Forum: Domestic workers need support to shoulder caregiver burden

A domestic helper pushing an elderly woman on a wheelchair on Oct 25, 2019.
A domestic helper pushing an elderly woman on a wheelchair on Oct 25, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

Caregiving places significant strain on one's finances, as well as physical and mental well-being. When caregivers experience burnout due to insufficient rest, they pose a risk to themselves and others (Caregivers need to seek support to avoid burnout: Experts, Oct 19).

One group of caregivers often overlooked are the migrant domestic workers who many households here increasingly depend on to care for the rapidly ageing population.

When family members struggle to care for their elderly relatives, they cope by passing on most of the physical labour, and some emotional labour, to their domestic helpers. But these workers lack the support to cope with their caregiver burden.

An ongoing qualitative study by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) on caregiver burden experienced by 25 migrant domestic workers providing eldercare in Singapore identified the lack of access to caregiving-specific information and emotional support as contributors to the burden.

Other factors are overwork and inaccurate matching to eldercare jobs.

Support organisations for migrant domestic workers are not equipped to provide caregiving-related information, while existing caregiver-support networks often focus on family caregivers.

Domestic workers must constantly adapt to the evolving needs of their care recipients. When the condition of care recipients worsens, they become more dependent on the domestic workers, further increasing their workload. New caregiving duties may include tube-feeding, managing new medication, assisting more frequently with toileting and/or diaper changes, and closer supervision to prevent falls and injuries.

Without adequate support, some workers struggle to cope with these new responsibilities. Yet, fearing for their jobs, they avoid voicing their concerns in case their employers see them as incompetent.

At present, employers and employment agencies are not incentivised to provide adequate caregiver-specific support to domestic workers employed for eldercare.

However, such support is important in mitigating the caregiver burden.

One way to help would be to provide training and informational resources about their care recipients' medical conditions, especially as their needs evolve. Accompanying this, emotional support can help to reduce the workers' fatigue from their emotional labour and prevent burnout.

Kimberly Wong Ying Zhen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2020, with the headline 'Domestic workers need support to shoulder caregiver burden'. Print Edition | Subscribe