To help prevent and reduce elder abuse, WISE & Healthy Aging, a nonprofit social services agency dedicated to helping seniors in Santa Monica, has launched a volunteer-based program for seniors and dependent adults who are under court-ordered conservatorships and residing in residential care facilities and skilled nursing facilities in Los Angeles County.

The Advocates for Conserved Elders (ACE) program is supported primarily by a $235,000 grant from the California Community Foundation, according to WISE.

The program was developed in partnership with the Los Angeles Superior Court, considered the largest probate court in the state and possibly the nation, which received 1,500 petitions for conservatorship in 2005, WISE officials said.

“Other counties have visitation programs, but nothing like the ACE program,” said Superior Court Judge Aviva K. Bobb, presiding judge of the Probate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court. “It would be a natural evolution for this program to serve as a prototype for other communities throughout the country.”

Bobb is one of two representatives from the Superior Court appointed to the Statewide Probate Conservatorship Task Force, which will help disseminate information about the ACE project.

The court is required by the California Probate Code to conduct periodic reviews of the adequacy of care provided to conservatees and the appropriateness of financial management provided by conservators.

Depending on the specifics of each case, these reviews must take place every year or every other year.

“Although they are often at heightened risk for abuse, many conserved seniors do not have access to a dedicated, consistent third-party advocate, said Grace Cheng Braun, president and CEO of WISE & Healthy Aging. “We are delighted to be working with the Los Angeles Superior Court, through the ACE program, to train volunteers who will be available to take an interest in the total well-being of the conservatee, working to improve quality of life and reporting any care-related problems to the court.”

“The program builds upon the strengths of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program, a nationally recognized model for assisting children. The Los Angeles Superior Court has one of the largest, most experienced CASA programs in the nation.”

Under the ACE program arrangement, WISE & Healthy Aging, in conjunction with the Probate Court investigators, will train the ACE volunteers. The court will establish the criteria for identifying conservatees at greatest risk of elder abuse and isolation, providing appropriate names and addresses to program administrators.

Decisions will be based on limitations of financial resources, isolation from family and other social support systems, and residence in a long-term facility.

Information about WISE & Healthy Aging services and programs, (310) 394-9871.