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Home / Articles / Elder Abuse / What Does Adult Protective Services Do?

What Does Adult Protective Services Do?

This government agency helps vulnerable adults facing abuse and neglect

abused older senior adult

Most people are familiar with state Child Protective Services, the folks that investigate claims of child abuse, neglect and exploitation. Adult Protective Services (APS) does the same for vulnerable adults 18 and older. These state-run agencies can be instrumental in assisting vulnerable adults escape domestic abuse.

Who Is Considered a Vulnerable Adult?

The definition of vulnerable adult varies by state. In general, though, a vulnerable adult is:

  • Anyone over the age of 18 who has a physical or mental disability that prevents them from being able to care for or protect themselves. 
  • Some states consider senior citizens inherently vulnerable and therefore serviceable by APS, regardless of disability status. For example, California’s APS serves adults 60 and older as well as “dependent adults” (anyone between 18 and 59 with prescribed limitations). 
  • Other states don’t consider age to automatically qualify someone for APS services. An Arizona statute defines a vulnerable adult as “an individual who is 18 years of age or older and who is unable to protect himself from abuse, neglect or exploitation by others because of a physical or mental impairment.”

Who Can Make a Report to Adult Protective Services (APS)?

Anyone can report to APS, but some people—because of their profession or position—must report to APS when they suspect abuse of a vulnerable adult. These people are referred to as “mandatory reporters.” They’re typically social workers, therapists, teachers, healthcare workers and caregivers. Some states, including Florida, take mandatory reporting further and mandate that anyone, regardless of profession, report to APS when they suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation.

How to Make an Adult Protective Services (APS) Report

Making a report is as simple as contacting the APS office in the state where the vulnerable adult is being abused. Most states offer online reporting, or you can call to make a report. In either case, you’ll be asked to: 

  • Detail the reason you suspect abuse
  • The vulnerable adult’s name or identifying characteristics
  • The location of where the abuse is taking place 
  • Your information as the reporting party (although you can stay anonymous if desired)

“The more details you can provide, the better,” says Lisa Sarno, Arizona’s Adult Protective Services program administrator. “But the minimum threshold for the information we need in order to take a report is really just the name or description of the victim, a general location of where the abuse is taking place, a vulnerability indicator and a description of the maltreatment.”

Vulnerability indicators are any reasons you have to believe someone qualifies as a vulnerable adult. That could be anything from knowing about a diagnosis of mental or physical impairment or simply observing that he or she uses a walker to get around.

And yes, you can make an anonymous report to APS.

What Happens When You Make a Report to Adult Protective Services (APS)?

Again, this varies by state, but in general, the first step is for APS to determine if the report meets the state’s criteria to open an investigation (i.e. the suspected abuse takes place in the office’s jurisdiction, the victim qualifies as a vulnerable adult and there is sufficient information to locate them). If an investigation is opened, it will be assigned to a case agent who will then contact the potential victim in person. Most states specify how quickly an agent must conduct an in-person visit, with some states requiring it take place within 24 hours and others between one and five days. 

Once contact with the vulnerable adult is made, the APS agent will conduct interviews with the victim, alleged abuser and other involved parties; consider evidence; and determine if the person is being abused, neglected or exploited. Depending on the situation, the vulnerable adult will then be connected with services to address his or her needs, whether that’s contacting a domestic violence shelter to assist with housing, getting the person medical care, connecting him or her with legal services, etc. 

How Can APS Help a Victim of Domestic Abuse?

APS helps vulnerable adults who are being abused by connecting them with resources that can help them find safety. APS will not remove a vulnerable adult from their living situation like CPS might remove a child from a home in which abuse is occurring. APS agents can only offer service referrals and help the adult make contact with allied organizations and individuals to get the help they need. APS also works closely with law enforcement and will report cases to police when abuse is evident.

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Should You Contact APS or Law Enforcement?

Both APS and law enforcement investigate reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults. If you witness or are advised of abuse in progress or you believe someone’s life to be in danger, you can always call 911. To report abuse that is non-life-threatening, contact the nearest law enforcement agency’s non-emergency line. To take a report, police will need an address or location of where the abuse took place, the victim’s name or identifying characteristics and evidence of the incident, which could include a witness’ account, photos, bank/medical records, etc. On the other hand, APS will investigate on mere suspicion of abuse.

“There doesn’t need to be ‘proof’ for APS to take a report and open an investigation,” Sarno says. “That’s because we don’t have to meet the criteria for criminal prosecution. So if someone calls and they believe this is happening, we will go ahead and open a report and investigate.”

In other words, you can contact either law enforcement or APS to report abuse of a vulnerable adult. If the information you have isn’t sufficient enough for a police report, contact APS. They can help, whether or not a crime has occurred. 

For more FAQ about Adult Protective Services, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse. To find out if you or a loved one is the victim of abuse, read “Am I Being Abused?