Cases in which elder abuse may be occurring commonly entail multiple issues with potential impact on those cases. The court's response to elder abuse therefore is likely to be most effective if the court taps into the resources and expertise of other community stakeholders working to address elder abuse. These stakeholders may include law enforcement, prosecution, social services, adult protective services, long term care ombudsman programs, mental health agencies, the medical community, and other agencies and organizations in the community that provide services for older people.
The court can play a pivotal role in bringing together the key stakeholders to build a coordinated community response to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. Problem solving courts have used this approach in addressing substance abuse, mental health, and other difficult problems that cut across multiple professional domains. Several jurisdictions have implemented innovative programs, such as the Superior Court of California, County of Contra Costa Elder Protection Court and the 13th Judicial Circuit's Elder Justice Center in Florida, to address the complexities of elder abuse. Other examples of court involvement in interagency coordination are described in Court Guide to Effective Collaboration on Elder Abuse, part of the Elder Abuse Toolkit for Courts available from the National Center for State Courts.
Courts engage in multidisciplinary efforts to develop and implement strategies for enhancing their capacities to identify and effectively respond to elder abuse. Multidisciplinary partnerships can assist courts in three key areas of their responsibilities in elder abuse cases:
- Assessing cognitive, physical and other conditions that may be relevant to an older person's needs or legal matters before the court (e.g., determining capacity in decisions on the need for guardianship);
- Crafting appropriate remedies for identified victims of elder abuse (e.g., tailoring restraining orders to individual circumstances, ordering restitution, monitoring compliance with court orders, appointing a guardian ad litem to monitor provision of services to the victim);
- Managing cases to maximize the older person's accessibility to court proceedings and effective participation in the adjudication processes (e.g., making courtrooms accessible for people with physical disabilities, expediting cases involving elder abuse, calendaring cases to accommodate medical needs and fluctuations in capacity and mental alertness).
In addition, the American Bar Association "Recommended Guidelines for State Courts Handling Cases Involving Elder Abuse" include five recommendations related to coordination between the courts and other community resources.
Recommendation 24. Courts should: encourage and support the development and continuing operation of a state of local task force or coordinating council on elder abuse issues; lend their support to existing task forces or coordinating councils on elder abuse; or encourage evolving or existing task forces or coordinating councils on family violence to incorporate elder abuse advocates into their membership and elder abuse issues into their agenda.
Recommendation 25. Courts should include APS and aging services on court advisory councils or develop other mechanisms for establishing linkages with those organizations and others that address elder abuse.
Recommendation 26. Courts should encourage and support the development and continued operation of multidisciplinary teams on elder abuse.
Recommendation 27. Courts should encourage and support the development of protocols or memoranda of understanding between various entities involved in elder abuse cases as to their roles and relationships.
Recommendation 28. Judges and court personnel should have familiarity with APS, aging and social services providers in their community or brochures or other materials from those agencies so that they can direct an older abused person to appropriate service providers.
Recommendation 29. Courts should encourage and support the development of a "court social worker" or "court ombudsman" program using trained volunteers to help older, disabled, incapacitated or other individuals by giving them information about social services and other community organizations; linking, rather than just referring, them to social services and other community organizations; assisting them with the completion of pro se documents; and helping them to understand the nature of the court process.
Other examples of the benefits of interagency coordination for improving access to justice and sharing court and agency resources are described in a report from an ABA study "A Multi-Site Assessment of Five Court-focused Elder Abuse Initiatives."