As Community Care professionals, you might have encountered clients who may not have trusted people or family members to make decisions on their behalf, should they be unable to do so in future. To address this gap, the Ministry of Social and Family Development introduced the Professional Deputies and Donees scheme, which enables such seniors to appoint professionals registered under this scheme, such as lawyers, doctors, accountants, allied health professionals, nurses and social workers.
mosAIC speaks to Christine Goh, Senior Social Worker and a Professional Deputy/Donee under TOUCH Community Services, to find out what her role entails.
How has your role changed from when you were a social worker, to now having an additional scope as a Professional Deputy/Donee?
My experience on the ground as a social worker for the past 15 years has given me a good grasp of ground issues and family dynamics. Being certified as a registered Professional Deputy/Donee has taken my social work expertise to a different level as it has expanded my knowledge and insights on end-of-life matters as I learn to have such conversations with seniors.
The Professional Deputy/Donee work has also broadened the scope and deepened the impact of social work by plugging service gaps and getting seniors to take charge of their future by planning ahead – thereby moving from a reactive to a preventive approach. This involves a mindset change in being proactive and intentional in having frank discussions with seniors and their loved ones as part of our efforts to provide holistic care. By enabling seniors to have the autonomy to make choices in life, we are helping them build confidence and enjoy a better quality of life. As proxy decision makers, we can also help to minimise family conflicts over disagreements on care needs, as well as financial management for the person lacking mental capacity.
As a Professional Donee/Deputy, we also work with other professionals, such as accountants and lawyers, who are part of a professional body, and are governed by their own professional conduct and ethics. Other stakeholders include the Court, banks and trust companies.
How can you help seniors as a Professional Donee/Deputy?
Seniors who do not have a trusted person or family member to appoint for their Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) now have an option to appoint a Professional Donee(s). As social workers, we encourage seniors to seek support within their social circle, and highlight the criteria and processes, which are new to many people. Seniors and the appointed Donee must be aware of future responsibilities and how they are expected to discharge their duties. TOUCH can step in to help if the senior prefers to appoint a Professional Donee or replacement Donee.
If an LPA is not made for a person with modest to significant assets who lacks mental capacity, a Professional Deputy can step in to apply for deputyship with the Court to act and manage the personal welfare or property and affairs, or both, for a fee. The duties of a Professional Deputy include looking into their care arrangements, dealing with the banks and property matters under the supervision of the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).
How does your job as a social worker help you in your role as a Professional Deputy/Donee?
Social workers adopt a holistic approach in looking into seniors’ well-being to prevent neglect and abuse. Seniors are especially vulnerable to physical, emotional and financial abuse when they lack mental capacity. As social workers are familiar with the eldercare services in the community, they are able to navigate available resources and arrange for better care options for seniors who may be living in the community or nursing homes.
All accredited social worker with the Singapore Association of Social Work (SASW) are governed by a strict Code of Professional Ethics, which includes accountability and record keeping. As a Professional Deputy or Donee, record keeping is critical for accountability purpose. All Professional Deputies and required to submit written reports to the Office of the Public Guardian.
Social workers have good insights and understanding of seniors’ behaviour, of their fears and insecurities, and what matters to them. One of the core values of a social worker is about dignity and worth of a person. Our soft skills can help to engage them in soliciting their wishes and preferences in making important decisions that affect their quality of life.
What’s one misconception about Professional Deputy/Donee that you’ve had to address very often when you speak to clients?
As Professional Deputy/Donee is a new service introduced by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and offered by service providers including social service agencies, many have assumed that it is a free service. The TOUCH Professional Deputy/Donee initiative, which meets a needed service gap, does not receive any government funding.
Under the Mental Capacity Act, the Professional Deputy/Donee scheme introduced by OPG allows the registered Professional Deputy/Donee to charge a reasonable fee as renumeration. The Professional Deputy/Donee scheme was introduced by the OPG to support individuals with modest to significant assets, and who may not have family members or close friends to rely on to act for them in the event that they lack mental capacity.
The role of a Professional Deputy/Donee is often undertaken by experienced social workers who are professionals - certified and registered with the OPG — and carries with it great responsibility. By appointing TOUCH as a Professional Deputy or Donee, individuals can look forward to service continuity and enjoy peace of mind.
How do you identify if a client needs a Professional Deputy/Donee, and how do you broach the topic?
With greater awareness of the Professional Deputy/Donee scheme and the availability of Professional Deputy/Donee services, it is now easier to broach end-of-life topics.
It is common for seniors to face challenges in finding younger, suitable and trusted donee(s). Seniors who are single may not have siblings who are willing or are suitable to take on this responsibility. Some married seniors have no children or do not wish to burden them with added responsibilities or they may have children living overseas.
How does the TOUCH Professional Deputy/Donee referral system work? Do you only consult TOUCH clients, or do you accept referrals from other Community Care organisations?
For individuals, healthcare or social service practitioners who want to find out more about the TOUCH Professional Deputy/Donee, you can call our Enquiry No: 6317 9996 (during office hours) or send an email: enquiryPDD@touch.org.sg.