Support for vulnerable caregiving families vital

We read with immense sadness of the incarceration of the 43-year-old mother who had been driven to push her autistic son out of the window, due in part to the relapse of her depressive condition in 2014 ("Jailed for pushing autistic son out of window"; last Saturday).

Often, primary caregivers of children with moderate to severe autism face high levels of emotional, psychological and physical stress on a recurring basis.

Breaking points can be reached when there is spousal tension or family conflict, which further plays on the emotions of a vulnerable and distressed primary caregiver.

In such situations, caregiving stress is best mitigated through strong family, community and peer support networks that share in caregiving responsibilities and help alleviate the worst consequences of caregiver stress and burnout.

However, when support from the immediate and extended family is weak or absent, community support becomes especially vital.

Neighbours, social service professionals, including special school teachers, social workers, counsellors and therapists who interact regularly with the family - as well as co-workers and managers at the workplace, and most crucially, fellow parents who walk a similar journey as their caregiving peers - together form a natural network of community support for potentially distressed caregivers.

How do we, as a community, respond, to ensure that other vulnerable caregivers do not fall through the prevailing cracks in our social safety nets?

A caregiving family-focused support model is vital to supporting vulnerable families and identifying situations for timely mitigation.

Besides offering peer-support groups and counselling services which can be quite effective, AWWA Caregiver Service supports caregiving families in helping to navigate every major transition in the lives of their children with special needs, from infancy through adolescence and into adulthood.

Next month, we will embark on a pilot programme that identifies vulnerable caregiving families, by using a screening tool to periodically assess each family's support and stress levels.

Such screening will set the basis to provide appropriate interventions, such as counselling or respite services, community befriending or caregiver life-skills training programmes, as each family situation warrants.

AWWA will work with like-minded voluntary welfare organisations and relevant agencies to strengthen the social support network for caregiving families through better information sharing and cross-referrals of special needs children.

Manmohan Singh

Director

Family and Caregiver Support

AWWA

FORUM NOTE: AWWA is a charity that helps people with disabilities, seniors, caregivers and low-income families.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Support for vulnerable caregiving families vital'. Print Edition | Subscribe