Ms Yeo Wan Ling asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) whether there has been an increase in the number of reports of elder abuse and neglect over the COVID-19 pandemic period; and (b) what are the additional measures and resources that the Ministry has put in place to safeguard the safety and wellness of such vulnerable seniors.
1 There has been an increase in the number of cases with elder abuse as the primary presenting issue in Family Service Centres (FSCs), from 232 cases in 2019, to 283 cases in 2020, and 338 cases in 2021. Abuse, neglect or self-neglect cases that are higher-risk in nature are typically taken up by MSF’s Adult Protective Service (or APS) or by community-based Family Violence Specialist Centres (FVSCs) and PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection Specialist Centre (ISIFPSC). Cases involving vulnerable adults aged 65 years and above investigated by APS during the COVID-19 period did not increase and new cases taken up by FVSCs and PAVE involving elder or vulnerable adult abuse decreased during this period – there were 85 cases in 2019, 71 cases in 2020, and 39 cases in the first nine months of 2021.
2 MSF stepped up efforts to raise greater awareness of elder abuse and neglect, including through the public education efforts held in conjunction with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June each year. These efforts were targeted at the elderly, their caregivers, and those within their networks, such as neighbours, volunteers, grassroots leaders, and community organisations, with the objective of increasing understanding and empathy for elder abuse survivors, and encouraging early reporting and help-seeking behaviours. These public education efforts, which were part of MSF’s Break the Silence campaign, sought to educate members of the public on what they should do if they encounter instances of family violence in general.
3 In addition, there was reduced visibility of these elders in the community during the pandemic, particularly during the 2020 Circuit Breaker period. During this time, APS and its partners increased the frequency of check-ins on the more vulnerable clients through a combination of telephone and video calls, and home visits for cases assessed to be more urgent or high-risk in nature. APS and its partners continue to do such home visits and check on the elders through video calls, sometimes with the help of neighbours, to ensure they remain safe and well.
4 MSF will continue to work closely with sector partners, hospitals, the Police and the Courts to detect cases of elder abuse, neglect, and self-neglect to ensure elderly persons experiencing abuse and neglect receive timely help and support. Addressing family violence, including elder abuse, is a matter of public interest. Family violence should not be tolerated. MSF takes all abuse and neglect seriously and everyone has a role in keeping our seniors safe. We encourage members of the public to call the 24-hour National Anti-Violence Helpline at 1800-777-0000 if they know or suspect that an elderly person is being abused.