Social Work Faculty Publications


Elder Mistreatment and the Church: Potential Roles for Helping Professionals and Congregations

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2009

Journal Title

Social Work and Christianity







First Page


Last Page



Elder abuse takes many forms. It can be as simple as not responding to reasonable needs or borrowing money without any intent to pay it back. It can also involve actual violence. The malicious violence that pervades other forms of family violence is much less common when we speak of elder abuse. Elder abuse often falls in the cracks between informal and formal systems as it more often reflects something that caregivers fail to do, rather than specific acts of aggression. As such, the extended informal system of persons outside the immediate family is uncertain as to how to address their suspicions and the formal system does not learn about it until it is a crisis. Congregations and clergy walk the fine line between informal and formal systems every day. Clergy as persons who get to know their congregants may be in a position to know about an elder abuse, long before any other formal system is alerted, even physicians. As such, clergy can be on the front line for intervention and change, particularly when they have the support from a social worker. In this article the authors articulate models that reflect some of the challenges faced by clergy and ways that, when there is the support of a social worker either from the congregation or from a local agency, the abuse can be addressed with the context of a caring congregation.


Abuse, caretaking, clergy, congregations, elderly, mistreatment, neglect, parish nurse