Family of missing Coober Pedy elder Shirley Williams seeks more resources for search


The family of a 64-year-old Coober Pedy elder, who has shown signs of dementia and has been missing for more than a week, is pleading for more resources to be devoted to the search for her.

SA Police say the last confirmed sighting of Shirley Williams was at the Coober Pedy Hospital on Monday, December 28, 2020, before her family reported her missing on Thursday, December 31.

A police aerial searched for Ms Williams was conducted on Sunday and yesterday, but was called off this morning, leaving a group of 30 authorities and 20 family members to continue the land search.

Coober Pedy is an opal mining town in outback South Australia, where mine shafts in the ground are common.

Ms William’s nephew, Jonathon Fatt-Clifton, said while the family appreciated the assistance so far, they were concerned about the speed of the search.

“The family realise that it’s Christmas, and we appreciate everything that is being done,” he said.

“But I think the emergency around this, with Aunty Shirley having signs of dementia, she’s in her 60s, we just would like every possible resource given to this situation so that we can do the best we can to find this little old Aboriginal lady. 

‘She may have got disoriented’

64-year-old Shirley Williams was last seen in Coober Pedy in the last week of December 2020.(Supplied)

Mr Fatt-Clifton said despite Ms Williams showing signs of illness, she had not been lost before.

“She had signs of dementia, but she could hold a conversation, she could talk, she could communicate with people,” he said.

“But we just don’t know with dementia, maybe one of these particular days she may have got disoriented.

“The family knew that’s what she would do, and would keep an eye out for her.”

Mr Fatt-Clifton said Ms William’s family realised she was missing around Tuesday or Wednesday last week.

“There were whispers among the family about Aunty Shirley not being spotted around town, and family were asking have we seen her,” Mr Fatt-Clifton said.

He said the family initially thought she might have been given a lift to another part of the state, but it soon became apparent she had not.

A picture of piles of red dirt in front of hills at sunrise.
The search for Ms Williams has included the outback surrounding Coober Pedy, an opal mining town in central South Australia.(Supplied: Sandra Harris)

Police, family seek public help

SA Police Superintendent Paul Roberts said Ms Williams was wearing a grey hoodie, grey pants and at her last confirmed sighting at the Coober Pedy Hospital, which she left without being officially discharged.

“Shirley left the hospital of her own volition,” he said.

Superintendent Roberts said other possible sightings of Ms Williams in the town after December 28 could not be confirmed.

He defended the police response to the first missing person’s report, saying that as the hospital is within the township, a land search was deemed sufficient.

“A family member that’s a tracker has been doing some searching independent of ours, and we’ve had a police officer embedded with the family to support them, and make sure we’re all working together.”

Both the family and police are pleading with any tourists or locals who were in Coober Pedy over the New Year’s period to come forward if they have CCTV, dash cam footage or any information that may assist with the search.

Thank you for reading this news article involving SA news titled “Family of missing Coober Pedy elder Shirley Williams seeks more resources for search”. This post was shared by My Local Pages Australia as part of our local news services.

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Pete Dowds, CEO & Co-Founder, Elder


Pete Dowds is an ex-lawyer turned entrepreneur who founded Elder, a live-in care agency that offers an alternative to the traditional care home.
What do you currently do at Elder?

I co-founded Elder back in 2015. Now, my role as CEO is very much about steering the strategic direction of the company.

That’s about looking into the future about what we need to do to improve our service, to provide a better experience for our customers – and to really open up care in the home as an option to families regardless of their background or their care needs.

Currently, we operate in around 330 towns and cities across the UK, we’ve delivered over half a million days of care. I hope to expand this to even more and make Elder a household name.

It takes a great team of people to do that. So, I work with the rest of the management team to ensure we have the best people in the company.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

I’ve always been someone with a desire to answer and fix problems so, when my mum and auntie were struggling to find the right care for my grandma, I felt there needed to be an alternative solution to the traditional care home.

Progressively, the mindset of those leading these institutions has been one of human endurance over human experience. An obsession with minimising risk at the expense of granting adults autonomy and self-respect. It’s seen as a trade-off.

Unfortunately, many families are not aware of other options when a loved one starts to need extra care and support. I founded Elder as that very alternative.

I want to drive awareness that there are other care options out there, and people don’t necessarily always have to move out of their home to receive round the clock care. They don’t have to give up their control, choice and independence.

At Elder, we match people with carers based on more than just their care needs, but their personality and preferences, and when that carer moves into their home, they’re comfortable and happy that they’re getting the best care possible, and that was truly my inspiration for the business.

