Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Adult Protective Service: Government unit saw over 100 cases of vulnerable adult abuse

Cases handled by Adult Protective Service, set up last year, range from neglect to assault
By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2016

A new unit investigating abuse of the disabled and the infirm has handled over 100 cases since it was set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development in May last year. They range from neglect to more serious cases of physical or sexual assault.

The establishment of the Adult Protective Service (APS) means that there is now a dedicated team of government social workers on the front line. In the past, the ministry focused on policies and funding of charities that handled the cases.

The move to get more directly involved ties in with the impending Vulnerable Adults Act, which the ministry expects to be tabled in Parliament by early next year.

The new law gives the state more statutory powers to protect vulnerable adults, such as by allowing government agencies to enter homes to assess a person's well-being, and to move an abuse victim temporarily to safe places. Currently, the agencies can rely only on moral suasion.

Since its establishment, the APS and its 10 social workers have had their hands full.

There were cases of neglect, which is when a caregiver fails to provide even basic care such as food. But the most common type of abuse has been physical violence and neglect, a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times. The victims, who suffer from physical or mental infirmities such as dementia, range in age from 18 to over 90.

Of the cases referred to the unit, the APS conducted full-fledged investigations into 21.

These included a case of an 80-year-old man suspected of being assaulted by his son. The elderly man has dementia and is using a wheelchair. After its probe, the APS took him to a nursing home.

Another case involved a 78-year- old bedridden woman who lived with her 45-year-old son. He left her alone at home when he went to work so she had to rely on neighbours and volunteers to buy food for her. In this case, as with other instances, the APS ropes in other agencies, such as healthcare providers and family service centres, to give support and services a victim needs.

While the APS did not launch full-scale probes into the cases it deemed less serious, it provided assistance and referred them to agencies such as charities.

The APS also looks into making alternative care arrangements if it deems that it is unsafe for an individual to remain at home.

Cases are referred to the APS by agencies such as hospitals, the police and family service centres.

As Singapore's population ages, the number of vulnerable adults could grow, Mr Chan Chun Sing said in 2014, when he helmed the ministry.

Social workers welcome the impending new law. They pointed out that they currently do not have the legal powers to intervene if a family denies them access to someone whom they believe is being abused.

Ms Kristine Lam, senior social worker at Care Corner Project StART, said some family members try to block social workers from talking to the victim. "They may deny us access so the abuse will not be found out. But it will be different with the new law and the APS, as there are legal consequences if they fail to comply."

Those concerned that someone may be a victim of abuse can call the Comcare Call helpline on 1800-222-0000.

Study flags financial exploitation of elderly
By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2016

A group of National University of Singapore law students who spent almost two years researching cases of abuse of the elderly has flagged financial exploitation by family members as a pressing concern.

They found that almost half of the nearly 50 elder abuse cases involved financial exploitation.

These included, for example, when parents are conned into selling their flats and giving their children the proceeds, or threatened with violence unless they gave in to monetary demands.

Lawyer Ng Bin Hong led the study by the group - the NUS Adult Protection Research Team - which looked at cases managed by two charities that specialise in dealing with family violence.

The study was completed in July.

While theft and forgery are criminal offences, seniors usually do not report their children to the police for various reasons, including a fear that their children will be jailed.

Many types of financial exploitation are also not regarded as criminal offences - such as reneging on a promise to care for the parents after the proceeds from the sale of their flat has been pocketed, Mr Ng said.

Currently, the only way a parent can try to recover the money is to file a civil suit but this can be costly and tedious, so very few do so, he said.

One case the group examined involved a civil servant who convinced his 73-year-old mother to transfer her share of the flat to him.

He promised to take care of her but did not do so. On one occasion, he did not provide her with food for several days. She fainted and was sent to hospital. A friend stepped in and helped feed and take care of her.

The son later placed her in a nursing home, where she died.

To stem such abuse, the group suggested that more forms of financial exploitation of seniors be considered a criminal offence. It also recommended that the courts order the abuser to compensate the victim for the sums lost, if he is found guilty.

Mr Ng noted that the proposed Vulnerable Adults Act, which protects the disabled and the infirm from abuse, does not cover financial exploitation as a form of abuse.

But a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development said that currently, the police can investigate financial offences that are under the Penal Code. "We recognise that socially isolated elderly are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse and we will continue to examine how we can better address these concerns both on the ground and in future legislative reviews."

Public Consultation on Draft Vulnerable Adults Bill 2016

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