Senior Assist Social Workers and the holistic approach to assisting the elderly

Social workers Jane McDougall and Scott Robson are crucial members of Tasmania Legal Aid’s Senior Assist team.

Jane and Scott describe their work helping Tasmania’s senior citizens as a “multidisciplinary and holistic” approach, focusing on helping clients experiencing elder abuse.

“We work collaboratively with our lawyers within Legal Aid…and provide legal advice and direction for clients,” said Scott, who is based in Launceston.

As Legal Aid’s first in-house social workers, Scott and Jane provide thorough service and advice to clients in tandem with their solicitor counterparts that is different to TLA’s traditional services.

“I see that as the primary difference,” said Jane, the case manager working in Hobart.

“As the lawyers provide legal advice and support regarding legal matters. And our role is primarily around emotional support and linking in with other supports that are required for a person because elder abuse is often incredibly distressing for our clients.”

That gap between the law and the individual that the two case workers seek to fill – a space clients often fill up with questions and worries.

“Our focus is often more holistic in terms of that person's holistic wellbeing and health needs,” said Scott. “Once legal advice is provided, a case tends to get closed off pretty quickly. But we will end up often continuing with a client, beyond the initial legal advice.”

With their work revolving around elder abuse and restraining orders, Jane said a lot of the focus is on providing personal support and assistance and “checking in and the emotional support and making sure the person is safe”.

Senior Assist social support workers in Tasmania and other jurisdictions are also collecting data and evidence for the Commonwealth Attorney General’s department as part of a scheme running until June 2022.

Scott described the scheme as “excellent” because “it means we can actually tell a story about what is happening in the community as far as elder abuse is concerned and what we're trying to do to address it, how we are dealing with it, and also identifying certain things that might be coming up that consistent areas of elder abuse”.

The hope is to find patterns in the data to better understand how and when elder abuse occurs in the community and develop a “pattern of exposure”.

At present there are few services offering social support for elder abuse in Tasmania. This is not due to a lack of support or interest, but rather how elder abuse is framed with the state’s law.

“One of the issues in Tasmania is [the family violence] legislation, in that it doesn't cover abuse by adult children to older people, or abuse by other family members like brothers or sisters or grandchildren,” Jane said. “So that's where the gap lies.”

Intimate partner and child abuse fit within the Safe At Home framework, but when it’s adult children or grandchildren abusing their elderly parents and grandparents there is yet no similar legal structure.

Until the work bridging the gap between Family Law and elder abuse is complete, Tasmania Legal Aid has implemented the multi-disciplinary approach among its social workers and lawyers.

“And that's quite a new experience and it's slightly different to other places around the country,” Scott said. “Where the legal matters referred to a legal team and the case managers or social workers don't even really have that same interaction.

“Whereas we will go out together with a lawyer with a case manager or a social worker working with clients, which is quite a collaborative approach.”

Last updated: 29/04/2021