SAFETY PLAN OVERVIEW
This safety plan is for older adults who may be abused by or afraid of their spouse/partner, adult child, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews or other family members. It is also a resource for those helping an older adult who may be in danger.
It is important to plan in advance for how you will try to manage potentially dangerous situations. Choose only the suggestions listed below that make sense for your circumstances.
What Safety Plans Can I Make to Help Protect Myself?
If you are living with the person who is hurtful it is important to make plans to protect yourself even, if you do not think you will need to use them.
Safety plans may include:
- Ask a neighbor to call the police if they hear a disturbance coming from your home.
- Devise a code word or phrase with your neighbors, for example: Calling your neighbor and saying, “I need sugar” could be a signal that you are in trouble. Upon hearing this, the neighbor will know to call the police.
- Plan where you will go and what you will take with you if you have to leave your house or apartment in an emergency. Think about where you will stay and how you will get there. Also, think about how you will have your mail and phone forwarded to a new address.
- Be ready to leave in a hurry if something dangerous happens. Visualize how you would get out of your home safely and quickly, and practice that escape route. Identify the best doors, windows, elevator, or stairwell and familiarize yourself with this route. If something dangerous happens, you will be ready.
- Have a packed bag ready with any important essentials (see checklist below). Keep the bag hidden and in a handy place so that you will be able to leave quickly. Consider leaving the bag at a neighbor or a friend’s if the person abusing you routinely searches your home.
If you are living alone or not living with the person who is hurtful it is also important to make plans to protect yourself, even if you do not think you will need to use them.
Safety plans may include:
- Call your local police precinct and request that a community patrol officer come to your home to do a free home security survey.
- Change the locks on your doors if it is at all possible the hurtful family member has access to a key. Buy additional locks and safety devises to secure your windows.
- Consider installing or increasing your outside lighting.
- Discuss a safety plan with those living with you who are not abusive (this could be children, grandchildren, or other dependents), e.g. where to go and what to do if a crisis occurs.
- Inform neighbors and your landlord that the person abusing you does not live with you and that they should call the police if they see the abusive family member near your home. It is a good idea to give a photograph of the family member who is harmful to you to your neighbors, building superintendent, and/or landlord.
How Can I Plan for My Safety in Public Places?
When out in public (for example, doing errands, at work, at social or recreational events or doing volunteer work), it is best to:
- Decide whom you will inform of your situation. This could include your office, senior center, building security, or places where you frequently shop or eat (if possible, provide these places with a picture of the hurtful family member).
- Devise a safety plan for when you are out in public. Try to shop in different stores, and diversify your schedule of activities so that your routines are not predictable. Use a variety of routes to go home. If possible, have someone escort you to your car, bus, or taxi. Think about what you would do if you encountered the hurtful family member while out. For example, stay in a busy store or on a crowded street while calling or asking someone for help.
How should I Use an Order of Protection or Restraining Order?
Orders of protection/restraining orders are civil orders from the court telling a family or household member who threatened or assaulted you not to harm you again or face serious legal consequences.
Make sure to follow the instructions given to you by the Court on how to use this protection.
Helpful ways to use an order of protection/restraining order may include:
- Call the police if the person abusing you violates the conditions of the Restraining Order/Order of Protection.
- Make copies of your Restraining Order/Order of Protection and distribute them to your local police precinct and trusted friends and family. Keep an extra copy in a safe place in your home.
- Keep your Restraining Order/Order of Protection with you at all times. (When you change your purse, this should be the first thing that goes into it.) If it is lost or destroyed, you can get another copy from the Court office that issued you the restraining order.
- Think of alternative ways to keep safe in case the police do not respond right away. Remember your safety plan and emergency leave bag.
- Inform family, friends, and neighbors that you have a restraining order in effect so they understand the seriousness of the situation.
What Should I Consider When Planning to Leave an Abusive Situation?
The following are ways to remain safe when preparing to leave your home if you are living with a family member who is hurtful:
- Open a savings account in your own name to establish or increase your independence.
- Consider direct deposit of your paycheck or benefit check to ensure control over your money.
- Leave money, an extra set of keys, copies of important documents and extra clothes with someone you trust so you can leave quickly.
- Determine who will let you stay with them or, if necessary, lend you some money.
- Keep your community’s elder abuse program phone number close at hand and keep some change or a telephone calling card with you at all times for emergency phone calls.
- Consider getting a cellular phone, if possible. These phones have come down in price, as have the monthly plans. Also, there are disposable phones available that you can buy with a predetermined amount of minutes, so you don’t have to buy into a monthly plan.
- Contact your local Department for the Aging (or in New York City, dial 311) to learn about eligibility for public and private benefits and services. This information can be very helpful in providing you with supportive benefits and services when relocating.
- Review your safety plan as often as possible in order to plan the safest way to leave the family member causing harm, and have your leave bag packed and at the ready to leave your home, including any important essentials.
- Leaving can be the most dangerous time. The person abusing you might feel like he or she is losing control, and may want to regain control by harming you. If you feel unsafe when you are preparing to leave, call 911 and request a police escort.
- If you have to communicate with the person abusing you, arrange to do so in the safest way possible (e.g., by phone, mail, or in the company of another person).
What Should I Bring if I Leave My Home?
The following is a checklist of some important items to bring with you if you have to leave:
- Address book
- ATM card
- Birth certificate
- Car keys
- Check book
- Credit cards
- Driver’s license
- Green card/ work permit/SS card
- Hearing aid
- House keys
- Insurance cards
- Lease, rental agreement, or house deed
- Medical records
- Mortgage payment
WHERE TO GET HELP
As the elderly population increases, elder abuse and other crimes against older persons are also on the rise. 1 in 6 older adults are victims of elder abuse. You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professionals to investigate the suspicions.
If you or someone you know is in a life-threatening situation or immediate danger contact 911 immediately.
National Domestic Violence Hotline. Provides support counseling for victims of domestic violence and referrals for support services. The anonymous hotline operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Phone: 1−800−799−7233. All calls are confidential. Online chat is also available at www.thehotline.org
The Eldercare Locator.This resource connects older Americans and their caregivers with sources of information on state and local assistance services for older adults, including those concerned about suspected elder abuse. Call 1-800-677-1116 Monday- Friday 9:00am to 8:00pm EST. Website: www.eldercare.gov
National Center on Elder Abuse.This site answers all questions about elder abuse – who to call if abuse is suspected, what to expect when you report abuse, prevention methods, and what can be done to stop elder abuse. Its website includes a state-by-state listing of statewide toll-free telephone numbers to call to report elder abuse.Phone: 855-500-3537. Website: https://ncea.acl.gov/
Long Term Care Ombudsman. To report suspected abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility contact your state Long Term Care Ombudsman agency. Agency contact information available by state at: http://theconsumervoice.org/get_help
Adult Protective Services (APS). State laws give state and local Adult Protective Service (APS) agencies the responsibility to protect and provide services to “vulnerable, incapacitated, or disabled adults.” You can call APS to report your own situation and ask for help. Most Adult Protective Service agencies are located in the phone book in the state government section or visit the Adult Protective Services website: http://www.napsa-now.org/get-help/help-in-your-area/
This resource provides brief, general information about this topic. It does not take the place of specific instructions you may receive from health care or service providers. The material in this blog has been adapted by the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center with permission from End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Coalition of Domestic Violence, Madison, WI. All rights reserved ©2019.