their autonomy, that they will be more inclined to reach out for help. Asking for help is often incredibly difficult and can be a source of shame, so anything we can do to make asking for help easier should be a priority. At Coalition meetings, we often talk about the idea that there is no wrong door when it comes to accessing help. This is a wonderful approach and fits in perfectly with outreach efforts. The more people who know about elder abuse and how to get help, the more likely we are to reach more elders, even those who are isolated.
Question: Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or your work?
The name Protective Services often brings up feelings of fear which can result in people feeling reluctant to engage with us. I would love to take this opportunity to hopefully alleviate some of the fear. First, as an agency, Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services is very committed to keeping people safely in their homes and we will do just about anything we can to help make that happen. Our approach in Protective Services is very much in alignment with the agency’s mission and a lot of work is around increasing safety and harm reduction. When we meet with an elder about suspected abuse, self-neglect, exploitation, or neglect we try to ensure that they understand we are not there to make accusations, but rather our goal is to get a picture of what’s going on and then we will work collaboratively to increase safety. Protective Services does NOT come in and remove people from their homes and we highly value self-determination and an elder’s right to make their own decisions regarding their life. We are here to work with the elder to do our best to reduce risk and help them retain their independence. It can also be important for providers to understand this. Filing a Protective Service report can sometimes cause people to worry about making things worse or harming their relationship with an elder or the family. I hope that if people understand that we never reveal who reported to Protective Services and can better understand our approach to address suspected elder abuse, that they will feel more comfortable and inclined to reach out for help. If you are concerned about an elder (someone aged 60 and over), please don’t hesitate to call us.
One last thing, if you are reading this and want to find out more about Protective Services, we are happy to come and talk with you, answer any questions you may have or come out and do a presentation. Please contact Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services’ Protective Services Department at 617-628-2601.