As victim advocates and programs navigate supporting older survivors through the COVID-19 pandemic, collaboration, creativity, and compassion will be key. Socially isolated older adults are at a higher risk for abuse, but social distancing is not the same as isolation. Here are some tips for programs to consider when providing supports for older victims of crime and abuse in a time of social distancing.
- Keep connected with tele-advocacy. Now more than ever it is important to maintain connection with victims as survivors. Advocates should connect with people in the best and safest way that works for the survivor, whether that’s over the phone, via text, or video chat. Check in with survivors on how they can safely stay connected with their family and community members. Strategize with people as you would while safety planning on what safe connection looks like for them at this time. Visit techsafety.org to get information of different technology tools available to have safe and confidential conversations with survivors.
Review the National Resource Center for Reaching Victims (NRC) resources on tele-advocacy for tools and tips on how to support victims from a distance.
- Rethink the role of an advocate. During this time many people, especially those who have experienced or are experiencing violence/emotional trauma, may have a hard time focusing and managing their stress. Advocates can check in with survivors just to ask how their day is going. If an older survivor expresses interest in getting help with organizing their days, then the advocate may draw upon safety planning skills to walk through daily goal plans and help the survivor navigate their anxiety and stress.
- Prioritize the needs of folks in the margins. Older people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, Deaf and hard of hearing older adults, people with disabilities, and older adults with incarceration histories all face unique barriers to accessing services and supports when the world is not facing a pandemic. It is even more critical now that you examine how your program is reaching out to populations in your community with limited access. Be creative with building new relationships with organizations that may not necessarily work with victims and survivors but may be touchstones for folks in their own community, and leave information about your services in places older adults may go during this time (i.e. grocery stores, pharmacy, post office). Go to www.reachingvictims.org for more information on how to support survivors in the margins.
- Lean on and create new relationships. This is a time when collaboration will be key in order to support older survivors. For example, APS workers can call on police to help with wellness checks, ombudsman may be able to do check-in calls, and advocates can create and share tools for survivors to manage their stress. Think about what organizations and entities may come into contact with older adults in your community (APS, faith communities, police, culturally specific programs, etc.) and organize an online meeting or phone call with them to talk through how you can create a coordinated approach to checking in and being available for older adults in your community. Coordination will be important so you are not duplicating efforts and so you can reach out to the broadest sector of people.
- Stay up to date on COVID-19 scams. Some people are leveraging the fear around the pandemic to scare, manipulate, and defraud others. The Federal Trade Commission website can help you stay up to date on the different scams popping up related to the virus. Stay informed and check often as new information arises related to scams. If you come across suspicious activity, file a report at the FTC at gov/complaint.
- Self-care is critical. Program managers must be mindful of the emotional toll for advocates who are used to being able to help, but now struggle with additional barriers to reach victims and survivors. Utilize different grounding and self-care tools to minimize the trauma impact of being a support person in the midst of a pandemic. Visit the resources page for the National Resource Center for Reaching Victims (NRC) for different webinars on grounding tools for advocates, as well as additional tools for effectively and safely providing tele-advocacy.
Katie Block, M.SW., M.P.H., is the National Resource Center for Reaching Victims Project Coordinator