Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Social and Family Development

More help for caregivers of those with disabilities

Boon Hong enjoying finger-painting at the headquarters of voluntary welfare organisation AWWA. Caring for the 15-year-old, who has epilepsy, has been exhausting work for his mother. But since last year, she has been getting some respite every Saturda
Boon Hong enjoying finger-painting at the headquarters of voluntary welfare organisation AWWA. Caring for the 15-year-old, who has epilepsy, has been exhausting work for his mother. But since last year, she has been getting some respite every Saturday by dropping him off at AWWA for activities.PHOTO: AWWA

Fifteen-year-old Yip Boon Hong has epilepsy, and waves of seizures can strike up to 10 times a day.

His mother, Madam Lim Bee Lay, 45, keeps a close watch as he may hurt himself during those attacks when he loses control and falls.

Her years of caring for him makes for exhausting work, yet she finds herself unable to fall asleep on some nights, worrying about his future.

Since last year, however, she has been getting some respite every Saturday. She drops her son off at the headquarters of voluntary welfare organisation AWWA, where he finger-paints or plays with hula hoops. Meanwhile, his mother gets a much-needed rest or spends time with her nine-year-old daughter.

More caregivers such as Madam Lim will soon be able to have their needs better met with the setting up of a disability caregiver support centre, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament yesterday.

It will provide information, planned respite and training, as well as links to peer support groups and other agencies for further help.

Currently, some charities have support services for caregivers but these are usually for their own clients with a specific disability or condition - for instance, mental illness or intellectual disability. AWWA's pilot programme for caregivers started in April last year.

The new caregiver support centre, slated to be ready next year, will be a key node in a network of support being established by the National Council of Social Service and voluntary welfare organisations.

The network intends to reach out to about 2,000 caregivers over the next five years, said the ministry.

Mr Tan noted that the move to support caregivers better comes as families get smaller and a gap in caregiving may be more keenly felt. He said: "The role of a caregiver is physically and emotionally demanding and a burn-out is likely to happen."

The 2010 National Health Survey, which captured caregiver data for the first time, showed that about 210,000 people aged 18 to 69 provided regular care to family and friends. This number is expected to rise with the ageing population.

Caregivers could do with more support because many of them struggle with burn-out. A 2013 study by Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School revealed that nearly half of 1,190 caregivers surveyed here have jobs. Yet they spend 38 hours every week on caregiving, and are more likely to experience higher caregiver stress and depression.

Said Madam Lim: "Caregiving work is never-ending. With more support services coming up, I look forward to meeting other parents who face similar experiences to share tips, so that it feels less lonely a journey."

The ministry also announced that it will study the feasibility of an "Inclusive Pre-school" model that allows children with special needs to attend pre-school with other pupils.

"Children with special needs growing up in such an inclusive setting will develop age-appropriate social and communication skills, and motor and cognitive skills," it said.

"On the other hand, children who grow up alongside their peers with special needs will learn to understand and accept differences (from a young age)."

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'More help for caregivers of those with disabilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe