June 15 is the eighth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The event was created by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
Students from Clinton High School in Central Massachusetts have asked their town to officially recognize the day with the hope of encouraging citizen participation in the event; their actions eventually led to the entire Commonwealth recognizing the day.
Kathi Bailey, director of the Clinton Council on Aging and Senior Center, formed the Clinton Youth Council on Aging (YCOA) two years ago as a pilot program she calls, “a community and economic development tool with an aging lens.” She said she recognized that much of the public policy regarding the aging population at the community level was not well understood.
“I thought the best place to start would be with the kids in the high school, to pull them together, much like a model United Nations,” Bailey said. “We’d have this Youth Council on Aging that would talk about aging issues, global to local, and the economics of it all relative to public policy. Every couple of months, we’d tackle a different problem.”
Over the past two years, the YCOA, a joint program of Clinton High School and the Clinton Senior Center, have tackled accessibility issues, why women age into poverty at a greater entry rate then men and the Affordable Care Act. The group also participated in an AARP talk on Social Security and Medicare and attended last fall’s Massachusetts Council on Aging conference — the first high school youth group ever to do so. The American Society on Aging Conference nominated the program as one of the most innovative projects in the country.
This semester, YCOA has dedicated itself to having Elder Abuse Awareness Day recognized by their town selectmen. Prior to their April 17 appearance in front of the board, they prepared a thorough presentation to accompany their request, which included a video and talk by each YCOA member.
“I tell them they’re the experts on aging in the community,” Bailey said. “When they made their presentation to the selectmen, they talked about the correlation between abuse and poverty and the correlation between abuse and alcoholism and drug addiction. They talked about violence against women around the world and then linked it all to a natural progression to elder abuse and defined it and talked about what should done about it.”
Along with the June 15 designation, the YCOA also requested that funds be provided for a town employee to be trained in recognizing signs of and preventing elder abuse to be shared with other professionals in the town. Bailey noted that Boston University offers a course in “Elder Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation.”
After their presentations, the Clinton selectmen approved their requests and YCOA members received a series of proclamations from local and U.S. officials, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and State Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), thanking them for their efforts.