Adult Protective Services: What You Need to Know

In the United States, Adult Protective Services (APS) are agencies that provide protective social services to elderly adults (typically those age 60 or 65 and older) as well as vulnerable adults (typically those with serious disabilities). APS agencies are the adult equivalent to Child Protective Services and play a critical role in combating elder abuse or the abuse of other vulnerable adults. Such abuse can include neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, abandonment, or financial abuse.

Development of Adult Protective Services

According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), over the past several decades, APS agencies have developed from the ground up. They first emerged at the state and local levels and only recently received greater support from the federal government. Thus, the development of most APS agencies occurred before the benefit of federal coordination and also before the benefit of comprehensive research in the field of elder or vulnerable adult abuse, a more recent phenomenon.

As of today, Adult Protective Services agencies exist in every state and are normally administered at the local or county level. Two-thirds of states place their APS agencies within their Department of Social Services. For the remaining states, APS agencies are placed within a state department on aging or health. In addition, while a few states, such as Ohio, limit Adult Protective Services only to the elderly, most states (90%) provide APS to vulnerable or dependent adults as well as the elderly.

What Services Do APS Agencies Provide?

Upon receiving a report of abuse involving an elderly or vulnerable adult, APS agencies typically provide the following services:

  • Investigations
  • Evaluations of client risk and mental capacity
  • Development and implementation of a case plan tailored to the victim
  • Counseling for the client
  • Assistance in connecting the client with additional services and benefits
  • Ongoing monitoring of the delivery of services

In conducting investigations, APS agencies also work closely with law enforcement in the event that criminal abuse against elderly or vulnerable adults is uncovered.

Principles Guiding APS Agencies

According to NAPSA, below are the six main principles that guide APS agencies in the delivery of services to elder or vulnerable adults:

  1. The client has a right to self-determination.
  2. The least restrictive alternative should be used.
  3. The family unit should be maintained wherever possible.
  4. The use of community-based services should be preferred over institutions.
  5. Blaming the victim should be avoided.
  6. Failure to provide adequate or appropriate services is worse than providing no services.

Filing a Report with Adult Protective Services

If you file a report with Adult Protective Services, the details of the report will first be screened by a trained professional to determine whether APS has jurisdiction to move forward. If so, you can expect an APS caseworker to be assigned to investigate the case and establish a relationship with the potential victim. In some states, a caseworker is required, by law, to contact the potential victim in person within a certain number of days. California, for example, requires a caseworker to make such "in-person" contact immediately in cases of imminent danger or, for all other cases, within ten days.

During the investigation, the caseworker will investigate the facts and, where appropriate, report any criminal activity to law enforcement. However, unlike a traditional law enforcement investigation, APS caseworkers are also specifically trained to develop a relationship of trust with the potential victim and to provide a case plan specifically tailored to the potential victim's needs.

While laws vary from state to state, some states allow for APS reports to be submitted anonymously. Some states also protect the person making the report from civil and criminal liability, as long as the report was made in good faith. Such laws also protect those initiating reports from any professional disciplinary action. This is to encourage doctors or other medical professionals to report suspicions of abuse without fear of breaching any professional obligations of confidentiality or any privacy laws relating to medical records.

To initiate a report of elder abuse or abuse of a vulnerable adult, contact your local Adult Protective Services office. NAPSA provides an APS locator on its webpage to assist in locating an office near you.

Additional Resources

For additional information on reporting elder abuse, see FindLaw's "Reporting Elder Abuse" or the resources provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse. To find an attorney in your area that specializes in elder law and elder abuse, see FindLaw's attorney directory. For additional information on elder abuse generally, see FindLaw's "Elder Abuse Overview.”

Next Steps

Contact a qualified elder abuse attorney to help you and loved ones recognize and fight elder abuse.

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