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Adult Protective Services: Definitions

To report abuse of an adult at risk
(age 18-59),
call your county helpline.

To report abuse in a nursing home
or other long-term care facility,
contact the Division of Quality Assurance.

To report abuse of an elder
(age 60 plus),
call your county helpline.

To report abuse outside of Wisconsin,
contact National Adult Protective Services Association.


Adult at Risk – any adult who has a physical or mental condition that impairs the ability to care for their needs and who has experienced, is experiencing, or is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect, self-neglect, or financial exploitation. (Wis. Stat. §55.01(1e))

Elder Adult at Risk – any person age 60 or older who has experienced, is experiencing, or is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect, self-neglect, or financial exploitation. (Wis. Stat. §46.90(br))

Abuse – per Wis. Stat. §46.90(1) can mean any of the following:

  1. Physical abuse – intentional or reckless infliction of physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.
  2. Emotional Abuse - language or behavior that serves no legitimate purpose and is intended to intimidate, humiliate, threaten, frighten, or otherwise harass the individual to whom the conduct or language is directed.
  3. Sexual Abuse – sexual contact or intercourse with another person without consent (a violation of criminal assault law, §940.225 (1), (2), (3), or (3m)).
  4. Treatment without Consent – the administration of medication or the performance of psychosurgery, electro-convulsive therapy, or experimental research on an individual who has not provided informed consent, with the knowledge that no lawful authority exists for the administration or performance.
  5. Unreasonable Confinement or Restraint – the intentional and unnecessary confinement of an individual in a locked room, involuntary separation from his or her living area, use of physical restraints, or the provision of unnecessary or excessive medication. (Note: This does not include the use of these methods or devices if they conform with state and federal standards governing confinement and restraint.)

Caregiver – a person who has taken responsibility for all or part of an individual's care. (Wis. Stat. §46.90(1)(an))

Financial Exploitation – as defined in Wis. Stat. §46.90(1)(ed), means any of the following:

  1. Obtaining an individual's money or property by deceiving or enticing the individual.
  2. Forcing, compelling, or coercing an individual to give, sell at less than fair market value, or in other ways transfer money or property against their will without informed consent.
  3. Theft, as prohibited in §943.20.
  4. The substantial failure or neglect of a fiscal agent to fulfill his or her responsibilities.
  5. Unauthorized use of an individual's personal identifying information or documents, as prohibited in §943.201.
  6. Unauthorized use of an entity's identifying information or documents, as prohibited in §943.203.
  7. Forgery, as prohibited in §943.38. 7. Financial transaction card crimes, as prohibited in §943.38.
  8. Financial transaction card crimes, as prohibited in §943.41.

Learn how to protect yourself from financial exploitation.

Fiscal Agent – as defined in Wis. Stat. §46.90(1)(eg), includes any of the following:

  1. A guardian of the estate appointed under §54.10.
  2. A conservator appointed under §54.76.
  3. An agent under a power of attorney under Chapter 244.
  4. A representative payee under 20 CFR 416.635.
  5. A conservatorship under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Neglect – the failure of a caregiver, as evidenced by an act, omission, or course of conduct, to endeavor to secure or maintain adequate care, services, or supervision for an individual, including food, clothing, shelter, or physical or mental health care, and creating significant risk or danger to the individual's physical or mental health. "Neglect" does not include a decision that is made to not seek medical care for an individual, if that decision is consistent with the individual's previously executed declaration or do-not-resuscitate order under Chapter 154, a power of attorney for health care under Chapter 155, or as otherwise authorized by law. (Wis. Stat. §46.90(1)(f))

Self-Neglect – a significant danger to an individual's physical or mental health because the individual is responsible for his or her own care but fails to obtain adequate care, including food, shelter, clothing, or medical or dental care. (Wis. Stat. §46.90(1)(g))

Adult Protective Services (APS) – any services that when provided to an individual with developmental disabilities, degenerative brain disorder, serious and persistent mental illness, or other like incapacity, keep the individual safe from abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, prevent the individual from experiencing deterioration, or stop the individual from inflicting harm on oneself or another person. (Wis. Stat. §55.01(6r))

The terms adult protective services agency and adult protective services system are used to refer to the agency or agencies to which the county has assigned responsibility under Wis. Stat. §55.02 for planning and carrying out the county's protective services responsibility.

Under Wis. Stat. §55.01(6r), "protective services" include any of the following:

  • Outreach
  • Identification of individuals in need of services
  • Counseling and referral for services
  • Coordination of services for individuals
  • Tracking and follow-up
  • Social services
  • Case management
  • Legal counseling or referral
  • Guardianship referral
  • Diagnostic evaluation

For more detailed information and to read Wisconsin Statutes in full, visit the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau's Statutes and Annotations Page.

Last revised October 17, 2022