Working together to break the silence on abuse

In celebration of World Social Work Day, Wei Ling (left), Centre Manager from the Thye Hwa Kwan Moral Charities’ Seniors Activity Centre and Shermaine, Senior Adult Protection Officer from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, share how an elderly woman facing abuse by her caregiver was helped.


When 80-year-old Mdm Jane* was finally convinced to leave her home to be admitted to the hospital, she disclosed that her caregiver Amy* and her siblings had threatened to harm her. Amy had also controlled her finances and restricted her food and water intake.

Amy, the daughter of Mdm Jane’s friend, became the elderly woman’s caregiver when she had to remain mostly bedbound after suffering a fall. Mdm Jane relied on Amy for all of her basic care needs.

It was a few months after Amy took on her caregiving role, that staff from the Senior Activity Centre (SAC) at Mdm Jane’s neighbourhood noticed that something was amiss.

Wei Ling, the centre manager of Thye Hwa Kwan Moral Charities’ Seniors Activity Centre, said: “We received feedback that Mdm Jane’s unit was always very noisy in the evenings, and filled with cigarette smoke. This was one of the signs that the home had turned too unconducive for Mdm Jane to stay. When SAC staff visited the unit again, the occupants did not answer.”

This differed from Mdm Jane’s usual friendly demeanour. She was usually welcoming towards staff from the SAC and social workers from the Cluster Support Service who visited her regularly.

Shermaine, a Senior Adult Protection Officer at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, was alerted to the case when the SAC staff approached the Social Service Office to seek advice. Together with community workers, Shermaine visited Mdm Jane and Amy on multiple occasions to understand the concerns surrounding Mdm Jane’s care.

Unfortunately, approaching Amy proved challenging. “Amy and her relatives were verbally aggressive, and she chased me out of the house once,” said Shermaine. They later learnt that Amy’s friends and relatives were occupying Mdm Jane’s home, which explained the unusual feedback from her neighbour.

Amy’s refusal to allow Mdm Jane to have private conversations with the community workers led to suspicions of abuse. Shermaine pulled various agencies together – including the Singapore Police Force, Housing Development Board, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), SAC, Cluster Support Service and the Polyclinic – to piece together information that they had on Mdm Jane, and come up with a way to address her situation. Mdm Jane’s eventual admission into the hospital was a step towards ensuring her safety and wellbeing. She is now under the care of professionals at an eldercare facility.

Reflecting on the case, Shermaine feels heartened by the support she received from her partners. “Sometimes I felt a bit intimidated to visit Mdm Jane and Amy, but having the support from community partners definitely helped. For example, the Police were very supportive and accompanied us on home visits to Mdm Jane’s place. Staff from the TTSH also facilitated Mdm Jane’s admission to the hospital for medical examination,” she said.

Echoing her sentiments, Wei Ling added: “We could not have done it without the help of the authorities and various community partners. I was very impressed by the keen observations of the MSF officers and Cluster Support social worker. They found out that Mdm Jane was in need of help to leave the house, despite her claiming in the presence of Amy that she was well taken care of.”

It was the unwavering determination of all partners that enabled them to intervene and help Mdm Jane in a timely manner. Shermaine emphasised: “It makes a difference when we all collaborate and work effectively together”.

*Anonymised name


If you are facing family violence, or suspect that someone you know may need help, please approach your nearest Family Violence Specialist Centres or call the ComCare hotline: 1800-222-0000.

Visit NCSS’ website to learn more about starting a career in social work. If you are interested to pursue a meaningful career at MSF, find out more information on our website or at Careers@Gov.

Using policies to bridge gaps in society

As a policy officer, Shermain reviews and formulates policies within the Rehabilitation and Protection Group to help protect and support vulnerable individuals and families.


At the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Rehabilitation and Protection Group (RPG), officers deal with the care, protection, and rehabilitation of individuals to create a safe and nurturing environment for children, young persons and families.

But while frontline officers are the more visible ones on the ground, there is a complementary group of officers working behind the scenes on the policies that help fill in gaps and needs in our society.

Shermain, a policy officer with the Rehabilitation and Protection Group, analyses data, reviews legislation, and engages stakeholders on a typical work day.

The process of coming up with a policy usually starts with identifying a gap or need. “Gaps or needs may be identified as part of a legislative or policy review. We would then seek to formulate or amend a policy to bridge this gap or address this need.” said Shermain.

She recognises that it is often difficult for her to fully understand the situation on the ground. “We work a lot with our key stakeholders in formulating policies. While we try to ensure we are as well acquainted with the operations as possible, our operations colleagues will always be more informed of the intricacies of the operations. We therefore tap a lot on their expertise to help us understand the operational needs and implications of our policies” said Shermain.

Breaking cycles of abuse, neglect, and offending is something that Shermain believes in strongly. “Working in RPG, you definitely have to be someone with a passion for people, especially for the vulnerable. If you want to be a policy officer, you should be someone with an eye for identifying gaps and needs in society, who appreciates Singapore’s societal and operating context, and sees the importance of collaboration with the different stakeholders.” said Shermain.

“Sometimes, the sheer magnitude of our policy reviews can be overwhelming,” Shermain said. “However, knowing that our work benefits people in society makes me hopeful and gives meaning to the work I do. Of course, it also helps a lot that our colleagues and bosses are super supportive, caring, and passionate.”


If you are interested to pursue a meaningful career at MSF, find out more information on our website or at Careers@Gov.