Research project on elder abuse appoints new Support Worker

L-R: Alan Clarke, Sarah Wydall and John Williams

L-R: Alan Clarke, Sarah Wydall and John Williams

04 October 2016

The first of two special support workers starts work today (Tuesday 4 October 2016) as part of a major ground-breaking project aimed at ending abuse against older people.

Based in Aberystwyth Law School’s Centre for the Study of Ageing, Abuse and Neglect, , the Dewis Choice project hopes to uncover the often hidden problem of domestic violence against the over 60s.

It will also focus on finding solutions, including the promotion of restorative practice which fosters reconciliation between the victim and the abuser.

Latest figures suggest more than 39,000 people over 60 suffer domestic abuse in Wales but such cases often go unreported, according to Sarah Wydall who’s one of three Joint Principal Investigators on the Dewis Choice project.

“We know that we have an increasingly ageing population but the truth is that older people aren’t newsworthy and don’t get as much attention as the younger generation. They are often invisible to society and as a result, they don’t always get the support they need,” said Ms Wydall.

“It came as a shock to me to realise that the Crime Survey for England and Wales, for example, doesn’t include people over 60 in its figures. One of the main objectives of the Choice project is to highlight the extent of domestic abuse against older people and to gain a real understanding of the context of such harm.

“We believe this is the first study of its kind in the world and we hope our findings will be used to inform decision-making and policy in future.”

As part of the project, the newly-appointed Choice Support Worker will spend up to 18 months working with older people in Cardiff who are victims of abuse in the home. A second Choice Support Worker will be appointed to work in Carmarthenshire in January 2017.

The support workers will discuss with victims the different courses of action open to them – including pursuing a case in the criminal courts, seeking redress in a civil court or taking the restorative practice approach.

John Williams is Professor of Law at Aberystwyth and Joint Principal Investigator on the project:  “A lot of the abuse against older people is carried out by close family relatives and as a result, the victims are often reluctant to press criminal charges. We hope our research will lead to the creation of a new restorative practice model which is responsive to the needs of older people.

“What restorative practice aims to do is mend the bonds which have broken down as a result of conflict or harm inflicted. The Choice support workers will set up family meetings to discuss ways forward and will work with families on a plan to end the harm. This could also include specifying a particular course of action for the abuser such as following a substance misuse programme. “

The research team at  Aberystwyth will use the real-life case histories developed by the project’s support workers as the basis for a major report on elder abuse in Wales.

The report’s findings and recommendations will be presented to the Welsh Government when the project ends in 2018.

Professor Alan Clarke, Joint Principal Investigator on the Choice Project, said: “The level of elder abuse is estimated to be higher in Wales than the rest of the UK but even though our research will focus on evidence drawn from this part of the world, this is a global problem and our findings will be of international significance.

“We are an ageing population and there is much to be celebrated about the process of growing older but we must be aware that not all relationships are as positive or rewarding as everyone would wish.”

The Cardiff support worker will be based in the offices of Safer Wales, a charity which has been working with victims of domestic abuse for the past 20 years.

The Co-CEO of Safer Wales, Barbara Natasegara, said: “Elder abuse is something that is happening on a daily basis here in Wales, yet many older people are still unaware of how to find support, or that such help even exists. At Safer Wales, we work with the most vulnerable people in society every day, and elderly victims of abuse represent a worrying proportion of those people. 

“We are delighted to be working alongside the Choice project to develop a new approach to support for elderly victims of abuse and their families, and ultimately to work towards putting a stop to elder abuse altogether.”

The project leaders are also working closely with other organisations including Cardiff County Council, Carmarthenshire County Council, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, and Women’s Aid.

Choice is a multi-disciplinary project involving both lawyers and criminologists at Aberystwyth University’s School of Law.

The £1.3m research project on Elder Abuse and Justice was awarded £890,000 grant by the Big Lottery Fund in 2015.