Like every other state in our nation, the population of Colorado is getting older. Longevity and independence can have a price for some of us, and there are many people in our population who are elders and are at risk of exploitation and abuse.
Gov. Hickenlooper signed this act into law on May 16, 2013. It makes Colorado the 48th state to have such legislation in place. Click here to read the Act. Prior to this law, there was no mandatory reporting of elder abuse. Elder abuse, as defined by the statute, includes physical and emotional abuse as well as financial exploitation. The new law will provide additional protections to at-risk elders.
So here’s a bit of background: In 1991, Colorado enacted the Adult Protective Services (APS) system, which is designed to protect vulnerable or at-risk adults who, because of age or mental or physical ability, are unable to obtain services or otherwise protect their own health, safety, and welfare. Under current law, an “at-risk adult” is any person over the age of 18 who meets these criteria. Prior to Colorado’s new mandatory reporting law, members of certain helping professions were encouraged to make reports of known or suspected abuse and provides a telephone hotline for all citizens. Among its many provisions, this bill creates a new class of protections for “at-risk elders,” who are defined as any person age 70 or older. The law also makes a number of changes to the APS system.
So – how does it work? Starting July 1, 2014, members of helping professions listed in the statute as “mandatory reporters” are required to report known or suspected abuse of at-risk elders. (You can read a follow-up post about mandatory reporters here.) The report must be made within twenty-four hours and the penalty for not reporting is a class 3 misdemeanor. A person who files a report in good faith is immune from civil or criminal prosecution.
Here’s a brief Q&A on this new law…
What else does this new law provide?
The bill also makes applicable existing penalties for theft-related crimes, caretaker neglect, and making a false report for offenses against at-risk elders.
What about changes in how law enforcement handles these matters?
Law enforcement agencies are required to complete a criminal investigation when appropriate and to provide a summary of investigation reports to the relevant county department of social services and district attorney.
How about training for law enforcement personnel?
The Peace Officer Standards Training (P.O.S.T.) Board in the Department of Law is required to develop and implement a training curriculum no later than January 1, 2014. Training is to assist peace officers in recognizing and responding to incidents of known or suspected abuse and exploitation of at-risk elders. On and after January 1, 2015, local law enforcement agencies are required to employ at least one officer that has completed the new P.O.S.T. training. The board is authorized to charge a fee to participants for the training.
And how will the mandatory reporting be implemented?
The Colorado Department of Human Services (something about APS and county) is directed to implement, beginning January 1, 2014, a program to raise awareness among both public and the mandatory reported about mistreatment, exploitation and self-neglect among at-risk adults, including at-risk elders.
What about the work that county departments of social services (typically through APS) have been doing so far with their investigations?
County departments of social services are mandated under Section 26-3.1-103, C.R.S., to investigate all reports of abuse, exploitation, or neglect of at-risk adults. Reports are evaluated and investigated according to the rules established by DHS. DHS rules currently classify responses as a referral, no response needed, urgent and requiring follow up, requiring a response within 24 hours or requiring a response within 3 days, followed by appropriate services as needed. Services can range from assisting persons with obtaining public benefits and providing case management to seeking emergency placements and guardianship of the at-risk adult.
Colorado data shows that in FY 2011-12, a total of 11,000 new reports were filed. Of this number, 4,733, or 43 percent, required an investigation. In addition, a total of 1,750 investigations were carried forward from the prior fiscal year. Overall, cases requiring investigation have increased by an average of 2 percent per year. You can read more important information about the new law here .
I will be blogging more about the topic of financial exploitation of elders, as I have previously. It will be interesting to see how the approach of law enforcement agencies toward the financial exploitation of Colorado elders will change with this new law – with the reporting requirements as well as with the training that law enforcement will get. I am optimistic that this law will help soften the bright line distinction that many law enforcement agencies have drawn between what constitutes exploitation which warrants criminal investigation and prosecution and that which is otherwise civil in nature, meaning that the victim must undertake his or her own civil remedies.
©Barbara Cashman 2013 www.DenverElderLaw.org