When Tasha realized that her uncle had been stealing his mother’s money for years—small amounts at a time that had been getting bigger—she says she felt paralyzed by the shock of it. Lee had offered to manage his mother’s bills and other finances, and the rest of the family trusted that everything was taken care of. Tasha could hear her uncle’s voice in her head if she were to ask him about it: “I think my mom wants me to have some compensation for all the time I spend. It’s not really a big deal. I’m going to inherit a lot of it anyway.”
But the financial limitations were starting to show in her grandma’s accounts and budgets. Tasha was worried that if she approached Lee directly, he might cause his mother further harm by pressuring her to lie about what had been going on or by making her think she’d forgotten a prior agreement they’d made about it.
Tasha found herself in a position that is not so uncommon. Cases of financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse have found a way into our society and must be remedied—both on a case-by-case basis and on the larger-scale level of public policy and through our collective understanding of older adults’ unconditional value and rights to fair treatment.
Sometimes elder abuse happens at the hands of family members, friends, and caregivers who are very close to the older adult in harm’s way. And, as Tasha discovered, it can be really difficult to overcome doubts and insecurities to take action and report unacceptable abuse happening right at home. Other times, elder abuse happens under the influence of strangers, such as professional scammers, lawyers, bankers or insurance agents, who take advantage of an aging adult’s vulnerabilities.
In any case, if you are a caregiver—formal or informal—for an older adult, reporting elder abuse in California is a mandatory civic responsibility, and it is indispensable for our commitment to equality without the threat of victimization and mistreatment. And, it’s important to remember that Adult Protective Services (APS) seeks to find the least restrictive option to deal with the protective issue.
In California and in General, Reporting Elder Abuse Is the Right Thing to Do
Knowing when to report perceived elder abuse can seem difficult to be absolutely sure of. You may feel as if the guidelines are subjective, especially when family members are involved in the potential abuse. But remember that everyone’s right to fair treatment and a life free from abuse and neglect is not subjective. If you become aware of or even suspect elder abuse or neglect, it’s always good to reach out through the proper channels and ensure that the older adult does not continue to be put in harm’s way.
You can refer to our guides about how to recognize:
- Different forms of elder abuse
- Signs of domestic and family elder abuse
- Serious self-neglect in older adults
- Signs of physical elder abuse
- Emotional and psychological elder abuse
- Financial elder abuse among family members
- Cultural financial abuse scams that may be preying on an aging loved one
If you still have doubts, it’s always better to get some professional advice than to continue as if nothing were amiss because, in that case, you may be enabling abuse and an aging loved one’s unnecessary suffering. Read on for more information about reporting elder abuse in California. Also, know that APS is happy to consult with you. One of the benefits of contacting agencies such as APS is that they are aware of the many resources in the community that might fit your needs to help remedy the protective issue at hand.
How Can You Report Elder Abuse in California?
The California Department of Justice reminds us that “Abuse can continue and often escalates if there is no intervention. Known or suspected cases of abuse should be reported to the appropriate agencies in your area. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and report.” If you find that an older adult is in need of immediate medical care, call 9-1-1 right away; get them the direct care they need, then proceed with reporting the related elder abuse.
When it comes to reporting elder abuse and neglect in California, your action steps will vary slightly if the aging adult was subject to mistreatment in the long-term care facility where they reside or if it occurred in circumstances unrelated to a residential facility.
For any and all cases, an important early step is to contact APS. If you witness elder abuse or suspect that abuse or neglect may be happening, no matter the particular circumstances, determine the number of your California county’s elder abuse hotline and make the call. You can do this by referring to the Bay Area counties listed below, or if you don’t see your county listed, find the local APS contact information here.
In addition to calling California APS, if your aging loved one has experienced abuse or neglect in connection with a care facility, you should also make a report with your local county Long-Term Care Ombudsman. The toll-free 24-hour crisis line is a good place to start: (800) 231-4024. And you can get in contact with your local ombudsman program through this county directory at the California Department of Aging.
If the elder abuse you perceive is suspicious activity related to In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), you may also want to contact the California Department of Health Care Services IHSS Fraud Hotline at (800) 822-6222; you can make your report anonymously over the phone or by email. If the elder abuse or exploitation you observe is in relation to Medicare or Medi-Cal services, reach out to the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud & Elder Abuse Hotline at (800) 722-0432. There is also an elder abuse reporting form you can fill out online regarding Medi-Cal Fraud or elder abuse.
By reaching out and giving the details of elder abuse or neglect that you’ve observed, you are giving an aging adult in crisis their best chance of recovery and safety from the threat of future mistreatment. That individual’s right to a life free from fear and unnecessary suffering is invaluable and unconditional. So, whether the injustice has been happening within the family or by strangers—whether the harm has been physical, emotional, material, or some combination of these—you hold the important responsibility to report what you know or suspect. Your actions could be the turning point for an aging loved one’s condition of life or perhaps life itself.
If you have any further questions about what constitutes elder abuse or neglect or how you should go about reporting a specific case, get in touch with Institute on Aging. We are ready to help answer your questions and connect you with helpful programs and services.