1 The Vulnerable Adults (VA) Bill was introduced in Parliament on 20 March 2018, following extensive consultations and engagements with the public and community stakeholders. There was strong support for the Bill, with many acknowledging its importance in preparing for Singapore's ageing population.
2 The VA Bill was passed in Parliament today. This law will strengthen Singapore's existing adult protection framework. It complements established care networks and laws, such as the Women's Charter and Mental Capacity Act.
3 MSF intends to bring the law into force before the end of this year. When this happens, vulnerable adults will be better protected under the law:
a Family members will be supported in protecting and caring for vulnerable adults. Suitable family members may be appointed to care for vulnerable adults whose original care arrangements have broken down. With the vulnerable adult's consent, family members can also apply for Court orders to restrict a third-party's access to the vulnerable adult.
b Individuals will be protected from legal liability when they: (i) whistle-blow and report alleged harm caused to a vulnerable adult and/or (ii) perform their professional duties to help a vulnerable adult. Such protection is given to anyone in the community who has acted in good faith, including professionals, family members, neighbours and members of the public. This will provide them peace of mind, and encourage each and every one of us in the community to play our part in protecting vulnerable adults.
c Where necessary, the State will intervene to protect vulnerable adults, as a last resort. Where family and community intervention has failed, the State may enter a vulnerable adult's premises, assess his condition and relocate him for his safety. If there are exceptional situations where a vulnerable adult refuses assistance, the State may apply to the Court to extend protection to him. To deter abuse and neglect, the new law provides for heavier penalties for offences committed against vulnerable adults.
4 Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Desmond Lee highlighted in Parliament that the protection of vulnerable adults under this law would only be effective if the community continues to play its part. He urged the community to step forward and break the silence by reporting any suspected cases of abuse, neglect and self-neglect that they come across. Minister Lee added that some caregivers who cause harm to vulnerable adults may also be facing difficulties, and under tremendous pressure. Therefore, even though the State would be empowered to investigate into offences committed against vulnerable adults, social work interventions must also be used to repair inter-personal relationships and work out sustainable care arrangements. The Ministry of Social and Family Development will continue to work with families and the community to strengthen the protection framework for vulnerable adults.
ANNEX A: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1 Why is there a need for a new Act in Singapore's adult protection framework?
Singapore's population is rapidly ageing. By 2030, there will be over 900,000 Singaporeans aged 65 and above. Many would have good family support, while a fair number would be single or have no children. The number of residents living alone is projected to increase from 31,200 in 2012 to 83,000 in 2030. As living standards improve, more persons with disabilities are able to live longer than their parents who are their primary caregivers.
In Singapore, the family has been and will be the first line of care and support for its elderly and disabled members. The community plays a critical role in supporting families. However, there will be instances when the State needs to intervene to protect elderly and disabled adults who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and self-neglect, when family and community interventions are exhausted or ineffective.
The new Act complements other existing laws that protect vulnerable individuals, such as the Women's Charter and Mental Capacity Act. However, the use of legislation must be a last resort, because care arrangements are largely personal matters for individuals and families to decide. State intervention will be applied judiciously and only where absolutely necessary.
2 How does the new Vulnerable Adults Act help family members and our community protect vulnerable adults?
The new Act aims to strengthen the role of the family and community. To preserve family relationships, a vulnerable adult's family members may apply for Court orders that will protect the vulnerable adult from any third party who may cause harm to the vulnerable adult. The Court orders include restraining orders and exclusive occupation orders. Similarly, approved welfare officers, which include social service professionals in community, can apply for these protection orders.
Family members who are found suitable may also be appointed by the Court to care for vulnerable adults whose original care arrangement has broken down.
3 In addition to the Vulnerable Adults Act, what else is MSF doing to help adults who are suffering from abuse, neglect or self-neglect?
MSF works with voluntary welfare organisations to build capability to detect, and provide social work intervention, to vulnerable adults.
The Government recognises the challenges and stresses faced by caregivers of family members with high care needs. Under the new Act, the Court may order the vulnerable adult or any other person, including a caregiver, to attend counselling or any such programmes as directed by the Court. The intent of empowering the Courts to make such orders is to ensure that both vulnerable adults and their caregivers receive the support that they need. This may also facilitate repair of relationships and allow family members to care for one another sustainably.
4 What should the community do for vulnerable adults?
Where there may be abuse or neglect by a caregiver, the public may alert any of the three Family Violence Specialist Centres or the ComCare hotline. Where there is suspicion that a vulnerable adult faces self-neglect, the public may make a report directly through the ComCare hotline. The contact details are provided below:
Address: Blk 211 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 #01-1446 Singapore 560211
Tel: 6555 0390
TRANS SAFE Centre
Address: Blk 410 Bedok North Ave 2 #01-58 Singapore 460410
Tel: 6449 9088
Care Corner Project StART
Address: Blk 7A Commonwealth Ave #01-672 Singapore 141007
Tel: 6476 1482
Tel: 1800 222 0000
In situations where there are immediate safety or danger concerns that warrant urgent Police assistance, the Police should be alerted. MSF and the Police will work closely to ensure that appropriate action can be taken swiftly when necessary.
ANNEX B: OVERVIEW OF THE VULNERABLE ADULTS ACT