In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adult Protective Services in the United States

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Descriptions of Practice
  • Major Journals in APS
  • History, Legislation, and Administrative Structure

Social Work Adult Protective Services in the United States
Joy Swanson Ernst
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0226


Adult Protective Services (APS) is the social services system that is charged with investigating and intervening in cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable and older adults. In the United States, state and local governments provide protective services for adults, although the administrative auspices and scope of these programs varies from state to state. Most states have mandatory reporting laws and systems that are based on the premise that vulnerable older and disabled adults need protection by the state if they are being harmed by others, are unable to care for themselves, are unwilling to accept services, and meet some predetermined criteria for diminished capacity to make informed decisions on their own behalf. Most APS programs use intervention models such as case management, crisis intervention, and guardianships and other involuntary services, including removal to a hospital or skilled nursing facility. Given the complexities of the problems addressed, work in APS requires knowledge of aging, disabilities, assessment of client capacity, family dynamics, and community resources to address a range of needs ranging from mental health to victims’ services to housing conditions and other environmental adjustments. APS workers must balance the need to protect clients while simultaneously upholding their self-determination. Other challenges of APS work include scarce resources, high caseloads, and the public’s lack of knowledge about the scope and nature of APS. The references in this entry address the administrative structure of APS, client characteristics and problems, reporting and substantiation of cases, risk assessment, working conditions, and ethical issues. References related to evaluation and outcome research in APS highlight the work still needed, particularly in evaluating the effectiveness of APS interventions. The need for a multidisciplinary approach to treating abused, neglected, and vulnerable adults has been long recognized and is now formalized by many communities. This bibliography contains articles that examine the connection of APS with other service systems, as well as works focusing on the role of multidisciplinary teams that address abuse and neglect of elderly and vulnerable adults. With a growing population of older adults, the need for Adult Protective Services is expected to increase in the 21st century, and resources in this entry provide useful information for those seeking to increase their understanding of this vital practice area.

General Overviews and Descriptions of Practice

These works provide an overview of the purpose and structure of Adult Protective Services programs. The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) has an excellent website that provides an overview of how APS works, its history, and information on the U.S. Elder Justice Act and other policy efforts. The National Center on Elder Abuse provides information on APS as a partner in combating adult abuse and neglect. Kosberg, et al. 2006 describes adult protection, including APS, in the United States. Atkinson and Nelson 1995 offers an overview of APS practice, while Kaplan 1992 provides an example of adult protection work with a disabled but not elderly adult. Brandl, et al. 2006 and Nerenberg 2008 (both cited under APS and Multidisciplinary Teams) also provide succinct descriptions of APS services and their connection with other service systems.

  • Atkinson, Vickie L., and Gary M. Nelson. 1995. Adult Protective Services. In The field of adult services: Social work practice and administration. Edited by Gary M. Nelson, 215–225. Washington, DC: NASW Press.

    Discusses working with involuntary clients, abusive caregivers, self-neglect, and informed consent in APS. Describes the assessment and change process from a social work perspective of supporting, enabling, and empowering APS clients within the context of balancing issues of self-determination and protection of clients.

  • Kaplan, Kenneth. 1992. Linking the developmentally disabled client to needed resources: Adult Protective Services case management. In Social work case management. Edited by Betsy S. Vourlekis and Roberta R. Greene, 89–106. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    An overview and description of APS work with developmentally disabled, nonelderly adults, emphasizing the importance of thorough knowledge of community resources such as adult foster care. Provides three detailed case examples that describe the successful linking of APS clients and a range of resources.

  • Kosberg, Jordan, Max Rothman, and Burton Dunlop. 2006. Advocacy and protection of older adults. In Handbook of social work in health and aging. Edited by Barbara J. Berkman, 551–558. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195173727.001.0001

    A synopsis of Adult Protective Services and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in the United States. Addresses roles for social workers in legal settings as well, including a discussion of adult guardianship.

  • National Adult Protective Services Association.

    Member organization for protective services professionals and Adult Protective Services agencies in the United States. This comprehensive website describes how APS helps and what happens after a report is made. Provides links to information on APS laws in each state.

  • National Center on Elder Abuse.

    A resource on elder mistreatment directed by the US Administration on Aging. Describes APS as an intervention partner in the fight against elder mistreatment. Includes information on how APS works, APS laws and regulations, best practice guidelines, and other resources.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.