What Are Adult Protective Services?
Adult protective services (APS) are typically local or county social service agencies that protect the safety and well-being of adults — particularly older adults and those with disabilities. You are protected by law if you report suspected elder abuse to an adult protective services agency.
Adult Protective Services: “CPS for Older Adults”
APS is similar to child protective services — CPS — but for adults. In most states, this includes anyone 18 and older with a serious mental or physical impairment. But in some states, adult protective services only serve older adults — typically those 60 and older.
While elder laws vary by state, adult protective services are social service agencies authorized by law in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories.
Anyone who suspects abuse, neglect or exploitation of an older adult or any incapacitated adult can report their suspicions to their local APS agency.
What Does Adult Protective Services Do?
Adult protective services are social service agencies authorized by law in all 50 states, along with all U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, to receive and investigate reports of elder abuse or other forms of mistreatment of vulnerable adults.
They are typically administered at the local or county level, but about a third of states administer them statewide — usually through a state department of health or aging.
APS agencies have the legal authority to intervene for protection of adult victims in certain cases. To accomplish this, they may work with professionals from law enforcement, civil justice agencies, public health, medical and finance services on any particular case.
- Taking reports of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation
- Investigating reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation
- Assessing the risk to the victim
- Determining the victim’s capacity to understand their risk
- Determining the victim’s ability to give informed consent
- Arranging emergency housing, medical care, legal assistance and other services for the victim
- Evaluating and monitoring until the case is closed
Adult protective services in every state have the authority to respond to reports of adult abuse in private homes. About half the states give APS the authority to investigate reports of abuse in long-term care facilities — including nursing homes.
When to Call Adult Protective Services
You should contact adult protective services whenever you believe someone you know is being abused, neglected or exploited. The victim may be afraid or unable to report mental, physical or financial abuse on their own.
- Physical injuries — including scars, cuts, scratches, bruises, broken bones, bed sores or burns
- Thinned hair or bald spots that may suggest it may have been pulled out
- Isolation or reclusiveness
- Evidence of confinement, rape or sexual misconduct
- Evidence of verbal or psychological abuse by a caregiver or others
- Appears over-medicated, under-medicated or dehydrated
- Not receiving enough food — may be emaciated, unable to move or so thin that bones visibly protrude
- Lack of running water, electricity or other utilities, unsafe or unsanitary living conditions
- Having an obvious illness that requires medical or dental care
- Unusual lumps or other marks or features under the skin
- Lack of clothing
- Loss of property, money, income or other financial resources — including loss of Social Security or other benefits, or the misuse of a checking account
- Severe or constant pain
Nearly every state requires certain professions — such as health care providers — to report what they suspect to be elder abuse to APS. Some states require anyone — professional or not — to report concerns of abuse.
You can also report unsafe living conditions which APS may consider to be a form of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
The Elder Abuse Investigation Process
The elder abuse investigation process begins with a report of possible abuse, neglect or exploitation. These reports may come from health care professionals, social workers, family members or anyone else who suspects elder abuse.
- APS receives a report
- APS determines if the victim and the accusations meet the state’s legal definitions for elder abuse. If it doesn’t, the report is forwarded to other agencies for assistance or further investigation. If the report meets the criteria, then APS opens the investigation.
- Investigation takes place
- APS professionals interview the potential victim, contacts, accused abusers, witnesses and others who may provide information about the alleged abuse. Investigators also examine other documents and evidence including medical and financial records.
- Address the victim’s needs
- APS provides emergency food, shelter, law enforcement protection and other immediate needs for the victim based on the specific case.
- Determine a case plan
- If the investigation determines elder abuse occurred, then APS develops a case plan. The plan is developed with the victim to stop the abuse and address their health and safety needs. The plan can include providing mental and physical health treatments, personal care, food services, financial assistance and legal assistance.
- Monitor and close the case
- APS monitors the case following its plan. It makes sure the victim — or client — is removed from an abusive environment and provided with the required services for their care.
As with any investigation, victims have a right to decline protective or other services. APS may call in a qualified professional if investigators have a reason to believe that the victim is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make this decision on their own.
A court must make a decision — based upon the evidence in the case and from qualified professionals — before APS involuntarily provides services to the victim. APS must exhaust all other courses of action before resorting to this option.
Adult Protective Services Resources
If you suspect someone you know is facing an immediate, life-threatening danger from elder abuse, call 911 immediately.
If the danger is not immediate, there are multiple ways for reporting elder abuse.
The National Center on Elder Abuse — a federal agency — provides direct links to state information, so you can report abuse online or over the phone. This includes adult protective services for the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.
You can also call the Eldercare Locator toll free at 1-800-677-1116.
The non-emergency number for your local police or sheriff’s department is also available if the abuse is not immediately life threatening.
All states accept voluntary reports, which may be anonymous. Anyone who makes a good-faith report of abuse is protected by law in all states.
5 Cited Research Articles
- National Institute on Aging. (2020, July 29). Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/elder-abuse
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015, September 24). Development of a National Adult Protective Services Data System: NAMRS Pilot Final Report (Volume 1). Retrieved from https://aspe.hhs.gov/reports/development-national-adult-protective-services-data-system-namrs-pilot-final-report-volume-1-0
- National Adult Protective Services Association. APS Program List. Retrieved from https://www.napsa-now.org/aps-program-list/
- National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Adult Protective Services. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/What-We-Do/Practice/Intervention-Partners/APS-(1).aspx
- National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Adult Protective Services, What You Must Know. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/NCEA/media/publications/APS-Fact-Sheet.pdf