Elder Abuse: A Challenge to the Mental Health System This articles was written by Michael B. Friedman, MSW and Kerri Tavel, LCSW, and was previously published More →
Sarah Dion, NYCEAC’s Program Assistant, attended the New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute for the first time in October 2013. In this blog, she shares some of her experiences and observations from the conference.
I was among the more than 400 adult abuse professionals who traveled to Albany, New York to attend the two-day 2013 New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute (AATI) in October. AATI is a statewide conference hosted by the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging of Hunter College on behalf of the NYS Office of Children & Family Services (OCFS). Designed to provide opportunities for training, networking and recognition of the innovative and dedicated work of New York’s adult abuse professionals, AATI offers an important venue to exchange ideas and experiences. Attendees include case workers, health care professionals, law enforcement officers, attorneys, social workers and many others who work in the fields of aging, mental health, domestic violence intervention, legal services, justice and law enforcement.
An Anniversary Year
This year marked an important milestone for conference organizers and attendees alike as AATI celebrated its 20th Anniversary. While the issue of adult abuse existed long before the inception of training events such as AATI, the conference is a mark of the coalescence within the field in the past decades. The theme for the 2013 conference, Solving the Puzzle: Client and Worker Health, was especially appropriate for this anniversary year. Presentations recognized and demonstrated the tremendous growth and development in the ways that professionals intervene in and prevent abuse, but many workshops also drew attention to the needs of the professionals themselves who are immersed in the difficult work of protecting older victims.
There were two plenary keynoters. The first was Pamela Teaster, PhD, a renowned researcher in the elder justice field from the University of Kentucky. Dr. Teaster explored the important link between client and provider health in her presentation, Their Health and Your Health: Getting Grief & Recognition. Using New York State-specific caseload data, Dr. Teaster brought attention to the challenges faced by workers in the field, which run the gamut of emotional, physical and mental stress. She convincingly argued that ignoring or minimizing the effects of these challenges can compromise the ability of professionals to provide the intensive care and support that their clients need.
The second keynote was given by Ashton Applewhite, whose presentation on the final morning of the conference was enthusiastically received by attendees. Ashton, a writer, blogger and activist on the issue of aging and ageism, explored the intersection of ageism, disabilism and adult abuse in an address entitled, What Do Age and Disability Mean in Our Culture- and How Does It Affect You? Ashton highlighted the multi-faceted and detrimental impact ageism and disablism have on the vulnerable clients that AATI attendees serve. Clients face a barrage of minimizing signals from society, and adult abuse providers, within the broader community of social service providers, are placed on the defensive because these attitudes perpetuate an undervaluation of the adult abuse client population. These attitudes are so engrained in our social consciousness that even educated, well-intentioned professionals can slip into habits of discrimination. In closing, Ashton encouraged AATI attendees to challenge ageism and disabilism in their communities, work and within themselves.
A Collaborative Community
As a first-time attendee of AATI, one of the most striking elements of the conference was the ethos of collaboration and partnership. Professionals from similar backgrounds greeted one another as friends, presented together and chatted about the programs they were operating in their respective neighborhoods. I attended two workshops. At the first one, You Know it When You See It, But How Do You Prove It? – a session presented by Assistant District Attorneys Liz Loewy and Candace Vogel from New York County (Manhattan) and Erie County, respectively – the audience engagement included the sharing of cases and advice from all corners of the state. This same atmosphere was evident in the second workshop I attended, New York State Power of Attorney/Guardianship Case Law Update, which was presented by Alan Lawtiz, Esq and Debra Sacks, LPN, JD. While reviewing important legislative and case law changes in the practice of guardianship and POA law, workshop attendees were eager to interact with the presenters and one another in discussing the successes and challenges in this area of work.
Coming from the context of the NYC Elder Abuse Center (NYCEAC), which celebrates and thrives from its local partnerships, the collaborative parallels on the state level were striking. They reflect the relatively small size of the elder justice/adult abuse community to some extent, but more importantly they are evidence of the widespread culture of these communities. Collaboration is a whole-hearted effort in elder justice work. Professionals across disciplines and systems recognize and respect the power of sharing ideas and resources and consistently approach their work with this in mind.
Catching Up With the NYS Coalition on Elder Abuse
On a more formalized level, AATI is used as an annual opportunity for members of the New York State Coalition on Elder Abuse to meet in person. This coalition works on a statewide level to advocate for elder abuse resources, publicize research and innovative programs, educate abuse professionals and others, and provide a forum for elder abuse professionals to network and collaborate. Members of the coalition represent the diverse range of professionals and agencies that work in the fields of adult and elder abuse. At this year’s meeting, the Coalition discussed exciting programs and opportunities across the state (ranging from major new grant awards to new partnerships and initiatives) and the implications of various issues related to mandated reporting legislation.
A Lasting Impression
After a few days of attending AATI workshops, I walked away swimming with information and new ideas. In addition to a much deeper understanding of some of the legal aspects of elder justice and a greater appreciation for the idiosyncrasies of New York City, AATI provided me with a new lens for viewing the work of NYCEAC in the broader context of New York State. Outside of the circle of wonderful partners that NYCEAC regularly engages with, there are so many dedicated professionals who collaborate with one another. As was evident from meeting these professionals and observing colleagues, the collaboration is professional and personal. Elder justice work, as highlighted by AATI’s 2013 theme, is difficult, but the professional community works diligently to support one another, celebrate successes and problem solve through challenges. For a nascent professional, this environment and the field’s optimistic dedication are impressive and inspiring. The pervasive nature of these sentiments is one of many reasons I can envision myself working in elder justice for many years to come.
For those not able to attend AATI this year, Brookdale has made available a plethora of resources from the conference on its website, which can be viewed by clicking here. Workshop materials are available for download along with the contact information for most presenters. And there is always next year: Brookdale’s next AATI will take place in Fall 2014!