Guest blog by Steven Fitzpatrick

My name is Steven Fitzpatrick and I am a family man. I am 52, and work hard as a furniture manufacturer to support my family. In 2015 we had just returned from a family holiday to Tenerife and had modest savings for the first time in our lives. Things were finally beginning to look up for us.

This was 4 years ago, and from 2015 until today, our world has been left shattered. Shattered by a system that was the pillar of my belief in society and justice. Shattered by professional people, with above all, a “duty of care” to the vulnerable people that they are entrusted to care for, completely disregarding their “duty of care” and replaced it with a “duty to not care”.   Professional people, who knew my dad was being abused, completely disregard my dad’s rights; completely disregard my family’s rights.

My dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2015 which was a severe shock to us all. Dementia was something that, I'm now ashamed to say, I knew nothing about. We were about to begin a journey. A long, lonely, demoralising, degrading, stigmatising journey through our horrifying discovery of elder abuse.  We were trying to adjust our lives to the news of dad’s dementia and the fact that vascular dementia comes with a life expectancy of 5 years maximum, with an average of 3 years. We were not prepared for the shock of discovering that our dad was being abused. Being abused by a family member. I had Power of Attorney (POA). Surely, all I would need to do was report this to the appropriate authorities and they would put a stop to this? I am still, even today, trying to protect my dad from the abuser. I find myself fighting a system that should put the vulnerable adult first. A system that has a “Duty of care”!

We have the Adults with Incapacity Scotland act 2000 (AWI) which is an act of law. The essence of the act being fundamental principles which, if applied, would put the best interests of an adult (who has lost the capacity to do so for themselves) at the heart of every decision or action taken on behalf of that adult.

We have governance and legislation which is provided to ensure that the act is applied properly: -

  • We have The Scottish Commission for Human Rights Act 2006, regulated by the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC)
  • We have the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) Scotland who regulate the financial affairs of vulnerable adults.
  • We have the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, who proclaim to protect the human rights of people with mental illness, and dementia.
  • We have the local authority social workers on the front line protecting the public from harm.

Sounds like we have everything covered. Everything is in place. Dad will be safe………How wrong could we be?!

The dynamic of elder abuse has changed. Today, the elderly are being targeted by a new type of perpetrator. Abusers, who are using coercive tactics so well, that the public bodies in place to protect and enforce the legislation, have already been coerced and duped by the abuser; even before the family or the authorities are aware anything is going on. Add to this the fact that elder abuse is deemed only a civil matter with minimal punishments being common place for convicted abusers and we can see a potential concern. 

The 4 years that I have spent, relentless in my pursuit of protecting my dad from abuse have been an utterly hellish experience.

My dad, my family and myself have been left victim to a complete failure of the “system”. A system that puts the rights of the abuser, before the rights of the vulnerable adult. A system, so difficult to navigate, that most will give up, leaving an unthinkable number of vulnerable adults exposed to elder abuse. A system, so detached from its primary function to protect the elderly, is, on the contrary, facilitating the elder abuse of the adult!  The “multi-agency” unit is, in my opinion, not fit for purpose. It is so dangerously lacking in basic education of the legislation that every single elderly person is under extreme risk. So lacking in understanding of the various types of abuse and the devious tactics used to remain in front of the law. Every day an abuser is in front of the law is an insult to elderly people. The abuse is taking place in front of their eyes, yet they can't move. A system so uneducated on Scottish incapacity legislation that it will simply uphold, without question, the instruction of a reported and suspected abuser. The instruction, by the abuser, to ban access or provide information re my dad to anyone except the abuser and his wife, and for the authorities to wrongly uphold this ban for two years to the detriment of my dad and my family, is utterly shameful!

We have MSPs in government who know this abuse is going on, yet are remaining silent on this matter. In my opinion, failing to report knowledge of abuse makes you as guilty as the abuser.

Nobody could help me and, so a few years ago, I thought I would try my MSP. I gave her a full report of what was happening yet her reply was that, as my case was live, there was nothing that she could do. I had to accept this and try and look elsewhere for help. Last week I was in contact with the same MSP with regard to the same subject. Her answer was still the same……. live case, nothing we can do! I conceded that she cannot get involved in my case at this time but I asked her to inform me what she had done about the real concerns that I gave her a few years back. Had she taken any of it on board?  Has she tried to raise any awareness of the plight of elder abuse in general?........ I still wait for a reply!

We have a First Minister who I have also emailed with regard to my case. A First Minister who has signed a pledge with Action on Elder Abuse Scotland to raise awareness of elder abuse amongst other things. With World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) 2019 on 15th June being less than a week away, we have heard nothing about elder abuse from her. What has become of her pledge?

Action on Elder Abuse Scotland have helped me and my family so much and I doubt if I would be where I am today without the help and support that they have offered me. The staff all work so hard for our elderly and also for the families reporting elder abuse.

