Skip To Main content Skip Global Navigation

Headshot of Karl UrbanAPS Research: Slow-cooking Program Improvement

by Karl Urban, APS TARC Team

One of the distinct memories of my childhood is going to my grandparent’s house when they and their neighbors were making molasses. We would take the raw sugar cane, dip it in the simmering molasses pot, and suck that hot, syrupy, sweet concoction. My memory is remarkably similar to this video: sugar cane, men in overalls, hot huge stove, and various pots for the stages of cooking. Adult protective services (APS) research is like making molasses: the raw ingredients (sugar cane) are not that exciting, it’s a slow-cook process that can seem tedious and boring (skimming boiling pots), but the output is sweet nectar of the (programmatic) gods. Pass the biscuits.

Since establishing the APS Technical Assistance Resource Center (TARC) in 2016, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) has made research a cornerstone of our work. One of our first assignments was developing an evaluation plan for better understanding the overall APS system. The National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS) was established, in part, to create a data source for APS research. Beyond the APS TARC, ACL has established a research agenda for APS and recently completed a client outcome study, which will be available in the near future.

Research has been a priority of the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) for years. The NAPSA Research to Practice Interest Group (NAPSA R2P IG), ably chaired for so many years by Carol Dayton, has been a place for researchers AND practitioners to work together to translate research into, well, practice. The NAPSA R2P IG is convening an APS Administrative Data Initiative. AADI’s purpose is to connect APS practitioners and researchers to discuss this question: How can we use APS administrative data to improve programs? If you are interested, please contact NAPSA. While AADI is by invitation only, we welcome requests to invite others. Just include any suggestions in your reply.

Another step forward in the APS research world is the USC Judith D. Tamkin International Symposium on Elder Abuse that brings together researchers, practitioners, advocates, thought leaders, lawmakers, and other stakeholders together to share findings, strategize solutions, and help shape and propel the field of elder justice.

All these efforts are about to bear nectar (some output), including:

APS Process Evaluation: Soon, the APS TARC will publish the results of the process evaluation we have been working on for several years. We have so much policy and practice data that it’s a struggle to interpret it and figure out what’s important. Nonetheless, we are going to publish a public report, in addition to the internal reports we have produced for ACL. The data has already served as a great resource for our TA efforts.

APS Outcome Study: Through its Office of Program Evaluation, ACL funded New Editions Consulting to conduct the first-of-its-kind study of APS client outcomes. You’ve been asking for an outcome study, and we are finally about to get one. As they note in the study, it’s not “the” APS outcome study but it will be a source for program improvement.

Predicting Risk of Adult Maltreatment (PRAM):  The APS TARC has provided support to a project, funded by ACL and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to use NAMRS and data from other sources to better understand risk factors in APS and how they can be used in quality assurance and client protection.

COVID and Opioids: The APS TARC has completed studies over the last two years on the impacts of both COVID and the opioid abuse epidemic on APS. 

ACL National Voluntary Consensus Guidelines for APS Systems:  These Guidelines are based on research – when it was available. Often it was not, which leads us to where we are now… 

ACL APS Research Agenda: ACL funded a project to develop a research agenda for APS.  A bunch of smart people got together, figured out what we need to know more about in APS, and prioritized an agenda.

Want to know more or, more importantly, get involved? Here are some ideas: 

  1. Attend workshops at conferences (such as NAPSA, Home and Community Based Services, and Texas APS) on both evaluation studies and Predicting Risk of Adult Maltreatment.
  2. Become involved in interest groups, such as the NAPSA R2P IG.
  3. Check out the newest research on elder maltreatment and intimate partner violence by reading peer reviewed journals, such as the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect.
  4. Continue to follow the research efforts, including the APS TARC’s, through the Information and Research page on our website, through our Listserv and other activities. 

Despite all this, I’m not sure APS is at the “pass the biscuits” stage of research. I recently put together a matrix comparing topics across the Guidelines, Research Agenda, and evaluations. My big takeaway: the evaluations fill in a number of gaps in our knowledge about APS, but they do not completely answer the research questions or tell us best practices for the Guidelines. We have great input (sugar cane) but not yet the output (molasses). There is more work to do (pots to boil) and if you have ideas on what should be next, we’d love to hear from you

What did you think of this blog post? Take our five-question satisfaction survey to let us know!

Safe Exit