Interdisciplinary Approaches to Elder Justice Virtual Conference

Unlocking the Potential of Restorative Practices

The potential benefits of restorative practices to address elder abuse and exploitation are the focus of a two-day virtual conference taking place October 15-16, sponsored by Syracuse University’s College of Law, Falk College and its School of Social Work, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Aging Studies Institute. The symposium also received CUSE Grant funding.

“Interdisciplinary Approaches to Elder Justice: Unlocking the Potential of Restorative Practices,” is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. Intended for professionals in social work, law, medicine, nursing, government, and psychiatry, the symposium will feature scholars and practitioners from around the world, including two distinguished international speakers:

  • Jennifer Llewellyn, Professor of Law, Yogis and Keddy Chair in Human Rights Law, Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  • Chris Marshall, Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice, University of Victoria School of Government, Wellington, New Zealand.

With a focus on the strengths and challenges of restorative models, the conference will feature short presentations, panel discussions, break-out groups and circles designed to explore implementation barriers and appropriate methods for supporting and maintaining positive outcomes.

Conference organizers Professors Mary Helen McNeal, Syracuse University College of Law and Maria Brown, Falk College’s School of Social Work and Syracuse University Aging Studies Institute, have researched and published on this topic. Their most recent publication, “Addressing elder abuse: service provider perspectives on the potential of restorative processes,” appeared in the Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect. Their work also includes advocacy and legal support of elders in the Syracuse community facing abuse and financial exploitation.

According to the organizers, few models exist that apply restorative principles to elder abuse, and existing research and scholarship measuring successful interventions and preventions is limited. By gathering a dynamic group of international scholars working at the intersection of restorative practices and elder justice, the researchers anticipate further innovations in responding to elder abuse.

Restorative processes are based on problem-solving models used by indigenous groups, and have been adapted to address a range of social problems including school disciplinary matters, juvenile offenses, disputes on college campuses, and even domestic violence. They offer alternative approaches to address harm by bringing together the person harmed, the perpetrator, and the community to address what happened, repair the relationships, and generate a plan for future conduct.

Older adults, particularly those experiencing physical and cognitive decline, often rely on family and friends for care and support to remain independent. Unfortunately, the same individuals who help them maintain their independence can take advantage of their need for support, resulting in physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect.

Elder abuse is experienced by 15.7 percent adults aged 60 and older, although only 1 in 24 cases is reported, according to the World Health Organization. Research indicates family members, usually adult children and spouses, are the most frequent perpetrators. While elder abuse can be addressed in many ways, such as social service interventions and civil and criminal justice responses, these remedies are not always viable options when a family member is responsible for committing the harm. And frequently, the older adult does not want to pursue any action against a family member.

Restorative processes offer another avenue for elder justice, with the added benefits of helping break social isolation that makes the older adult vulnerable to abuse while supporting caregivers whose struggles may be leading to the abuse.

For more information about the conference, contact Professor Mary Helen McNeal at

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