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Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America
Employees of area agencies on aging and other aging service providers
Employees of human services, social services, or health departments
Law enforcement and public safety employees
Guardians and conservators
Teachers and educators
Financial profession employees
The concept of mandatory reporting of suspected mistreatment was borrowed from the child abuse laws without research demonstrating its applicability to older persons. The ongoing debate concerning mandated reporting raises many empirical questions about the effects of these laws on the behavior of mandated reporters and about the consequences of reporting on the lives of people affected by them. Yet virtually no research has been conducted on these important issues. For example, to what extent are mandated reporters aware of their legal obligations? To what extent do they comply with them? What factors affect reporting behavior? What are the motivations, concerns, and expectations of those who report and those who decline to do so? Does reporting behavior vary significantly among the professions and occupations required to report under state law? Hawes (this volume) discusses some studies indicating significant underreporting of elder mistreatment by physicians and other health care professionals, long-term care ombudsmen, and residents of long-term care facilities and their family members. The panel is not aware of studies of other professions or occupations. There is much anecdotal evidence of underreporting, but systematic study of reporting behavior is needed—not only to assess compliance but also to provide the necessary foundation for critical evaluation of the effects of mandated reporting.
Many questions have been raised about the effects of mandated reporting. What actually happens as a consequence of a report, compared with informal interventions that might otherwise have occurred? What are the consequences (both positive and negative) of being reported on the lives of the victim, the perpetrator, and the family? To what extent does the threat of being reported (and the ensuing intervention) affect the behavior of potential (or previously reported) perpetrators and victims? These important issues can be addressed in well-designed studies comparing responses to suspected mistreatment in jurisdictions with and without mandatory reporting. The fact that six states do not require reporting affords an unusual opportunity for cross-jurisdictional comparisons. Before-and-after designs may also be possible as some of the six states with voluntary report-