New scheme to allow social workers to manage finances for mentally incapacitated seniors under their care

Ms Lai Yen Hoon, 50, senior social worker from TOUCH Cluster Support (Kallang), with Madam Cheong Siew Keng (right), 85, at her flat on Nov 29, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Seniors without family support can soon turn to social workers to help manage their finances if they lose the ability to make decisions for themselves.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has introduced the Community Kin Service pilot project where social workers with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) may apply to the Family Justice Courts for powers to manage the finances of seniors under their care.

The courts will then approve regular payments for the seniors' healthcare needs and household expenses, with the ministry backing such court applications.

On Wednesday (Nov 29), Minister of Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said: "The Community Kin Service allows VWOs to help fill the role that a next-of-kin would typically play in supporting a senior."

The MSF said in a statement that the pilot will cover seniors who are 60 and above, have no family support and show signs of a declining ability to make decisions for themselves.

Two voluntary welfare organisations - Touch Community Services and the AMKFSC Community Services - have been chosen for the pilot project that starts early next year (2018).

On the number of seniors who can benefit from the scheme, Touch said about 350 of the 7,000 seniors under its care are gradually losing the ability to make decisions for themselves, while AMKFSC estimated that about 100 of the 1,000 seniors under its care may have dementia.

Ms Julia Lee, senior director at Touch, said the new scheme is a extension of what the VWO's social workers are already doing to help the seniors under their care. "The social workers now take care of the seniors' medical and social needs. Some of the seniors also turned to us for help in managing their finances," she said. "But currently we cannot do that because we are not authorised to do so."

Mr Ng Koon Sing, head of senior services at AMKFSC Community Services, said the process of applying for the court order needs to be simplified for VWOs. "The MSF is talking to the courts on how the process (of court applications) can be more streamlined. Our objective is not to create more work," he said.

Minister Lee, who was speaking at the first Asian Family Conference, held at the Orchard Hotel, said that the ministry will run the pilot for "a year or two" before deciding whether to expand it.

"As a safeguard, VWOs must provide annual reports to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to account for the use of funds," he added.

The Office of the Public Guardian, which comes under the ministry, runs the Lasting Power of Attorney Scheme under the Mental Capacity Act, which lets people appoint a "donee" or "deputy" in advance to take care of legal decisions when they lose their mental ability.

The new scheme announced on Wednesday comes almost two years after the Mental Capacity Act was amended in Parliament in March 2016.

The amendment allows for those without family or close friends to have paid professionals exercise the duty of donees and deputies.

Although the amendment was passed nearly two years ago, Mr Lee said on Wednesday that the ministry is still in the process of working out the details of the scheme, including the registration of professional deputies.

He said that his ministry is working with the Singapore University of Social Sciences to develop a training programme for such professionals.

He added that besides having experience in mental capacity act cases, these paid professionals must also meet new criteria, such as not being undischarged bankrupts or convicted criminals.

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