San Francisco Elder Financial Abuse Collaboration

PIs: Sarah Hooper, JD; Erika Falk, Psy. D.

Other Collaborators: The SF EFAC is, in large part, a community engagement project.  Community stakeholders include representatives from UCSF, the Office of the District Attorney, the Office of the City Attorney, Adult Protective Services, San Francisco Superior Court, the Administrative Office of the Court, and SFPD, among others.

Funders: The Borchard Foundation on Law & Aging and True North Foundation

Project Objective: The San Francisco Elder Financial Abuse Collaboration is an initiative to promote the financial wellbeing, independence and health status of vulnerable elders by improving civil responses to elder financial abuse.  The two objectives of the EFAC are:

1)      To comprehensively research and analyze existing programs, frameworks, and policies that address elder financial abuse, with a particular focus on civil legal remedies and

2)      To translate the findings into a blueprint that will guide San Francisco’s implementation of a comprehensive, coordinated civil response to elder financial abuse.

Project Description: Elder financial abuse is a rampant, but underreported and under-addressed problem both nationally and locally.  Current estimates put the overall reporting of financial exploitation at only 1 in 25 cases, suggesting that there may be at least 5 million financial abuse victims nationally each year. By one estimate, between 150,000 – 200,000 seniors in California are financially abused each year.

San Francisco is home to a large and growing population of aging residents which includes high concentrations of non-English speaking elders and a higher than average percentage of individuals with disabilities (44% are non-institutionalized disabled), making this group particularly at risk for abuse.

However, none of the current or past efforts in San Francisco to address elder financial abuse have been adequate to counter the breadth and complexity of the problem.  Many cases do meet the standard of evidence required for criminal prosecutions, and even when criminal responses may be appropriate, they may move too slowly to protect an elder’s assets.  Current civil legal resources are uncoordinated, and there are few attorneys who take elder financial abuse cases, particularly when the fraud is familial. Further, even if a victim is able to mobilize an advocate, this intervention may come too late to avert serious harm, which may not, as a practical matter, be remediable by the usual legal avenues.

In short, there are insufficient resources for victims, and service providers are often unable to understand or access the legal assistance available to the elders they serve. The net result is that victims of elder abuse and their loved ones are often left with no access to legal assistance which might halt ongoing abuse or remedy past abuse.

The San Francisco Elder Financial Abuse Collaboration seeks to address this escalating problem by improving the programs and policies that currently address elder financial abuse.  Importantly, the SF EFAC is both an academic research and community engagement project, with a strong interest on bringing professionals across disciplines together.

To date, SF EFAC activities have included:

  • Background research (including literature reviews on legal and clinical frameworks for understanding financial elder abuse; site visits to two Bay Area Elder Courts; stakeholder interviews)
  • Stakeholders Roundtable Event at UC Hastings on October 28th, 2011
  • Compilation and synthesis of stakeholder input into list of recommendations
  • Survey of Bay Area legal providers as to attitudes/awareness of elder financial abuse cases (IRB approved)
  • Survey of San Francisco Seniors as to awareness of elder financial abuse and services available in the community (IRB approved)
  • Creation of Blueprint for Action and Resource Map

Draft article entitled Making the Law Matter: Improving the Civil Legal Response to Financial Elder Abuse (Submitting for publication)

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