All of this 4-year ordeal has taken its toll on me and my family. I had a clean bill of health before all of this began. Today I'm suffering from various mental health issues. I have been diagnosed as suffering from anxiety disorder. Sometimes the anxiety gets too bad that I have been having panic attacks. The first time I had one of these I thought I was having a heart attack. I have to take medication to control these symptoms all brought on by the mishandling of my dad’s abuse case and subsequent dismay that this has caused my family. I have been prescribed beta blockers to control my heart rate, and anti-depressants to control the anxiety. I’m also suffering greatly with fatigue. I have spent literally thousands of hours dealing with all of this. I had to spend all this time trying to protect my dad. Nobody else would. This, along with the fact that I have a full time job, and have a family to look after, has simply left me worn out physically and emotionally. I am done in but have to keep going. I have to keep picking myself up when I think all is lost to just try and get help. I have been left financially ruined. When my POA was revoked I was left exposed to having to settle all legal costs from my own pocket. This came to thousands of pounds that I simply can't afford. I was made to even pay the legal costs incurred while acting on my dad’s behalf as financial attorney. I had to use all of my family’s savings on solicitors. I had to take 3 months off work to deal with everything. My wife had a complete nervous breakdown and hit rock bottom. I had my POA revoked and had no way to protect my dad. I was banned access or information with regard to my dad. I could no longer afford legal representation and had to do without the services of my solicitor.

I have had to take so much time off work to enable me to protect my dad. I have had to attend social work meetings, Adult Support and Protection meetings, MSP meetings. All leading to the financial mess that I find myself in today. I have gone from being finically secure to being £2000 overdrawn. I have to live wage-to-wage and can’t even afford a day off work. Any days that I need to take off work I have to use up my holiday entitlement so that I get paid. The result of this is that I haven't had a holiday, or even a break from this for 4 years. How could I even have a holiday when your dad is being abused and no action is being taken. You can’t just switch off from this and go on holiday. It’s there 24/7 !

This has been every single day of my life since 2015. I was on my own with this. The authorities were on the side of the abuser and I was fighting a losing battle. The situation was getting worse every day. I had to be relentless and do what I could. My dad was in serious trouble. Dad’s condition was being accelerated by the “gas-lighting” and more importantly the constant moving of dad from care home to care home. This has a detrimental effect on those with dementia.

I was assisting social work on a daily basis. I was complaining to OPG, MWC, MSPs and the police. I was dealing with Citizens Advice, different social work departments, solicitors, psychiatrists, newspapers, GPs, Care homes and anyone else that I could think of. I was completely consumed. There is no other way that you can be. Like I keep saying, “you can't just switch this off because you have something else to do.”

During the time that I was banned from access to my dad I was treated disgracefully. I was treated with utter contempt. I was trying to save my dad and was being told that “You're banned from your Dad. We can't speak to you.” It was degrading and humiliating. I was stigmatised. How could this be happening?

The system was battering me. Blow after blow. Beating me down, hoping that I would just say “enough is enough”, admit defeat and go away. Go away to cover the fact that they have no idea how to enforce the legislation as the PoA has more authority than social work. Go away and leave my dad to be abused. Stripped of his life, dignity and most importantly, his family. I was told by social work when the abuser moved dad from Glasgow district that I should not look for my dad or try to find him as the abuser would just move him again. I could not believe what she was saying!  Where does the fundamental principle of the (AWI) act fit to that advice? Why would it be in my dad’s best interests to be left to the mercy of an abuser rather than they stop this and dad lead a life with his family? This is one single example of what I witnessed during my 4 years of saving my dad.

What they have put my family through; they have no idea! Nobody can possibly know how I feel!  I haven't even worked out how I feel. My head is numb. It’s so overworked,.. so tired,……so angry! ….So worried about my family and how I’m going to find the strength to keep going. Keep going to work every day to keep the wolves from the door when they are already at the letterbox.

I have no life at all. This is it. Go to work, finish work, come home, work on saving my dad. Go to work........ I’ve had it. I sometimes just want to burst into tears. Nobody understands what this has done to me. My body buzzes with anxiety. I’m having to try and understand anxiety. I’m always anxious. It never goes away. It sits beside me. I feel it waiting for me to drop my guard and before I realise I’m awash with it. Waves of tingling, dreadful fear. On and on and on it goes, day after day. How do I feel? I feel that there is no point in even trying to explain. Explain to who?  Who is remotely going to understand what I’m going through?

I love every second that I spend with my dad now and everyone keeps saying to me that I must be so pleased to be back seeing him. Don't misunderstand my feelings here but……I had a dad who I had spent my whole life with. Connected by a father and son bond. Dad had vascular dementia but he was still mostly himself at the beginning. Dad was still dad! The authorities took dad from me, removed my authority (that dad gave me) to protect him from harm; then banned me from seeing him or even knowing anything about him!  Kept this up for two years as I struggled to work at my job and build a case, on my own, with enough evidence that the authorities had to not only agree with me, but I had to educate them on the legislation and how they were using it unlawfully. My efforts, not theirs, enabled me to be allowed what is my human right that should never have been taken away in the first place.

I love my dad to bits and always will, but the man that we have been handed back is a shell of the dad I knew. I don't mean that to sound insensitive, but I need to be brutal here. This has been brutal for me.  Dad can hardly speak, and has very little cognitive ability. He has been detained in dismal soul destroying surroundings for one and a half years and has simply regressed due to lack of stimulation. The dad I knew is gone and we have an almost empty shell. This is the stark reality of elder abuse.

When friends and family say that I must be pleased about seeing dad again, as much as I understand their sentiment, I don't feel pleased. I feel sick. I feel robbed. I feel anger. I feel extreme sadness. I feel loss. I feel grief. I’m grieving for a dad who has gone even though he is still here. It’s so confusing! It’s so sad!

It means a lot to me to have my story used by Action on Elder Abuse Scotland. It offers me a platform to highlight the injustice that my family and thousands of other families are having to endure as they try to protect their loved ones from elder abuse.