What do you admire?

One of the main things I admire, is how companies can utilise technology to solve societal issues, and within this, I admire the company founders who have done this well to provide a service to the public.  

Elder is a technology-enabled care company. And while tech is in our DNA, people are the heart of it. We use the expertise of a fantastic team of developers and product managers to create digital solutions that make complicated, stressful tasks simple.

EElderMatch which uses intricate data to create the perfect pairing between our care professionals and care receivers. We’ve got CareOS, which communicates everything about a customer and their needs to the care professional. As well as Elder Hub and MyElder, which enable carers and customers to manage everything easily.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

I’ve learnt a lot through my previous entrepreneurial endeavours, so when it came to starting Elder, I had already gone through some learning curves. I realised that we needed to think more about what made the company special and different for our customers.

What defines your way of doing business?

At Elder, we’re driven by people and the experience they have with us – whether they’re a carer, a customer or an employee. I owe our fantastic Net Promoter Score to this ethos and way of working, as this is really hard to achieve.

Equally, we believe in the value of coming together. Over lockdown, we started having weekly companywide calls to catch up on what everyone is doing so that we keep that sense of community.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

I would advise to over communicate. It’s so important to put time into your relationships with staff so everyone in the business is on the same page, especially once it starts to grow. Share information and be honest about where the company is at with costs and people, whether it be positive or negative. Sometimes you need to be vulnerable to your staff to get the best out of them and the company.





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Seven Years of Elder Abuse report finds 90 per cent of perpetrators are family members


Ninety per cent of elder abuse is perpetrated by family members, according to new data released by Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) and the National Ageing Research Institute.

Entitled Seven Years of Elder Abuse Data in Victoria, the report analysed 2,385 cases of elder abuse reported to the Seniors Rights Victoria’s confidential helpline between June 2012 and July 2019.

Elder abuse is defined as any act, or failure to act, which causes harm or distress to an older person in a relationship of trust.

“The most common forms of abuse we see are psychological abuse,” Seniors Rights Victoria principal lawyer Rebecca Edwards told ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings.

For two out of three callers, the perpetrator was an adult son or daughter.

The report found nine out of 10 perpetrators of elder abuse were family members.(Supplied: National Ageing Research Institute in partnership with Seniors Rights Victoria)

With COVID-19 putting considerable financial and psychological strain on Victorians, there are concerns more people will be turning to their parents for help.

“As people become unemployed they’re returning home, often under a lot of stress,” Ms Edwards said.

“Coupled with increased social isolation, financial pressures and an uncertain future, there is concern they’ll take this out on their parents, who may themselves be isolated from their usual community connections due to COVID-19.”

Who is vulnerable?

The number of people seeking advice about elder abuse from SRV has increased over the past seven years.

Family conflict – reported in 44 per cent of all cases – was identified as the most common risk factor.

People experiencing poor physical health, cognitive impairment or a lack of support were identified as being at higher risk of becoming victims.

When someone is experiencing elder abuse they may become noticeably more isolated, anxious or short of money.

“It’s good to see if you can find a time to talk to the older person when the potential perpetrator is not around and just offer them some options,” Ms Edwards said.

A line graph showing psychological, financial, physical, social, sexual abuse and neglect reported between 2012 and 2019.
Psychological and financial abuse were the most commonly reported.(Supplied: National Ageing Research Institute in partnership with Seniors Rights Victoria)

Who is perpetrating?

While adult children are most likely to take advantage of older Victorians, partners, in-laws, grandchildren and friends have also been accused of perpetrating abuse.

The report found drug, alcohol and gambling problems were the highest risk factor for perpetrators, followed by mental health issues and financial difficulties.

A lack of support for carers may also be a contributing factor, particularly where an older person is living with disability or dementia.

SRV hopes this report will encourage further research on elder abuse, as well as better funding for services.

“It’s the sort of thing where, like family violence, it’s been hidden in the past,” Ms Edwards said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, you can contact Seniors Rights Victoria‘s free, confidential Helpline: 1300 368 821.



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ACT to criminalise elder abuse, though some lawyers fear it will make prosecutions more difficult


Elder abuse is about to become a crime of its own in the ACT, but some fear the creation of a new offence may make the crime harder to prosecute.

Proposed laws making it a crime to abuse or neglect a “vulnerable person” will be introduced to the ACT Legislative Assembly today — the first laws of their kind in Australia.

The ACT Government describes the move as a “cultural game changer” and a firm statement on the important place that older, more vulnerable Australians have in society.

It argues the laws are even more important now, amid reports of surging calls to Legal Aid ACT’s dedicated elder-abuse helplines since the COVID-19 crisis set in.

To make the abuse illegal, the Government set out to answer a complex question — what is elder abuse? Who are the victims and who are the perpetrators?

But some worry that creating those definitions may cause more problems than it solves.

What makes you ‘vulnerable’, and what is ‘abuse’?

The laws primarily target the protection of older people, but they extend protection to other groups.

The legislation’s definition of “vulnerable” is deliberately broad — capturing all people aged over 60, those with any kind of physical or mental impairment, or people who could be considered “socially isolated”.

It also includes anyone with a disability, of any age.

Gordon Ramsay addresses the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay says elder abuse is “an appalling abuse of trust”.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Defining “abusive conduct” is a little trickier, and the laws try to cover areas such as emotional and psychological abuse, financial abuse, physical and sexual abuse.

Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the common theme in elder abuse was the abuse of trust.

“Whether it’s an individual family member, or someone in an institution, what we see is that those vulnerable people have an openness at times to relying on people where that trust is misplaced,” he said.

“That can end up being physical abuse, that can end up being financial abuse.

“An appalling abuse of trust.”

However, the laws will go beyond abuse and criminalise “neglect”, where failure to adequately look after a vulnerable person results in serious harm.

And they do not just target the person immediately responsible for caring for older or vulnerable people, but the people who employ those carers too.

In some circumstances, the laws allow for institutions, such as aged-care providers, to be held criminally responsible for abuse or neglect conducted within their homes.

Escalating reports of elder abuse

A key challenge in tackling elder abuse is identifying it in the first place, as it often occurs behind closed doors, and victims can have trouble reaching out for help.

A dedicated phone line was established within Legal Aid ACT in recent years, along with a national elder-abuse hotline, to give those worried about themselves or others a place to get advice.

It has been in almost ever-increasing demand since it was created.

More than 550 calls were made to the ACT service last year, and calls are up 71 per cent this year.

The vast majority concern elder abuse, while other callers have more specific concerns around issues like wills and guardianship.

Legal Aid ACT chief executive John Boersig said many of the stories his agency encountered centred on finances.

He said a family member might take control of an older relative’s finances in a legitimate situation, but over time begin using that person’s income as their own.

“So they rationalise that they can use this money, which they say is for the interest of that person, but, in fact, it’s been put towards their own bills.”

Are new offences the right approach?

St Vincent's Care Services facility Marycrest in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane.
Employers, such as nursing homes, may be held criminally responsible for their staff’s abuse or neglect.(ABC News: Freya Petersen)

Much of what is considered “elder abuse” is already clearly illegal.

Physical, sexual and financial abuse is largely already criminal — and some lawyers argue that existing frameworks should simply be strengthened to better cover elder abuse.

Michael Kukulies-Smith, from the ACT Law Society, said the risk in creating new offences was that they could be harder to prosecute in court.

“If they wish to impose additional penalties because of the vulnerability, that can be dealt with in the existing legislation, or with reference to sentencing legislation by making it an aggravating factor.

“Much as it is done in a case where a victim is a pregnant woman — it can be taken into account as an aggravation, a circumstance of aggravation in sentence.”

Mr Kukulies-Smith said he worried that very specific offences, with specific definitions, could create higher bars for prosecutors to jump over in proving an offence.

That might have the perverse effect of seeing perpetrators walk free, if those new offences could not be proven.

“The current criminal law covers the areas that need to be covered, and it’s a case where additional offences with very specific definitions are not likely to lead to good outcomes in court,” he said.

CEO of Legal Aid ACT John Boersig
Legal Aid ACT chief John Boersig says his agency is fielding a large increase in reported abuse.(Supplied)

The Law Society suggested adjusting the law to make crimes against older people an “aggravating factor” in sentencing.

But Mr Boersig said creating the new offences was the right step to take.

“You can understand why the Government wants to label it,” he said.

“I think that’s one of the most important things that we can do here is label this as a scourge and that’s what’s happening.”

He said prosecuting offences like this was always difficult, but that did not mean it should not be tried wherever possible.

Mr Ramsay said the Government was conscious of this issue and it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether they charged an alleged perpetrator with the new elder abuse offence, or an existing offence.

And when someone was convicted of an existing offence, in a circumstance of elder abuse, the new sentencing provisions would apply.

“It’s not a matter of one or the other,” he said.



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