New pilot to better support persons with higher need disabilities and their caregivers

Senior social worker Tay Yu Ping (left) with Ms Shantini Murugiah at Limbang Park during a community walk on April 20, 2021.
Senior social worker Tay Yu Ping (left) with Ms Shantini Murugiah at Limbang Park during a community walk on April 20, 2021.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - In 2018, Mr Singam Murugiah twice tried to enrol his adult daughter, who has intellectual disability, at a centre where she could pick up skills and learn to be more independent.

She dropped out both times within a month of enrolling.

Ms Shantini was too afraid and uncomfortable because of the unfamiliar surroundings, said the 66-year-old.

Due to issues with his own health as well as caregiving duties, Mr Singam does not work. It has him worrying for his 31-year-old daughter's future.

He is the main caregiver for his family.

His 61-year-old wife has health issues and 28-year-old daughter does not work. He also has a 35-year-old son who is married and does not live with them.

In August 2019, social workers stepped in and identified Ms Shantini as having social anxieties which can be triggered when she leaves her home. She is also afraid of loud noises and having strangers around her.

As a result, she avoided leaving her home in Choa Chu Kang, said Ms Jocelyn Tan, head of social work at Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds).

"Her father, the main caregiver, was facing a significant amount of caregiver stress and burden as Shantini was fully dependent on him for daily necessities," she added.

Over a period of three months, the social workers built a rapport with Ms Shantini before eventually taking her out alone with them.

They also taught her skills to mitigate her feelings of distress or when she felt anxious about her surroundings, said Ms Tan, adding the sessions were conducted in her home.

As for Mr Singam, they provided him with emotional support through counselling and started discussions with him on long-term care plans for Ms Shantini.

"Before Minds helped us, Shantini would cry a lot and stay at home all the time. When she wants something, she could cry for the whole day," said Mr Singam.

"Now, although she cannot go out on her own, she can do some things like baking, knitting, helping her mother and cleaning our home," he added.

The team from Minds also referred Ms Shantini to its home-based care services to help her build social skills so she can develop confidence and independence.

Ms Tan said the longer-term goal was to gradually transition her back to centre-based services.

She added that the new disability case management programme would be able to offer such a case management arrangement - in which the client and family needs are identified and intervention and services are coordinated.

The three-year pilot, announced by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and Minds on Tuesday (April 20), is meant to better support persons with disabilities with higher support needs and their caregivers.

"I am very happy with the support from Minds, which is doing a good job. It is good for Shantini to improve herself as my wife and I won't be around forever," said Mr Singam.

Correction note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct age of Mr Singam Murugiah's wife.