Abstract: Financial Abuse of Adults with Lifelong Disabilities: A Scoping Review (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Financial Abuse of Adults with Lifelong Disabilities: A Scoping Review

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, Professor, University of Minnesota-, Saint PAUL, MN
Heejung Yun, PhD, Student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN
Background: While there has been extensive research documenting the high rates of abuse that children and adults with disabilities experience, most of the research focuses on neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. It appears that few studies have focused exclusively on financial abuse or fraud of adults with lifelong disabilities. The widespread inquiries into financial abuse or fraud among people with disabilities in the United States has almost exclusive been studied through the lens of elder abuse, with samples consisting of older adults with age-related disabilities. These studies have led to a greater understanding of the risks of financial abuse and the effectiveness of various interventions, but they are focused primarily on older adults. The purpose of this study is to determine the scope of the scholarly literature on financial abuse of adult with lifelong disabilities.

Methods: In this study, financial abuse was defined as theft, fraud, scams or exploitation, and adults with disabilities include adults over 18 with lifelong physical, intellectual, developmental or sensory disabilities. This study used the Arskey & O’Malley (2005) scoping methodology, searching seven databases for relevant sources (Criminal Justice Database, Medline(Ovid), PsycINFO(Ovid), CINAHL, Social care online, Social Care Online, Sociological Abstracts, Embase(Ovid), ERIC(ProQuest). While the study initially yielded 393 articles, 349 were excluded that did not meet the inclusion criteria. The 44 articles included in our scoping review were then analyzed for a variety of factors, including sample population, methodology, geographic region of study, findings, and discipline.

Results: This study found that of the 44 articles in our review, only 16% focused exclusively on financial abuse, with the other 84% studying financial abuse as just one of many types of abuse adults with disabilities experience. The vast majority focused on risks, prevalence or individual experiences of abuse, with only 27% mentioning interventions. The studies consisted mostly of larger cross-sectional surveys of people with disabilities regarding their experiences of abuse (39%) and qualitative interviews or focus groups of people with disabilities about their abuse experiences (39%). While studies consistently reported high rates of financial abuse of adults with disabilities, there were no articles examining the nature or effectiveness of intervention strategies. More than half of the studies in this review had a sample of adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities (54%), with an additional 36% being cross-disability studies. The majority of the studies were conducted in the United States (36%), the United Kingdom (29%) and Australia (9%), with 6 other countries having 2 or fewer studies. The majority of the authors were in the field of disability services, with only 18% from the field of social work.

Implications: This scoping review found that there was little scholarly focus on the specific nature of financial abuse of adults with disabilities, and little research into prevention or intervention strategies for preventing financial abuse for this population. These findings can be used for developing a national social work research agenda related to financial fraud of adults with disabilities, which currently receives little attention from social work researchers.