Experts in the Media

Louise Forster – South Western Times

CEO of Advocare

Elder abuse hotline reports most regional calls from South West amid cost of living pressures.

Over the last two years, Advocare has seen more reports of elder abuse from the South West than any other regional area.

Advocare – the peak body for aged care and elder abuse in Western Australia – received a total of 2479 calls relating to elder abuse from January 2022 to December 2023.

While many remained anonymous, out of those who did share their location, 90 were from the South West.

This is compared to 60 from the Great Southern, 57 from the Wheatbelt and 53 from the Mid West.

Advocare chief executive officer Louise Forster said numbers of elder abuse was hard to track, but it wasn’t going away.

“It’s certainly not decreasing, but is also under reported so we might not be seeing a true picture of what’s happening,” she said.

“With the housing pressures and the cost of living pressures that we’ve seen in the last 12 months, I anticipate that this will get worse because it happens often in times of family stress and financial stress.”

According to a 2022 study by researchers at the University of Western Australia, Edith Cowan University and the University of South Australia older people in regional, rural and remote Western Australia face more barriers to seeking help.

Ms Forster said housing played a significant issue for older people in the regions.

“We know housing is a huge issue in Australia and in WA, particularly in regional WA, it is in Perth as well,” she said.

“That has a few knock on effects because it means that there might not be appropriate housing or the housing might not be safe or it might have overcrowding.

“There are all sorts of issues around housing and it may mean that an older person doesn’t have a choice to stay or live where they choose to.”

Ms Forster said Western Australia should look east for better reporting mechanisms.

“Long term I think, WA could really benefit from some safeguarding legislation,” she said.

“In New South Wales and South Australia there are different approaches but there are safeguarding laws, which means that if there are reports they can be reviewed and if it’s needing investigating, then they can be investigated.

“There are powers given to those safeguarding units a bit like WorkSafe, they can enter a building site and speak to anybody and request any documents.

“We don’t have anything like that in WA so it does leave the options quite limited.”

Ms Forster said a way to reduce the issue was promoting conversations in the community to improve relationships.

The State Government announced last week there would be $3000 grants for local governments and not-for-profits to raise awareness of regional elder abuse.

The initiatives are designed to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day which is on June 15 and the application process closes on 12 April.

Seniors and Ageing Minister Don Punch said the State Government was supporting organisations which tackled elder abuse.

“All older Western Australians, regardless of where they live, have a right to feel safe,” he said.

“This also means being and feeling safe from mistreatment and elder abuse. The mistreatment of older people is never ok.

“Our Government introduced the State’s first ever Strategy to respond to the Abuse of Older People (Elder Abuse) 2019-2029, which has seen committed more than $1.9 million across the 2023-2024 financial year to tackle elder abuse through key initiatives including education, service delivery and awareness raising.

“This includes funding for the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Regional Grants which are now in their second year, for the WA Elder Abuse Helpline and Information Service, Elder Rights WA, Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre’s Older People’s Rights Services and Council on the Ageing WA.

“I see people calling the WA Elder Abuse Helpline and Information Service as an indication that we are making progress with our efforts to raise awareness of elder abuse and that there is support available.

“I meet with Advocare regularly and applaud the work they are doing to support vulnerable seniors through the WA hotline service.”

Anyone wanting to report elder abuse or seek support can call Advocare’s Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 724 679.