SINGAPORE - A national register of people with intellectual disabilities can help the Government and community keep track of them and ensure they are given help if needed, said voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs).
But its effectiveness will depend on how it is implemented, they added.
The VWOs were responding to a suggestion raised in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 9) on setting up a national register of people with intellectual disabilities so that the authorities can track and assist them.
Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) suggested the register in the wake of the tragic case of Ms Annie Ee, the intellectually disabled waitress who died after prolonged abuse.
In his reply in Parliament, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said that help is already being provided to people with intellectual disabilities ranging from mild to severe, through pre-schools or day activity centres, for instance.
On Thursday, Dr Neo elaborated on her idea, suggesting that the register be set up by the Government but also draw information from VWOs.
"It puts those with intellectual disabilities on the radar," she told The Straits Times.
Grassroots leaders, for example, can tap the register to watch over the well-being of residents with intellectual disabilities in the community, she added.
There is no official data on the number of people with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, here.
In 2015, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), a government agency overseeing the social services sector, estimated from a random sample of 2,000 citizens and permanent residents that 3.4 per cent of the resident population aged 18 to 49 have disabilities. About half of them have intellectual disabilities or autism.
A register already in place is a voluntary one covering people with disabilities. It was set up in 2002 by the NCSS.
There are about 13,000 people with disabilities and dementia on its register, said an NCSS spokesman. Its scheme is an identity card programme which aims to help the public identify and extend appropriate aid to those who carry the card, thus giving their caregivers more peace of mind.
The spokesman did not answer a question on whether its register can be modified or adapted into a national database for those with intellectual disabilities.
VWO representatives interviewed by The Straits Times said a register of people with intellectual disabilities can come in handy.
It will be useful if it can help build a network of support for people with intellectual disabilities, as well as their families, said Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) chief executive Tony S. Tan.
He suggested that it can also include information useful to caregivers, such as where they can find community support.
Mr J.R. Karthikeyan, senior director of disability and inclusion at social service organisation Awwa, said the register can ensure that those who need multiple services receive them. "Instead of the client having to produce a referral letter, the VWOs can check the register to verify," he said.
Others, however, said the devil is in the details when it comes to the register.
Social worker Chloe Liew said its usefulness depends on the information it provides to VWOs.
"Besides basic personal data, information like the history of assistance given and family background is important too, so that VWOs have a more complete picture," said Ms Liew, centre supervisor of the Touch Centre for Independent Living, a day-activity centre for people with intellectual disabilities.
So, too, is data on the next of kin, in case VWOs need to get in touch with them, she added.
Others raised concerns about confidentiality.
"It is recommended for a government agency to manage this so as to ensure confidentiality of information," said Mr Tan from Minds.
Caregivers and those with intellectual disabilities should also be given the option not to register, he added.
Dr Neo said raising the issue in Parliament can help create awareness. "It gets people thinking about how the community can all chip in to help those with intellectual disabilities," she said.