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   Adult Protective Services or APS, refers to publicly funded programs which investigate and intervene in reports of abuse, neglect, and      exploitation of adults who are physically or mentally impaired and        and unable to protect themselves from harm.  While this description    seems relatively straightforward, understanding how APS workers might approach a case is more complex.

Although APS programs now exist in every state, practices may vary greatly according to the specific law and policy of the particular jurisdiction responsible for the program.  This phenomenon perhaps can be attributed to the fact that APS has developed relatively free from such constraining or unifying influences as might have been provided by federal regulation.

Origins of APS

APS in the United States appears to have originated in 1958 when the National Council on Aging created an ad hoc committee of social workers to “discuss the potential nationwide need for some type of protective services for elderly persons.”  Concerned about the growing numbers of incapacitated and isolated older persons at risk due to lack of appropriate caregivers, the committee made recommendations which precipitated “a number of studies, conferences, and research projects and demonstrations.”  By 1968, although the federal government hand funded six protective service programs for the elderly in the interim, a U.S. Senate special committee identified fewer than 20 community protective services programs in existence at that time.

Federal Involvement

The next milestone in the development of APS occurred in 1975 when Congress enacted Title XX of the Social Security Act to strengthen the delivery of social services to the states.  In order to receive Title XX funds, states were required to provide protective  services to children, elderly people, and adults with disabilities who were reported to be abused, neglected, or exploited.  The enactment of Title XX marked a change in focus.  Prior to that time, the little public policy that existed had been concentrated on “the seriously mentally and physically impaired older person,” whereas the new Title XX included services for younger adults with mental and physical incapacities.

            Anticipating further federal involvement in funding and regulation (as had happened with child protective services), states began to enact laws establishing their authority and responsibility to provide protective services for adults and/or older persons.  The passage and refinement of these laws at the state level has continued until the present, with little or no federal influence other than the financing of the programs resulting from Title XX and its successor, social service block grants.

Federal Elder Abuse Legislation

            The federal support anticipated after the passage of Title XX did not materialize until late in the following decade.  After the 1984 amendments to the Older Americans Act mentioned the need for a national study of elder abuse, the 1987 amendments authorized 5 million for an elder abuse prevention program.  Congress, however, did not appropriate funds for the prevention of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation until FY 1991 when $2.9 million was allotted for the program.  When the Older Americans Act was reauthorized in 1992, a new Title VII, Chapter 3 for prevention of elder abuse was added.  Since that time, funding for this program has averaged $4.5 million a year. 

Variety Among State Programs

            The absence of a “formally endorsed Federal model” during the early decades of the development of APS systems undoubtedly has contributed to distinct differences in the scope and nature of the states’ programs.  As early as 1982, federal policymakers recognized this fact and also noted variations among the states in the quality of protective services, attributing the diversity to differing levels of staff expertise, the scope of programs, the populations targeted, the types of services provided and the amount of state funding appropriated.  Not surprisingly the discussion and understanding of elder abuse and APS is marked with definitional debates and complicated by the varied structures of service delivery around the nation.

Practice Guidelines     

            The ethical practice of the APS worker is guided by values commonly accepted in the profession of social work.  The following are guidelines practiced by Arkansas APS:

§        Casework is to be client-focused, individualized, and based on a social work model of problem solving as opposed to a prosecutorial or purely psychological approach.

§        The vulnerable adult is the primary client rather than the community or the family.

§        The client is presumed to be mentally competent and in control of decision making until facts prove otherwise.

§        The client actively participates in defining the problem and deciding the most appropriate course of action to resolve it.

§        The client exercises freedom of choice and the right to refuse services as long as the individual has the capacity to understand the consequences of his or her actions.

§        The service alternatives that are pursued are the least restrictive possible; more intrusive remedies, such as guardianship or institutionalization, are undertaken as a last resort.

§        When legal remedies are unavoidable, the client has a right to an attorney ad litem to represent his or her interests in court.


(Taken and adapted from an article entitled “An Adult Protective Services Perspective” by Paula M. Mixson in the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 7. Issue 2/3, 1995)


Arkansas Department of Human Services            Arkansas Adult Protective Services- Making A Difference!