Vulnerable adults need greater protection - even from 'loved ones'

Vulnerable adults need greater protection - even from 'loved ones'

Social workers are seeing a growing number of cases of vulnerable adults being mistreated by their own loved ones - usually grown-up children who should be caring for them.

Some of these "carers" taunt and torment; others beat, or berate. Yet others cheat their parents of their savings or property proceeds.

The abuse is not limited to the elderly alone. The disabled and the mentally ill with limited cognitive capacity are sometimes not spared either.

Several hundred such cases surface here each year, and the numbers may well be the tip of the iceberg, say social workers.

With their tormentors often their caregivers - and almost always their own flesh and blood - the victims are sometimes too scared to complain. Yet others have already lost the capacity to do so.

However, next year, Singapore will have a new law to better protect them, Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing said last week during a visit to the Trans Safe Centre, a voluntary welfare agency which specialises in helping victims of elder abuse.

The law - which is yet to be drafted - is likely to give powers to state representatives to intervene in cases where an individual is likely to be harmed. Deputies or guardians will be appointed by the state to act in the best interests of the vulnerable adult if they have no relatives.

Social workers and medical professionals will also be given powers to enter homes where a person is suspected to be a victim of abuse, investigate the matter and remove the person where necessary.

These foot soldiers in the battle against domestic abuse say the planned law will make it much easier for them to protect victims, who often suffer in silence and solitude cloistered at home.

Son made mum beg for money

Indeed, one of the biggest gaps in the system to protect abused adults has to do with access. Social workers from agencies dealing with family violence such as Trans Safe, Project Start and Pave say that if they receive a tip-off that an adult is being abused at home, currently they have no powers to act if the owner of the home refuses them permission to enter.

In one case handled by Trans Safe, a son in his 40s lived off state welfare payments paid to his 83-year-old widowed mother, yet made her beg for money as he pushed her around the streets in a wheelchair.

Not only that, but the son would also ration her food to save money and leave her bed sore wounds undressed. When his siblings, who did not live with them, expressed concern and wanted to remove their mother to a nursing home, he threatened suicide.

Finally, after much cajoling, he has agreed that she go to a nursing home.

Then there are cases where families abandon older folk at home, with minimal care, just waiting for them to die. In one such case, after pleas and requests that lasted four hours, social workers at Trans Safe were allowed access to an emaciated elderly man clad only in adult diapers, who was found lying on black garbage bags.

He was delirious from a lack of food and water. He was removed to hospital, recovered, but died subsequently.

Homecare doctors and social workers emphasise that these are just the cases where they are lucky enough to make a breakthrough and enter a home.

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