Shock rise in elder abuse by ‘entitled’ offspring
BEHIND closed doors a silent crime against the Gold Coast's most vulnerable people is exploding.
Money is being swindled, physical and emotional abuse is on the rise, and elderly people are being manipulated.
Industry insiders say elder abuse on the Gold Coast has more than doubled as the coronavirus pandemic isolates people and strains finances in a city full of casual and part-time workers.
What's worse is that the crimes are being severely under reported because victims feel a mixture of guilt and shame, not wanting to get the alleged crooks into trouble because many of them are loved ones.
In some cases, they are moving back into the family home and kicking their parents out.
Gold Coast Community Legal Centre senior solicitor Ian Martin said he'd seen a significant increase in elderly people seeking help.
During the pandemic, he said he had experienced an 110 per cent increase on advice for wills, estates and enduring powers of attorney, and a staggering 250 per cent jump in the actual dealing with elder abuse and improper financial conduct.
"The amount of questions I've had over wills, estates and powers of attorney from May until August, compared to the same period in 2019, I'm looking at a 110 per cent increase in the amount of advice I've given," Mr Martin said.
"(There has been a) 250 per cent increase in the amount of tasks and involvement we are getting, actually writing to people or getting involved in more details with assisting clients, which is a huge jump from our perspective."
He said the offending often involved domestic violence.
"A lot of elder abuse is going to have a domestic violence component because, quite sadly, it's the daughters or the sons that are causing the abuse.
"For the most part it's financial abuse and neglect where you have a number of what you might call privileged children thinking 'mum or dad just need to be put in a home somewhere and we'll just move into the house'.
"Since COVID, a lot of those people in their 20s and 30s, who were in their own accommodation, are all deciding to move back home, so that's causing a great deal of stress.
"I've had a few of those, where they thought they'd got rid of the kids, but they're moving back and that's causing a lot of anxiety financially."
Mr Martin said children taking financial advantage of their elderly parents or grandparents, or isolating them from their community, was becoming a more common trait.
"Here's a story I see a lot: 'Mum and dad, I need to buy this house, but I can't afford the mortgage, can you give me a loan to buy this property?' Now I've seen up to $200,000 being given, without a contract, because they've told them they can live there as long as they want. But before you know it the locks are getting changed, they don't like mum and dad anymore and they're out on their ear. There's no contractual documents and their names aren't on the title deeds.
"The verbal and psychological abuse that goes on is fairly distressing, some of the things I hear children calling their parents.
"Isolating an elderly person is quite appalling, particularly if they're not socially connected with the community in the first place.
"I think the biggest problem we're finding with COVID-19 is that we are all being encouraged to stay home and if we have a tenuous thread within our community … the social isolation can only exacerbate elder abuse if it's occurring anyway, because there will be less people noticing it happening.
"There's less oversight, there's less people asking someone if they're all right. They're relying on one person in some cases and if that person has ulterior motives, well …"
Sadly, he said most elderly victims declined to pursue legal action against their own children.
"I've not had an elderly person who has said, 'you know what, I'm going to get an order here'.
"The reason for that is because when you explain to them what they have to do to get an order, i.e. take your son or daughter to court and stand up in court and tell a magistrate there's elder abuse going on, they don't want to drag their children into court like that.
"You love your kids, but from the outside looking in, you need to have protection and this is how you're going to get it."
"But they say, 'no, no, I can't do that to my son', or whoever it may be."
Detective Inspector Paul Dalton, head of the family violence unit on the Gold Coast, said while police had not recorded an increase in criminal complaints, he felt it was being under reported.
"I think coronavirus has made vulnerable people more vulnerable by the fact that they're staying at home and are more isolated.
"Unfortunately it's more than likely the offender will be a relative, someone close to them that they trust, which makes it worse in my view."
He appealed to the community to speak up if they thought something was wrong with their elderly neighbours or friends.
"We can't help unless we know about a situation. Just because we get involved, doesn't necessarily mean someone will get arrested. We have ways of intervening, referring them to another organisation, who could perhaps manage finances or put them in a safe environment.
"Just because we get told, doesn't mean we'll walk in the door and arrest someone.
"In my experience that seems to be the case (financial abuse is most prevalent), it's certainly something I've noticed over the years.
"Keep an eye out for your neighbours and your relatives."
Mr Martin said: "Elderly people need to know there is a number of advocacy services for them. There's obviously us here on the Gold Coast, they can come and talk to us and ask us those questions about what the legal implications are of signing documents.
"We can talk to them about capacity and what it means in regards to signing documents. The dangers of having a son or daughter, or a new friend saying they'll help them change their will, that's a big red flag.
"We do telephone support, you don't have to come and see us. We have a quick telephone conversation with you, so you can talk to us about your legal matter. Anything you would like to do within the context of elder law, we'd be happy to talk."
Originally published as Shock rise in elder abuse by 'entitled' offspring