Q&A with Somerville-Cambridge Elder Protective Services

Protective Services is one of the many programs provided by Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES). Norah Al-Wetaid is a Protective Services Caseworker at SCES and member of the Cambridge Elder Abuse Prevention Coalition. In an effort to dispel some of the misconceptions about Protective Services, Al-Wetaid  recently discussed the program with the Elder Abuse Prevention Project of Greater Boston Legal Services.

Norah Al-Wetaid

Q: What you do as a Protective Services Worker?

A:  At the most basic level, Protective Service Workers respond to elder abuse allegations. We investigate them and then work with the elder to develop a plan to reduce risk. Our cases range from self-neglect– such as evictions or hoarding– to more extreme cases, such as physical abuse.

Most of my job is about harm reduction, through a collaborative effort with the elder and other individuals involved in their life. The plans we develop can include any number of interventions, such as connecting someone with in-home services, installing a lifeline or medication dispenser, providing advocacy, safety planning, obtaining restraining orders, eviction prevention, money management assistance, referring to other community providers and– in some rare cases– pursuing guardianship or conservatorship.

Protective Services is short-term, so we try and connect people with more long-term assistance whenever possible.

I love my job and the ability to help people remain safe in the community. All of us in Protective Services strive to increase understanding of Elder Protective Services, and we hope to remove some of the stigma or fears associated with our name.

We also strive to ensure that people understand that we are not the elderly equivalent to Child Protective Services. Unlike with children, elders with decision-making capacity have the right to self-determination and the right to make decisions regarding their life, regardless of whether or not they are decisions that you or I might make.

Q: What do you think is the best way to prevent elder abuse?

A:  This is such a hard question. I think that one of the best ways to prevent elder abuse is outreach, education and awareness. Outreach efforts should include an emphasis on both elders and community members who encounter elders (banks, medical providers, building managers, neighbors, family, friends, etc).

An important step is raising awareness about the many forms of elder abuse, providing knowledge about resources, and ensuring that everyone understands that elder service providers place a high emphasis on respecting elder’s autonomy and right to self-determination.

I strongly believe that if elders know about ways to access help and how we respect their autonomy, that they will be more inclined to reach out for help. Asking for help is often incredibly difficult and can be a source of shame, so anything we can do to make asking for help easier should be a priority.

The more people who know about elder abuse and how to get help, the more likely we are to reach more elders, even those who are isolated.

Q: What drew you to the Cambridge Elder Abuse Prevention Coalition?

A:  One of the main reasons is because it offers an opportunity to be involved in efforts to prevent elder abuse, rather than purely responding after the incident has occurred. Protective Services is frequently crisis oriented and generally responsive (as opposed to being preventative), so we often don’t have a chance to participate in explicitly preventative work.

The Coalition also offered the chance to engage with a wide array of service providers and community members that I may not normally be able to work with. It has been incredibly helpful to hear about other people’s perspectives on elder abuse, the issues that they see, and to find out about their experiences with Protective Services.

The Coalition also offers me an opportunity to talk directly with community members and providers about Protective Services and what we do.

At Coalition meetings, we often talk about the idea that there is no wrong door when it comes to accessing help. This is a wonderful approach and fits in perfectly with outreach efforts.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or your work?

A:  The name Protective Services often brings up feelings of fear, which can result in people feeling reluctant to engage with us. I would love to take this opportunity to hopefully alleviate some of the fear.

As an agency, Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services is very committed to keeping people safely in their homes, and we will do just about anything we can to help make that happen. Our approach in Protective Services is very much in alignment with the agency’s mission and a lot of work is around increasing safety and harm reduction.