Billions are stolen from the elderly and infirm across the country each year. Here's how to stop it
As volunteers work through case files, looking for missing reports or red flags pointing to possible improprieties, they're also entering information into a new statewide database.
Until now, New Jersey has never tracked guardianship cases. Some county surrogates don't even know how many of their cases are still active.
Rabner believes the total number of active guardianships statewide may be in the tens of thousands, but no one is sure.
While prior experience with accounting or the courts is a plus, it's not required to join the program.
"To be sure, we need to enlist (and) train yet more volunteers to be able to continue and review these reports on a sustained basis," Rabner told the conference attendees.
"But make no mistake, the very fact that this program now exists in New Jersey will cause people to think twice before they might even consider to take a step to take advantage of those they've promised to help," he added.
Uekert, for one, believes New Jersey is taking a practical approach. She spoke at the elder abuse conference in Stockton and came away impressed by New Jersey's commitment to do a better job policing guardians.
"Ideally you would have a cadre of trained professionals (reviewing guardianship case files) but the courts generally don't have the funds to have those types of personnel," says Uekert, principal court research consultant for the National Center for State Courts, based in Williamsburg, Virginia.
"Volunteers," she believes, "would be better than nothing."
But at least one other expert is strongly opposed to the idea.
"It's just another way of trivializing the problem by saying, 'We can handle this with volunteers,' " says Minnesota law professor A. Kimberley Dayton.
"It's about money, a lack of resources. Until that's fixed, none of this is going to be fixed," she says. "It's just going to keep on going and going."
In Atlantic County, where Lieberman was based, two volunteer monitors have helped the county surrogate review more than 330 cases so far.
But by the time the volunteers began their work last year, the damage was already done.
Shannon Mullen: 732-643-4278; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Betrayal of trust, Part 4: How to help the vulnerable