When Love Hurts: The Heartbreak of Elder Abuse

Valentine's Day is a time to acknowledge the loved ones in our lives. These relationships include not only a partner or spouse, but also the love between a parent and child. This relationship can be a wonderful experience.

But love can also hurt. There is the father who slaps his son across the face or the mother who constantly tells her daughter that she is destined to fail. One of the unfortunate aspects of child abuse is that it is cyclical and will ultimately repeat itself through the generations. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, one-third of abused children will eventually abuse their children. Much research has been done on this topic and many social service agencies attempt to educate victims of child abuse in order to stop the cycle of violence.

However, one part of this cycle that is often overlooked is the role of the abused child as a caregiver for his or her abusive parent in the later years of life. In a recent article published in The Gerontologist and highlighted in The New York Times, researchers note that children who were victims of abuse have more frequent depressive symptoms when caring for their abusive parent than caregivers who have not been abused. In addition, those caregivers who had been abused during their childhood have a greater chance of abusing their elderly parent continuing the pattern of abuse.

This cycle of violence is devastating and highlights the need to stop both child and elder abuse. Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services can and should work together to create educational programs to prevent and treat victims of abuse. However, Adult Protective Services currently faces major funding issues and so workers are undertrained, overwhelmed and can barely keep up with the mounting caseloads, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued in 2011. Statistics from 2010 indicate that average expenditure per child resident for Child Protective Services was $45.03, while the average expense for Adult Protective Services was $3.90. As elder abuse is a growing epidemic in America, it is critical to increase funding for elder abuse prevention and stop abuse in its tracks.

One way to do that is to support the Elder Justice Act, which was passed through bi-partisan support in Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2010. The Elder Justice Act will provide dedicated funding for Adult Protective Services and will provide support for educational programs to prevent elder abuse. However, no funding has ever been provided for the Elder Justice Act by Congress and it is set to expire this September.

With support from the Elder Justice Act, Adult Protective Services will have the adequate funding and staff to work with Child Protective Services to create programming to stop the inter-generational abuse that is ripping apart family life. Social service providers, health care providers, law enforcement officials and concerned citizens need to tell Congress that funding for elder abuse initiatives must be a greater priority and that family violence of any kind is unacceptable.

Additional reporting by Anna Kovacs.