Friday 26 October 2012

More help for families of problem gamblers

Free legal and financial advisory services for affected families under NCPG's pilot programme
By Leslie Kay Lim and Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2012

MORE help is now available for the families of problem gamblers - a group often overlooked.

The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) has launched a one-year pilot to provide legal and financial advice for affected family members.

This month, the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) also introduced a programme for this group.

Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing outlined some of these measures yesterday at an NCPG conference which looked at the impact of problem gambling on family members.

"Often, we may not be aware, or may forget, that it is usually the families who suffer the effects of an addict's excessive habits," he said.

Financial security and legal woes are some key concerns they face, according to the findings of a study commissioned by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports which were presented at the conference yesterday.

Families of problem gamblers, for instance, usually owe money to the banks or licensed money lenders, Mr Chan pointed out.

"Many of them find it difficult to understand the contractual terms related to their loans. They fear the loss of their homes, their cars and the possibility of facing bankruptcy," he said.

To address these needs, the NCPG started a pilot in May offering free legal and financial advisory services to affected family members.

Giving details of the programme for the first time, NCPG said family members attend sessions conducted by social workers who use financial and legal toolkits to help them manage their problems. The financial toolkit provides advice such as prioritising spending, budgeting and keeping up with repayment.

The legal toolkit, developed with the Law Society's Pro Bono Services Office, covers issues such as bankruptcy, protection of assets, and dealing with divorce and family violence.

So far, 12 families have gone through the programme offered at Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre, Hougang Sheng Hong Family Service Centre and Thye Hua Kwan Problem Gambling Recovery Centre. Said NCPG chairman Lim Hock San: "We recognise that the impact of problem gambling goes beyond the individual problem gambler."

A 64-year-old retiree, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Goh, is among those who got help. Her son would sometimes turn violent on her when he needed money to gamble in the casinos here or bet on soccer online.

Through the legal advisory service at Thye Hua Kwan, she learnt how to apply for a Personal Protection Order this year.

Mr Charles Lee, programme director at the Thye Hua Kwan centre, said most of the family members seek help on debts, family violence, marital and maintenance issues.

"Family members often go all the way to help the gamblers but spare little thought about their own legal and financial needs. This service helps protect them as well," he said.

The centre sees about 130 new cases of problem gambling each year.

Earlier this month, NAMS at the IMH started an eight-week course for family members of gambling addicts. So far, 13 participants have joined the course, which covers topics such as financial and stress management.

These new initiatives come even as the Government is strengthening social safeguards to combat problem gambling.

Currently, gamblers can be barred from the casinos by way of exclusion orders.

Stiffer casino laws were introduced in Parliament this month. Among the changes is one which limits how many times a person who is "financially vulnerable" can visit the casinos. The amendments to the Casino Control Act are scheduled for a second reading in Parliament next month.

'Living hell' for family members
By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2012

LIFE with a gambling addict can be a daily hell, a study has found.

Family members face not only being wiped out financially by the gambler's debts, but also being ostracised and living in a state of "persistent fear".

The qualitative study of 50 relatives - including gamblers' spouses, adult children, parents and siblings - is the first in Singapore to examine the impact of gambling addiction on families, said Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Mathew Mathews.

Dr Mathews was commissioned to carry out the study in 2010 by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. Yesterday, the ministry made the findings public at a conference organised by the National Council on Problem Gambling.

While it is common knowledge that compulsive gambling tears families apart, Dr Mathews' research showed just how bad it can get.

He said: "Everyone in the family feels the burden of the addiction. The closer you are to the gambler, the worse the impact."

The formerly middle class families studied found themselves plunged into poverty by the gamblers' debts, which ranged from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

About a quarter of those interviewed had to sell their houses to pay loan sharks and other creditors.

Some then lived like nomads, shuttling between relatives who would put them up. Their wives had to find work or take on an extra job. Some children had to earn their keep by working after school or during vacations in places such as fast-food restaurants.

And as the gambler begs repeatedly for loans, his relatives will often shun not only him but also his immediate family members.

Families find it hard to share their woes with their friends for fear of being shunned again.

It is no surprise then that the gambler's family lives in a state of "persistent fear" and struggles with anger, helplessness and other painful emotions.

Dr Mathews said: "The threats never end and the problems never stop. It could be threats from loan sharks or the gambler threatening suicide. And you will never know how much more the gambler will borrow from loan sharks."

Unable to cope with the avalanche of problems, some family members fell into depression and needed psychiatric treatment.

A handful of spouses also ended their marriages. Despite their divorces, their ex-husbands continued to hound them for loans.

Dr Mathews said American research has found that each gambler's addiction affects up to 10 people, although the number could be higher here.

This is because Singaporean families are closer-knit and many continue to give the gambler money to clear his debts out of guilt, fear and shame, especially given the face-conscious nature of Asian culture.

His research did not measure how many family members were affected by one person's addiction. He did, however, examine the different ways families dealt with the problem.

Those who coped well were able to come together to find solutions and act with an united front. For example, everyone agreed to stop bailing the gambler out financially and convinced him to get treated for his addiction.

Putting up a united front is crucial as gamblers exploit tensions and secrecy among family members to borrow money.

Dr Mathews said: "What is not helpful is continuing to give in to the gambler's demands for money as he will just continue to gamble. These demands never end.

"My advice to families is: Get help."

No comments:

Post a Comment