Concerned about a loved one and possible elder abuse?
Many individuals among the aging population are unable to advocate for themselves due to physical or mental limitations. This, sadly, leaves them susceptible to elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.
When vulnerable people are mistreated or taken advantage of, the need for justice is heavy. That’s why Florida law aims to protect and get justice for those in our population that are at the highest risk of abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.
If you suspect that elder abuse or some other form of unacceptable treatment—like elder financial abuse – is occurring, it’s important to take action right away. Contact a Florida elder law attorney today to find out more about what can be done to rectify the wrongs done to your loved one.
Elder Abuse and Financial Abuse Laws in Florida
Abuse of elderly people by their caregivers is not tolerated, and Florida law requires quick investigation after a report of elder abuse. The Adult Protective Services Act mandates that, when a claim of abuse or neglect is reported, the Florida Department of Children and Families commence an investigation within 24 hours of the report being made.
If the report is serious enough, the statute requires an immediate onsite protective investigation. Furthermore, an investigation into the allegations may not take longer than 60 days.
Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult is a 1st-degree felony in the Sunshine State. In addition, neglect that causes significant bodily harm, disfigurement, or disability is a 2nd-degree felony.
Important Elder Abuse Definitions in the State of Florida
There needs to be some kind of relationship between a “caregiver” and “vulnerable adult” in order for the Florida Department of Children and Families (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’s definition and DCF would not investigate that kind of “elder abuse” (rather, the police should be involved if an assault occurred).
Florida statutes define 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 are impaired due to a mental, emotional, sensory long term physical or developmental disability or brain damage, or due to the infirmities of aging.
This definition includes all those with special needs (e.g. autism, intellectual disabilities, blindness, ambulatory difficulties, traumatic brain injury victims, and others who are unable to fully take care of themselves).
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.
Any willful or threatened act by a 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.
Failure or omission on part of the 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 the 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.
Financial Exploitation (Financial Abuse)
Elder financial abuse occurs when someone knowingly, or by deception or intimidation, obtains or uses (or attempts to obtain or use) the vulnerable adult’s funds, assets, or property for the monetary or personal benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult.
The exploiter is usually someone in a position of trust and confidence and one who knows or should know that the vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent.
Elder Abuse and Elder Financial 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 the Elder is Living at Home
Perhaps more surprisingly is the volume of senior citizen abuse cases that occurred in the home – whether the elder’s home or their family’s home:
- 5.7K involve self-neglect
- 5.7K involve exploitation
- 5.7K involve inadequate supervision
Who Commits the Crime of Elder Abuse or Elder Financial Abuse?
According to DCF reporting, the majority of elder abusers are relatives of the vulnerable older adult! Almost 30% of these cases involve the children of the senior citizen. But a significant portion—about 20%—of reported elder-abuse cases occur in an institutional setting.
The Florida Department of Elder Affairs has produced some materials discussing ways to understand the signs of (and protect against) various types of elder abuse.
Elder abuse includes physical abuse (whether in the form of violence or neglect), emotional abuse, identity theft, and financial exploitation.
Elder abuse can also come in the form of nursing home negligence - especially in the case of bedsores—or “decubitus ulcers.” If you suspect nursing home negligence, resulting in serious injury, contact our office.
Reporting Elder Financial Abuse, Neglect, or Physical Abuse in Florida
To report financial abuse or some other form of elder abuse by phone, call the Florida Department of Elder Affairs 24/7 at 1.800.962.2873 (800.96.ABUSE). Press 2 to report suspected neglect, financial exploitation, or abuse of the elderly.
To report elder abuse online, click "Report Abuse Online NOW"
Reporting elder abuse can be done completely confidentially.
Information You’ll Need 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:
- Name, age, sex, physical and behavioral description, and location of the abuse victim.
- Names, addresses, phone numbers of victim’s family members.
- Names, addresses, phone numbers of each alleged perpetrator and the alleged abuser’s relationship to the victim.
- Names, addresses, phone numbers of the victim’s caregiver (if different than the alleged abuser).
- Description of physical and/or psychological injuries involved or signs of harm.
- Who else might have information related to the alleged abuse.
- 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.
Other Florida Contacts for Reporting the Abuse or Neglect of an Elderly Person
Elder Abuse Prevention Coordinators have been established by Florida statute, and they can be contacted at the following locations:
- Miami Alliance for Aging | 305.670.6500 | 760 NW 107th Avenue, Suite 214, Miami, FL 33172
- Aging & Disability Resource Center of Broward County | 954.745.9567 | 5300 Hiatus Road, Sunrise, FL 33351
- The Florida Department of Elder Affairs has a legal hotline to provide free legal advice to eligible seniors over 60 years old: 888.895.7873.
Elder Abuse and Financial Abuse: The Role of DCF
The Florida 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 the 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 when the victim is either a vulnerable adult or even the caregivers.
Adult Protective Services Investigation Process
To start the reporting process, dial the number or click the link above. The report will be screened to see if the allegations (if they are 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.
Elder Abuse Investigation Timeframe
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 to services if necessary. The investigator is assessing risk for harm or risk of future harm.
For example, if financial institutions blocked a questionable transaction and reported 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 completed within 60 days.
How Investigators Operate
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 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 there 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. Sometimes DCF will believe that vulnerable adults have been abused, neglected, or exploited and are in need of protective services, but they lack the capacity to consent to protective services. DCF can then petition the court for an order authorizing the provision of services.
They can also remove them from the premises and arrange for transportation to 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.
Elder Abuse and Financial Abuse Research Resources
- Florida HealthFinder — Check on reviews and reports of elder abuse for a particular nursing home or assisted living facility
- FINRA BrokerCheck — Check complaints, regulatory actions, and disciplinary history of a financial advisor
Contact an Elder Law Attorney
If you’ve witnessed the physical abuse, neglect, or financial abuse of older adults – or even if you simply suspect it – contact an elder law attorney that’s experienced in the area of elder abuse.
At Elder Needs Law, we know that this type of situation is emotional, stressful, and sometimes even devastating. We’ll be by your side through the whole process, so you don’t have to navigate this road alone.
No matter what you need assistance with, don’t wait - schedule a consultation today to discuss a plan for your future.