How to Report Elderly Abuse in California

April 12, 2023 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff | Tips & Information

How to Report Elderly Abuse in California

Sadly, elder abuse—deliberately or negligently causing harm to an elderly person—is a common occurrence. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one in 10 adults aged 65 and over is a victim of elder abuse.

In 2020, adults aged 60 and over were 23.5% of California’s population. And according to the “P-1C Total Population by Sex and 5-Year Age Group” projection from the California Department of Finance, the state’s 60-and-over population is expected to grow to a staggering 34% of California’s total population by 2060. As this age group grows in the coming years, elder abuse will likely be even more of a concern.

How Does California Protect the Elderly From Abuse?

California’s system for protecting the elderly comprises specific legislation, Adult Protective Services agencies, and several other state agencies.

The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act

The California legislature passed the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (EADACPA) in 1982. The act does the following:

  • Provides a legal definition of elder abuse.
  • Stipulates criminal penalties for elder abuse.
  • Provides for victims of elder abuse to seek recourse through civil lawsuits.
  • Sets up guidelines for mandatory reporting of suspected elder abuse.
  • Provides legal protection for those who report elder abuse in good faith.

Reporting suspected elder abuse—whether a report is mandated by law or made voluntarily—is a key element in the fight against the mistreatment of older adults.

What Does Adult Protective Services Do?

One of the primary agencies dedicated to the well-being of the elderly in California is Adult Protective Services (APS), a subsidiary of the state Department of Social Services. Each county has its own APS agency.

Most people are familiar with the function of Child Protective Services. APS is similar, providing senior citizen protective services. Actually, APS agencies provide free services to all dependent adults (disabled adults between the ages of 18 and 59) and older adults (adults aged 60+).

Some of the areas where APS can help include:

  • Stepping in when an elderly person can’t care for their own needs.
  • Connecting elderly persons and their families with community resources.
  • Receiving reports of elder abuse.
  • Investigating reports of abuse.
  • Helping with the aftermath of an abusive situation.

What Is Elder Abuse?

Elder abuse is when someone deliberately or through negligence causes harm to an older adult. Elder abuse takes several forms, including:

  • Physical abuse: For example, physically assaulting or restraining or using drugs to restrain
  • Sexual abuse: Including rape, sexual assault, or unwanted touching
  • Emotional abuse: For example, threatening, intimidating, or harassing
  • Neglect: Failing to provide basic needs like food, clothes, housing, or medical care
  • Isolation: Preventing contact with family or friends
  • Abandonment: A caregiver abandoning someone they’re responsible for
  • Abduction: Forcibly removing someone from their home or preventing them from returning home
  • Financial abuse: For example, taking property, misusing funds, or defrauding

What Are the Signs of Elder Abuse?

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), a U.S. government agency, says to look for these signs of elder abuse:

  • Physical: “Bruises, pressure marks or sores, broken bones, abrasion, and burns”
  • Sexual: “Bruises or injury to the genital area” and “difficulty moving or sitting”
  • Emotional: “Withdrawal from normal activities, anxiety, depression, unusual behavior, or unease”
  • Neglect: “Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, unusual weight loss”
  • Financial: “Uncharacteristic purchases by the individual or caregiver” and “failure to pay bills”

When Should I Report Elder Abuse?

First, if you become aware of any elderly person in immediate physical danger, call 911. Other types of reporting apply only in non-emergency situations. After you’ve contacted emergency services, you may also file a report with Adult Protective Services.

Many cases of elder abuse go unreported. Sometimes, this is because no one knows about the abuse except the victim and the perpetrator. Victims may hesitate to speak up out of fear or embarrassment.

You may hesitate, too, not wanting to get anyone in trouble if they haven’t done anything wrong. Ultimately, trust your gut instinct. All of the previously mentioned signs of elder abuse are good reasons to call APS and file a report. According to California law, all reports of elder abuse are kept confidential, and reporters of abuse are not liable to criminal or civil prosecution for reports of abuse as long as they are made in good faith (that is, not deliberately false).

Knowing how to report elder abuse in California hinges on where the elderly person lives. That’s because different agencies have jurisdiction over the investigation based on where the abuse occurs:

  • APS investigates abuse allegations for elders who live in their own homes or apartments, in a hotel, or in a hospital.
  • The local long-term care ombudsman investigates cases of abuse involving elders who live in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living or continuing care retirement communities. (An ombudsman is someone who receives, investigates, and helps resolve complaints. Most of California’s long-term care ombudsmen are trained volunteers.)
If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
If abuse occurred in a home, hotel, or hospital: Call Adult Protective Services
  • Statewide 24-hour hotline: 833-401-0832
  • Kern County 24-hour hotline: 800-277-7866
If the abuse occurred in a nursing home or assisted living community: Call the Long-Term Care Ombudsman
  • Statewide 24-hour crisis line: 800-231-4024
  • Kern County: 661-323-7884

The California Elder Abuse Investigation Process

Once APS receives a report of suspected abuse, they’ll begin to investigate the allegations. Part of the California APS investigation process is exchanging information with any other government agencies that need to be involved. For example, if the suspected abuse involves a crime, APS will notify the local police department.

In addition to investigating, APS works to ensure that the elderly person in question has a safe, stable living situation. If the elder’s current living conditions are unsafe, APS will provide them with other options. APS can also connect the victim or their family with other community or government resources.

Similarly, a long-term care ombudsman who receives a report of suspected elder abuse will investigate the allegations, coordinating with other agencies and law enforcement if necessary.

Both APS and long-term care ombudsmen serve at the behest of the elderly individual. At any time—even during an investigation—an elderly person can choose to drop the investigation or withdraw from APS services. However, if the alleged elder abuse involved a criminal offense, an investigation is legally required.

Experienced Elder Abuse Attorneys

Reporting elderly abuse is an important first step in protecting a vulnerable loved one. The resulting investigation can help safeguard an elderly person’s golden years. If a crime was committed, the reporting process initiates law enforcement action to hold the abuser responsible for their actions. But the law further provides for civil action against those who abuse the elderly. 

If your loved one was abused, you may be able to recover medical expenses or compensation for pain and suffering through an elder abuse lawsuit. The Bakersfield elder abuse lawyers of Chain | Cohn | Clark can help you consider how to handle these painful, often delicate situations. 

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.