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Q&A with Peninsula Health’s Elder Abuse Liaison Officer, Sue Leake

Peninsula Health’s Elder Abuse Liaison Officer, Sue Leake

The following is a Q&A with Peninsula Health’s Elder Abuse Liaison Officer, Sue Leake.

What is your professional background?

I am a qualified social worker with numerous years of experience in a variety of settings and roles including direct service, community development, case supervision and program management.

Why did you decide to work in the field of elder abuse?

I have worked in aged care for a long time, specifically with people living with dementia and their families. I am motivated by a belief in social justice. I am passionate about implementing a best-practice service response to older people who are vulnerable to elder abuse and the service providers that support them.

When did you start at Peninsula Health and what does your role involve?

A friend sent me a link to the Elder Abuse Liaison Officer role last year while I was on long service leave. I wasn’t looking for another job, but was excited when I saw this opportunity. Fortunately, Meghan O’Brien (Head of Social Work) was able to interview me the morning I flew out to the UK. I was offered the job a week later!

My role is part of the IMoC (Integrated Model of Care for Responding to Suspected Elder Abuse), a Victorian government-funded pilot project. Peninsula Health is one of five trial sites across the state. The trial consists of four key components including prevention (Respecting Seniors Network), workforce training (Bouverie Centre), family mediation (Better Place Australia) and my current role, the Elder Abuse Liaison Officer.

As Liaison Officer, I provide secondary consultation to local service providers across Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula who are concerned about, or suspect instances of, elder abuse. I would describe my role as being the bridge between aged services and family violence, by helping aged service providers understand family violence services, and vice versa. This is done so that older people experiencing elder abuse can access the best possible support in a way that is suited to them. 

What is elder abuse, and what are some of the most common signs for people to look out for that they may not be aware of?

Elder abuse is a form of family violence. The World Health Organisation defines it 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”.

The six most common types of elder abuse are financial, psychological, physical, sexual, social abuse and neglect. It is common for older people to experience at least two types of abuse at any one time.

The impacts and experience of family violence can look different for older people.  Evidence suggests that there are signs or ‘red flags’ for health professionals to look for in cases of suspected elder abuse. Health professionals usually identify a ‘trigger’ that something is wrong, such as:

  • inappropriate interactions/body language
  • repeated hospital presentations
  • unexplained financial status
  • changes in legal documents
  • vague explanations/inconsistent stories
  • delays in seeking care or following up
  • a sudden appearance of a new carer
  • unexplained injuries
  • poor grooming or hygiene, or
  • weight loss.

What should members of the community do who are concerned that someone they know may be suffering elder abuse?

It is important to listen and believe the older person’s story, to stay calm and be non-judgmental. People should reassure the older person that any abuse is a violation of their human rights, which is not OK.

Safety is the first consideration. If the older person is a patient at the hospital, a referral can be made to Social Work.  If the older person is at home and it is unsafe, then, with the older person’s permission, police can be called. Alternatively, you can call Safe Steps or 1800 Respect, which are available 24 hours per day.

In addition, I am available to local service providers during business hours to consult about pathway responses and support. There is also Seniors Rights Victoria, a statewide service specifically for older people experiencing elder abuse.

Contact details

Sue Leake, Elder Abuse Liaison Officer

  • Available for telephone consultations Monday – Friday, 8am – 4.30pm
  • Tel: (03) 9784 7665
  • Mob: 0466 781 205
  • Email: elderabuseenquiries@phcn.vic.gov.au | SLeake@phcn.vic.gov.au