A son could be thrashing his elderly mother every evening, but a social worker cannot step into their home to help without permission. A frail old man with dementia, living in filth, could also suffer in solitude because no one knows he is in trouble.
By next year, a new law will likely be in place to protect such vulnerable adults, through deputies who will act on their behalf. Social workers and professionals like doctors will also be given more powers to get them the help and treatment they need.
The proposed law, announced by Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday, will give powers to the State to intervene, as a last resort, if the person is at risk of serious harm.
"By 2030, we may have up to 900,000 elderly and we are concerned that in time to come, there might be an increasing number of vulnerable adults who are not able to care for themselves or people who are unable to make judgments for their own well-being," said Mr Chan.
So public deputies, drawn from a pool of "public spirited" professionals like doctors, lawyers or social workers will be appointed to act in their best interests. Social workers will also be empowered to enter the homes of, say, suspected abuse victims, and take them somewhere safe.
Currently, Singaporeans can decide who will make decisions for them if they are unable to do so themselves, under the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) scheme.
But some people would not have appointed anyone to act for them, while others may have no one willing to do so. And in some cases, there may be questions over whether the appointed deputy is acting in the person's best interests. A case in the spotlight involves a former China tour guide who was granted the LPA by an 87-year-old widow, giving him control of her $40 million assets.
Social workers lauded the new move, saying they are often refused entry into homes when it comes to abuse cases.
The authorities are also working out how to better support caregivers, as well as how agencies can detect cases earlier.
Mr Chan stressed: "We don't want a situation where just because we have this, then inadvertently, we have the unintended consequence of people pushing responsibilities to the State.
"It is the final safeguard, the last resort."
This article was first published on Oct 31, 2014.
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