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Buffalo’s Center for Elder Law and Justice to link elder abuse victims with social workers

Center for Elder Law and Justice

The Center for Elder Law and Justice helps older adults navigate the legal side of elder abuse, like getting an order of protection or recovering stolen funds. Now the Buffalo nonprofit legal services agency will help elder abuse victims with their emotional, social and health needs, too.


CELJ announced Monday it has received a $50,000 grant from the Garman Family Foundation Fund, which will allow CELJ to link their legal clients to free transitional services from social workers at Elder Care Solutions of Western New York. 


CELJ and Elder Care Solutions offered the social work services earlier this year on a pilot basis, helping about 10 elder abuse victims. They now hope to assist at least 22 victims in the coming year with this new round of funding.


“I always liken it to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where you need food, you need shelter,” said Sarah Duval, a supervising attorney for CELJ. “If those basic needs aren’t being addressed for our clients, then it’s really hard for us as an agency to have them focus on legal needs.”


A 2011 study found that one in 13 New York state older adults had been abused in the previous year. The study found that financial exploitation was the most common self-reported form of elder abuse, ahead of physical and sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse, respectively.


However, the study also found that elder abuse is underreported. For every case known to programs and agencies, 24 were unknown.


Duval said some older adults are hesitant to come forward against an abusive family member or caregiver out of fear there will be no one to take care of them and they’ll lose what independence they have left.


That’s why CELJ’s new social work services will help elder abuse remain living independently, Duval said. Social workers will help victims apply for affordable housing, Medicaid and services like a fall prevention assessment or life alert bracelet.


“No one should feel they have to remain in an abusive situation because they don’t know what would happen or where to go,” Duval said. 


The services will be offered beginning next month.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.