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.