Mitzi Pope: Addressing Elder Abuse

In March 2015, I was invited to New Orleans by the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to participate in a tribal listening session with representatives from tribal governments and service providers and those that work closely with tribes, tribal domestic violence coalitions and federal responders. NCALL is the lead technical assistance provider to communities receiving federal grants to address elder abuse. NCALL questioned whether the framework outlined for other grantees would work in tribal communities or if it would need to be tailored for American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. NCALL and OVW decided it was critical for Native people to inform the field about what abuse in later life looks like in tribal communities and how to address it. As a participant in this process, I was able to share experiences of harm perpetrators against elders from my community. In small groups with other tribal representatives from across the United States, we discussed the impact of this harm on our tribal members and communities.

The listening session helped NCALL develop the resource, Reclaiming What is Sacred: Addressing Harm to Indigenous Elders and Developing a Tribal Response to Abuse in Later Life. This paper, a resource for tribes and villages on how to create meaningful responses to abuse in later life, identifies specific guiding philosophies, cultural considerations, and potential action steps tribes and villages might wish to do when addressing abuse in later life in their communities.

March 9 & 10, 2016 I was blessed again, and invited to Washington D.C. to participate in a roundtable discussion on Addressing the Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing Needs of Older Victims of Abuse. This event was sponsored by NCALL, OVW, the Administration for Community Living, the Family Violence Prevention & Services Program and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. This discussion was focused on identifying the benefits and challenges of emergency housing for older victims, including programming in domestic violence shelters, safe homes and nursing homes/facilities. In small groups we brainstormed ways to tailor emergency housing programming and policies to better address the needs of older victims of abuse.

My roundtable experience in D.C. was profoundly different from the discussions held in New Orleans. Both experiences substantially increased my understanding of macro level, federal, policy-type work and how those challenges/changes trickle down to impact the individuals I serve in my community. However, the D.C. experience only included two tribal representatives, and the small group discussions opened my eyes to a critical need for awareness/advocacy on diversity, cultural sensitivity, and oppression. Being one of two tribal representatives in the room, I was motivated during discussions to ensure group recommendations included culturally sensitive and appropriate language, and collaborations with local Native tribes to address the emergency housing needs of older adults.

I have since reflected on this with my field instructor, and maybe Iā€™m overly optimistic but I truly believe that motivated social workers can impact change on multiple levels! If we ask questions, respectfully challenge victim-blaming systems of oppression, and work as a unified front, I believe we can change our communities. This experience of addressing elder abuse also allowed me to reflect on the profound influence my grandmother (Nene) had on my upbringing, character, personality, and the work I do as a social worker. Nene never judged, always welcomed you in her home, fed you when you were hungry, taught you not to hate anyone, cracked jokes at the right time, and had a home remedy for every wound. I can only hope that when the time comes the services and support I need are in place, so that I can age as beautifully and gracefully as she did.

Mitzi Pope
Part-Time 60 Hour Student

1 comment (Add your own)

1. Gano Perez Jr wrote:
Great article Mitzi, on the programs and legislative discussions you have contributed to in order to fight for our elders peace of mind through these complex cultural and deeply entangled issues. I look forward to seeing the good work of MCN Family Violence Prevention & Services Program, throught the Nation!šŸ‘

Thu, March 31, 2016 @ 11:10 PM

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