Illinois is a leader in protecting its elderly population through a host of special laws. As such, lawyers often are empowered as seniors’ first, strongest allies against abuse, said Barry Kozak, director of the Elder Law Program at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
Seniors, their advocates and government workers can take action against physical, emotional, sexual and financial exploitation, confinement and passive neglect. Illinois also is one of the few states that protects against self-neglect, such as hoarding.
Illinois has had the Elder Abuse and Neglect Act for several decades, which until recently had protected adults over age 60. The law was amended this year and renamed the Adult Protective Services Act, so now adults ages 18 to 59 with disabilities also are protected from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Illinois lawmakers used the state’s child abuse laws as models when writing laws to protect the elderly. Kozak said it made sense to follow the pattern because both populations need protective care in the likelihood of abuse.
“This is a constituency that becomes more dependent on those around them,” Kozak said. “Attorneys will, in some cases, be their first line of defense against the unscrupulous actions of others who attempt to steal seniors’ assets or deny them the care they require.”
Panelists at a special class at The John Marshall Law School outlined how the Illinois Department on Aging, the Chicago Department of Aging, and support groups, including AARP, provide services.
The Illinois Department on Aging, for example, spends most of its budget working to keep people safe in their communities, said Mary Killough, deputy director for the Illinois Department on Aging. She explained to John Marshall students how the agency spent a year examining breakdowns in services and revamped many of its initiatives to make certain Illinois contractors were giving the care seniors needed. Today, Illinois’s Elder Abuse and Neglect Act is a societal model.
Kerry Peck, an attorney with Peck Bloom LLC worked with the Chicago Department of Aging to help write an amendment to the state’s elder abuse laws. He said the city remains concerned with animal hording, and has nicknamed these cases “cat house” cases because “these people don’t go to the doctor or eat because they are taking their limited resources and spending the money on their pets.”
Peck urges Illinois legislators to strengthen the state’s laws on financial misappropriation. To date, bankers are only mandated to take a training course, but not to report any suspicious behavior. Peck said he has dealt with numerous cases in which families and caregivers steal by using power of attorney for signature on documents.
“Dynamics and emotions run very high” in exploitation cases, he said.
Courtney Hedderman, the associate state director of Advocacy and Outreach for AARP Illinois, said AARP is working to get law enforcement to work more closely with social service agencies. AARP has found that if police don’t file charges in abuse or neglect cases, it can mean that no social service agency is brought in to follow up on the senior’s needs. That needs to change Hedderman said.