The growing problem of elder financial abuse in San Mateo County is hard to track and challenging to pursue due to an inadequate level of education, training, record keeping and collaboration, according to the civil grand jury.
In a report issued Tuesday, the grand jury found that the county has a foundation of services to protect elderly and dependent adults from such abuse but more can and should be done. The biggest hurdles, the jury concluded, are identifying abuse cases and improving how established agencies and professionals work together to address them.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, whose office received several recommendations from the jury, said he appreciates the jury’s insight and analysis of the existing problems.
“It fits with what we’re trying to do,” he said.
The jury recommends by Dec. 31 the District Attorney’s Office implement a computer system to better track data about elder abuse cases like victim ages and look at hiring a full-time prosecutor and inspector dedicated to them.
Wagstaffe said such a computer system is poised to go live the first week in October and he hopes the county authorities will provide him the resources to dedicate staff specifically to financial elder abuse cases. Currently, a prosecutor spends half her time on the cases.
“Any time we’re talking about dealing with elder abuse with more specified resources, I’m a big believer,” he said.
The crime is growing in San Mateo County in part because of the aging population. By 2030, nearly one out of every four residents will be older than 65, according to the Health System.
This population’s relative wealth, especially homes with great equity, make them particularly vulnerable, the jury wrote in its report.
Between October 2013 and April 2014, the District Attorney’s Office received 48 elder abuse cases of which 23 involved financial abuse. Those numbers are believed to be greatly underreported.
The jury also recommends the county’s Adult Protective Services develop a coordinated outreach effort with all relevant county departments to educate the public about identifying and reporting cases. APS is also asked to create training programs for mandated reporters.
The county created the manual Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Protocol in February 2006 but it has not since been updated.
APS and the District Attorney’s Office need to jointly implement a Financial Abuse Specialist Team model to address the abuse, according to the jury.
The county currently uses a multidisciplinary team model but the jury argued that the FAST model used elsewhere like Los Angeles County is superior because it focuses primarily on financial abuse as opposed to other forms, includes private sector members like financial experts and delivers both training and case consultations.
Wagstaffe said he thinks the idea is worthy of talking about and is a potential best practice. Certain crimes, he said, require not a classic response but a specialized team like those used for mental illness-related cases and perhaps now elder abuse.
Grand jury reports carry no legal weight but recipients are required to respond in writing within 90 days addressing the findings and recommendations.
The full report is available at www.sanmateocourt.org/grandjury.
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