Advocating for the Rights of the Elderly

/ Blog Post

By Allie Yang-Green, senior program manager at Equal Justice Works

Each year, millions of older Americans experience some form of abuse, neglect, and/or financial exploitation. Studies show that elder abuse—which includes psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as caregiver neglect, financial fraud and exploitation—affects about 1 out of every 10 people age 60 and older.

Elder abuse often occurs at the hands of the people entrusted with the care and protection of the older person, such as nursing staff or family members. It can appear in many settings, including the older adult’s home, a family member’s home, a long-term care facility, or in other healthcare settings.

In many cases, older Americans do not seek help because they fear blame or other negative outcomes involving their family members, or because they are unaware of their rights and potential legal remedies. They need experienced advocates who can advise and seek justice on their behalf. Yet there is a profound shortage of public interest lawyers nationwide who are trained to provide effective representation to older victims.

That’s why Equal Justice Works created the Elder Justice Program—a two-year legal Fellowship program aimed at improving the national response to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The Elder Justice Program mobilizes 22 lawyers to increase access to justice for victims of elder abuse, by enforcing elder abuse victims’ rights and addressing wide-ranging civil legal issues, such as housing, protection orders, guardianship, and public benefits. Many of the Fellows in the program will serve victims in rural communities, as they face a greater challenge in accessing legal assistance due to their geographic isolation and limited transportation options.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fellows will use creative workarounds and innovative approaches to conduct outreach and meet the legal needs of their clients, while safeguarding the health and safety of both their clients and themselves. The Fellow hosted at Three Rivers Legal Services in Florida will develop direct representation models that allow for limited face-to-face contact, relying on both technology and assistance from providers or trusted family members with consent. At another host organization, New York Legal Assistance Group, the Fellow will work with partner agencies to include legal service outreach materials in food deliveries to older adults.

Throughout the Fellowship, Equal Justice Works and its program partner, Justice in Aging, will provide extensive training and technical assistance to help the Fellows deliver a multidisciplinary, coordinated response for helping older victims of abuse. Fellows are expected to begin their service in July 2020 at 16 legal services organizations across the country.

Interested in applying for this Fellowship program? Visit here to learn about the Elder Justice Program and to see the list of host organizations that are currently accepting applications.

The Elder Justice Program is supported by an award from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Award Number 2019-V3-GX-K033. This federal funding is supplemented by funds from private donors.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow