While social workers are mandated by provincial law to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect as per the Province of New Brunswick Family Service Act, no mandatory reporting requirements are in place regarding the abuse or neglect of older adults. The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) Code of Ethics makes similar demands for the protection of children, yet affords no such protection for older adults. Within the public eyes, social work is often associated with child protection, but should we not value and protect our older adults and show them the same care as we show our children?
Adults age 55 and older are one of the fastest growing populations in the country. The Statistics Canada 2016 census reveals the number of people 65 and older outnumber those under 14 years old. Statistics Canada (2010) estimates this population will rise from 27 per cent in 2011 to 35 per cent by 2031. By 2036, the population of older adults will be somewhere between 9.9 and 10.9 million. The 2017 Aging Strategy for New Brunswick Report indicates that about 147,929 older adults reside in New Brunswick, representing 19.5 per cent of the population. In fact, if this trend continues, by 2038, older adults will represent 31.3 per cent of the provincial population.
Social workers are not obliged by the CASW nor the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers to report the endangerment, abuse or neglect of older adults. Yet, since the 1970s, the mistreatment of older adults has been recognized as a social problem. According to the Canadian Association of Retired People, elder abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in Canada. The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.” As the population of older adults increases in Canada, it is important to raise awareness about older abuse and to develop prevention/intervention plans.
A key value of the social work profession is to uphold the dignity and worth of persons regardless of age, ability, race or culture. Social workers should therefore be mandated to report the neglect or abuse of older people just as they are mandated to report the abuse of children. The Government of New Brunswick needs to review the Family Service Act and incorporate mandatory reporting regulations regarding the abuse of older adults. Social workers’ practicing governing documents should also reflect this amendment. Older adult abuse is an area in need of mandatory reporting. Failure to make this change would be unethical among social workers as a profession and among our society in general.
Julie Lavallee, Bachelor of Social Work student at St.Thomas University