Ms Irene Ng
To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development
(a) what are the safeguards put in place to prevent elder abuse and neglect from becoming more prevalent as our society ages and the pace of life becomes faster;
(b) whether existing measures can be strengthened; and
(c) what role can neighbours and the larger community play in looking out for the welfare of vulnerable seniors and reporting abuse cases.
Mdm Speaker, ageing well is something that we all should strive for. Just as there are exciting opportunities, there are also concerns that we do need to look out for as we go forward. Some elderly persons will become vulnerable due to their physical state, mental condition or social isolation. There is a need to step up efforts to protect these seniors from abuse and neglect.
One main cause of abuse is caregiving, which can be challenging and stressful. To support caregivers, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Ministry of Health (MOH) are expanding the range of services available – day care centres, home care and respite care. There is also an eldercare hotline and a Caregiver Training Grant for caregivers to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to care for their loved ones.
My Ministry is taking further steps to strengthen our system to detect and respond to potential abuse and neglect of vulnerable persons. We are working with social service agencies to train our community partners and grassroots leaders to better recognise signs and symptoms. We are also bringing more community agencies and touch-points into our National Family Violence Network to be more responsive to reports of abuse and neglect.
If I may illustrate – just yesterday, myself and Edwin were visiting the residents in the Joo Chiat area to understand what were the issues on the ground. One of the issues was precisely one that the Member had raised – the number of elderly in the estate. A number of them may be living alone and, therefore, how best do we look out for their welfare. This is where I think there is a system approach from Government agencies and VWOs. But I believe that there is space for the community to play an active role. How do we reach out to find out who these old people are, how are they doing, what is their welfare like, are we able to organise amongst ourselves regular visits to check on them, or to visit them just to keep them company, and I think you can build up a network which actually will strengthen community ties but at the same time looking out for the elderly in our own community itself. And do you then fuse this in with the broader systems provided by VWOs and the agencies concerned? I think that is an area that we can look at as a model to develop not only just in a particular area, which is ageing, but across the island because this is a trend that will develop in Singapore in the not very distant future.
In addition, we will also – and this is important – strengthen our laws to better protect vulnerable adults. We will be introducing a new Vulnerable Adults Bill later this year, which will empower public officers to gain access to homes, assess the risks, act on suspected abuse and provide statutory protection to the victim where needed.
To be able to attend to suspected cases early and prevent serious harm, again, we will need help from the community. Those of us who are living in the environment – neighbours, friends – we can help to pick up tell-tale signs. Doctors, social workers, various people in the community, when we begin to pick up issues, we can flag it up when we are concerned. Community partners and members of the public, really, you are the eyes and ears on the ground. Neighbours can reach out and offer practical support to caregivers, such as referring them to support services or attend to the elderly where possible. But if abuse or neglect is suspected, they should notify the police, call the Comcare hotline or alert MSF-funded Family Violence Specialist Centres. For this reason, we are spreading the message that abuse and neglect should not be condoned, and all of us in the community can play a role.