"I don't think you can change anything."
It is a phrase which frustrates even the most resilient of social workers during their encounters with elderly and needy folk. That is because seniors often end up rejecting the help offered by welfare groups, according to Ms Petrine Lim, 37, principal social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre.
Says Ms Lim in a phone interview: "There are many reasons why they don't want us to come in (to help them), such as a bad relationship with their family which they think is irreparable.
"They don't know there are avenues for help out there. So our job as social workers is to raise awareness."
She recalls a recent case of a vagrant in his 50s. He rejected her team as he had no confidence in them.
"He shares a flat with his mother and siblings, but prefers the freedom of staying at the playground because of a squabble," she recalls. Her team offered him options for employment, and family mediation, which he initially accepted.
But on subsequent visits, he turned them away.
"All he said was, 'No point, nothing is going to change'. There was nothing much we could do to convince him after that," says Ms Lim.
So why do the elderly refuse help?
Ms Chua Hui Keng, care manager at Hua Mei Care Management Service, says senior citizens often do not want assistance because they think they can cope on their own or are too embarrassed to talk about their problems.
Says Ms Chua, whose centre sees around 125 cases a year: "There are some who are also in denial.
"For example, they do not want to see the doctor so they won't have to face reality if the prognosis is not good." Ultimately, social workers will have to back off if they are repeatedly rejected by an elderly person.
"We try to make contact through phone or home visits three times. But if the attempts fail, we need to respect the older person's decision not to engage our help," she says.
Even then, they will "keep the door open" if the person decides to seek help in future. They alert nearby social service agencies to the case and leave behind relevant contact information.
Social workers also encourage participation by creating more opportunities for older persons to be involved in community activities, says Ms Chua.
"This would strengthen social support for older persons. Friends in the same neighbourhood can then convince the older person to get help."
But the best way is to continue reaching out to the elderly or their family members, says senior manager of NTUC Health's Senior Activity Centres Cluster Support, Ms Jeannie Ho.
Her team handles about 50 cases a month, some of whom decline any form of assistance.
"A lot of time and patience is required.
"But when you finally see the results of helping those in need, you will be glad that you never gave up," says Ms Ho, who has 14 years of experience in social service.
This article was first published on October 26, 2014.
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