Elder Abuse: The Role of DCF
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) division of Adult Protective Services screens and investigates all reports of elder abuse (1-800-96-ABUSE or 1-800-962-2873). Click on link for multiple ways to report elder abuse. While almost 20% of Florida’s population is over the age of 65, DCF investigates claims of abuse of caregivers to, not only, vulnerable adults, but all those with special needs as well (e.g. autism, intellectual disabilities, blindness, ambulatory difficulties, traumatic brain injury victims and others who are unable to fully take care of themselves).
Important Elder Abuse Definitions
In fact, Florida statutes defines a “vulnerable adult” as a person age 18+ whose ability to perform normal activities of daily living and/or to provide for his/her own care or protection, or is impaired due to a mental, emotional, sensory long term physical or developmental disability or brain damage, or due to the infirmities of aging.
Florida Statutes defines “caregiver” as a person who has been entrusted with or assumed responsibility for frequent and regular care of or services to a vulnerable adult (on a temporary or permanent basis) who has a commitment, agreement or understanding with that person that a caregiver role exists.
So there needs to be some kind of relationship between a “caregiver” and “vulnerable adult” in order for DCF to investigate the claim for elder abuse. For example, if someone randomly pushes a vulnerable adult in a parking lot; that would not meet the caregiver definition and DCF would not investigate that kind of “elder abuse” (rather, the police should be involved).
Elder Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation
Abuse: any willful or threatened act by relative, caregiver or household member, which causes or is likely to cause significant impairment to a vulnerable adult’s physical or emotional health. Abuse includes omissions.
Neglect: failure or omission on part of caregiver or vulnerable adult (self-neglect should also be reported) to provide care, supervision and services necessary to maintain the physical and mental health of the vulnerable adult. Importantly, no “intent to harm” is required to meet this definition. The caregiver reported to DCF doesn’t always have intent to harm; sometimes they are in over their heads and need help. DCF will refer such caregivers to the potential services available to them to assist in caring for the vulnerable adult.
Exploitation: knowingly, or by deception or intimidation, obtaining or using (or attempting to obtain or use) the vulnerable adult’s funds, assets or property for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult. The exploiter is usually someone in a position of trust and confidence and one who knowns or should know that the vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent.
Adult Protective Services Investigation Process
Dial the number (or click the link) above to be able to report elder abuse online. The report will be screened to see if the allegations, if true, would satisfy DCF’s definition of elder abuse. If so, a formal investigation is commenced within 24 hours of the initial report/call.
If the reporter is told that what they are reporting does not meet criteria, and they truly believe that elder abuse is happening, they should ask to speak with a supervisor.
Most elder abuse victims are visited, in person, by a DCF investigator within that initial 24 hour period. The investigator is looking for signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation and will refer for services if necessary. The investigator is assessing risk for harm or risk of future harm. For example, if a bank blocked a questionable transaction ad reported the possible financial elder abuse, while the potential abuser’s attempt to steal money was unsuccessful (as the bank blocked the transaction), the “risk of future harm” is great.
All elder abuse investigations must be complete within 60 days.
The Adult Protective Services investigator will conduct a background check into the alleged victim and abuser (looking for patterns of, or a propensity towards, similar abuse) and to determine if other agencies need to be involved or if law enforcement should accompany the investigator to visit with the victim.
When they visit the victim they will always conduct at least part of the investigation by speaking with the victim in private if here are other residents or caretakers in the same household.
The investigator will also speak to other sources of information (banker, primary care physician, neighbors, other caregivers, prior caregivers, family, etc…)
The investigator will determine if any other services are needed and available to the victim while assessing the risk for future harm. If DCF believes that a vulnerable adult has been abused, neglected or exploited and is in need of protective services but lacks the capacity to consent to protective services, DCF can petition court for order authorizing provision of services. Fla. Stat. 415.1051. They can also remove from the premises and arrange for transportation an appropriate medical or protective services facility. An emergency petition for protective services must be heard by the court within four days of filing the petition.
But if there are assets, it would be better for a family member or friend to file for emergency temporary guardianship because a guardian can do so much more than DCF.
What to Report when Reporting Elder Abuse
While one can report elder abuse anonymously, doing so can make it difficult for the investigator to follow up and ask important questions about the abuse. Prepare to provide as much of the following details as possible:
1. Name, age, sex, physical and behavioral description, and location of the abuse victim.
2. Names, addresses, phone numbers of victim’s family members.
3. Names, addresses, phone numbers of each alleged perpetrator and the alleged abuser’s relationship to the victim.
4. Names, addresses, phone numbers of the victim’s caregiver (if different than then alleged abuser).
5. Description of physical and/or psychological injuries involved or signs of harm.
6. Who else might have information related to the alleged abuse.
7. Any other information the reporter feels is relevant.
Anonymity is revealed only if a false report is made (because that is illegal, not to mention a waste of the state’s resources that could have been put towards a case with merit) or if the reporter provides permission.
Criminal and Civil Consequences of Elder Abuse
Fla. Stat. 772 provides treble damages for civil theft.
There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(A) if:
· Victim is elderly, suspect is in a position of trust/confidence/has business relationship, and suspect obtained funds/assets/property.
There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(B) if:
· Victim is elderly, victim lacks capacity to consent, suspect obtained (or endeavored to obtain) funds/assets/property to benefit someone other than the victim, and suspect knew or had reason to know that victim lacked capacity.
There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(C) if:
· Victim is elderly, suspect is guardian/trustee/agent under POA, suspect breached fiduciary responsibility which resulted in unauthorized sale/transfer/misappropriation of victim’s property.
There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(D) if:
· Victim is elderly, suspect misappropriated, misused or transferred (without authorization) money from a personal, joint or convenience bank account.
o Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(d) defines exploitation as the misappropriation, misusing or transferring without authorization money belonging to an elderly person from an account in which the elderly person placed the funds, owned the funds and was the sole contributor or payee of the funds.
o This is so a joint account holder (who contributes nothing to the account), who perhaps starts off only paying bills of elderly owner but then decides to withdraw funds and buy a Ferrari for themselves, can still be charged for exploitation.
There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(E) if:
· Victim is elderly, suspect stands in position of trust or is a caregiver, suspect intentionally or negligently failed to effectively use victim’s income or assets for the necessities required for the victim’s support or maintenance.
Fla. Stat. 825.103(2) presumes exploitation when there is a transfer of money over $10,000 by a person 65 years old or older to a non-relative whom the transferor knew for fewer than two years before the first transfer and for which the transferor did not receive the reasonably equivalent financial value in goods or services.
Fla. Stat. 825.103(4): Asset Seizure: if a person is charged with financial exploitation for more than $5,000 and property believing to the victim is seized from defendant pursuant to a search warrant, court will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the older adult’s property was unlawfully obtained. If so, the court may order it returned to the victim for restitution purposes before trial.
Elder Abuse Statistics
DCF investigated 52,858 reports of elder abuse in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
· 18.7K involved self-neglect
· 17.2K involved inadequate supervision
· 11.2K involved exploitation
· 9.5K involved physical injury
Most common forms of elder abuse in an institutionalized setting
Not surprisingly, the largest category of nursing home/ALF abusers come from the employees of the institution.
· 3.7K involved inadequate supervision
· 2.9K involved physical injury
· 1.4K involved medical neglect
· 1K involved environmental hazards
· .3K involved exploitation
Most common forms of elder abuse while elder is living at home
Perhaps more surprisingly is that the senior citizen’s own child is most likely to be the alleged abuser.
· 5.7K involve self-neglect
· 5.7K involve exploitation
· 5.7K involve inadequate supervision