5 Critical gaps in caring for vulnerable seniors in Singapore
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5 Critical gaps in caring for vulnerable seniors in Singapore

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Singapore is fast reaching superaged status. Life expectancy is going up while the birth rate is heading south. By 2030 – not many years from where we are today – one in four Singaporeans will be 65 years or older. More worryingly, a fifth of that cohort will be over 80 (Population in Brief 2021). 

Ageing well and quality of life are huge concerns for our elderly. The biggest challenges centre on health: physical frailty or disability, sensory impairment such as hearing loss, or chronic conditions such as dementia or diabetes. However, ageing is not just a matter of biophysical health. It is also about bolstering psychological, emotional and community support. 

Mental wellness issues, such as depression and loneliness, are a real threat to the older demographic. On top of this, many older Singaporeans worry about financial security, due to escalating care costs, inadequate retirement income and limited earning opportunities. 

Many people prefer to age at home but that too has its challenges. In this article, we highlight the critical gaps in caring for vulnerable seniors and what can be done to support them so that ageing can be enabling, empowering and meaningful.

#1 Funding rising healthcare needs

Singapore’s healthcare expenses could jump tenfold between 2016 and 2030 to over $66 billion1. Family is typically the first line of support but families are getting smaller and relationships may be estranged. Income caps also mean not everyone qualifies for government aid. 

Even when fees are subsidized, low-income seniors may struggle with costs. Women, in particular, face more financial insecurity as they tend to have interrupted employment or be in low-wage or unpaid care work. Women also tend to outlive men and are more likely to be single, widowed or divorced in old age. 

The burden lands on welfare organisations to meet the shortfall. However, causes that help the elderly don’t attract as much funding as say, education, which in Singapore receives the lion’s share of donations: in 2019, they accounted for 52.9% of total receipts of $20.8 billion (Commissioner of Charities 2020).

#2 Access to home care and assisted living

Letting people age at home or in the community and delaying institutional care is a universal goal. But as the number of seniors with mobility issues or age-related ailments increases, demand for home nursing, home therapy, meal deliveries, assistive devices and home safety and modification services (to prevent falls) will rise. There will also be a much bigger role for centre-based eldercare, such as day care, and initiatives for assisted living.

#3 Depression and suicide

Aside from physical ill health, many seniors grapple with loneliness, loss of loved ones or dependence on others. The number of elderly living alone doubled to 63,800 in 2020 from a decade ago and is set to hit 83,000 by 2030 (Singapore Department of Statistics). 

According to the Samaritans of Singapore, the number of people aged 60 and above who took their own lives reached a high at 154 deaths in 2020. That’s a 26% increase from the year before and is the highest elderly suicide death rate since 19912. There is an urgent need to support charities that connect with seniors, organise social outings or wellness activities for them, offer intergenerational bonding or assist beneficiaries with their healthcare needs such as medical appointments and screenings. 

#4 Dementia support

Dementia is our nation’s most prevalent neurodegenerative disease today, affecting one in 10 seniors. By 2030, the number of dementia patients is set to reach 92,000 – a doubling from 2015 (Dementia in the Asia Pacific Region). Dementia additionally imposes a huge burden on caregivers, many of whom are ageing themselves. We need more funding to support early diagnosis and intervention, community dementia care services such as exercise and cognitive activities as well as training and support for caregivers.

#5 End of life care

Discussions about death or end of life remain taboo. There is insufficient advance care planning as well as a lack of healthcare workers and expertise in the palliative care system. Better awareness and improved options for inpatient, home or day care hospice services are needed.

How CFS helps you do more with your giving

If you would like to help seniors who have fallen through the cracks or would like to make ageing more empowering and inclusive, we at CFS can align your giving goals with the needs of this community. We are a cause-neutral organisation that supports grantmaking to a wide range of charitable areas in Singapore. Of the 400-plus charities we evaluate and make grants to, close to 30% work with seniors. We partner with charities that focus on clearly identified problem areas or social gaps that are under-supported. Charities must also demonstrate measurable outcomes and good stewardship of funds.

A simple and cost-effective way to contribute to a variety of causes in Singapore is by setting up a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF). A DAF can be set up by an individual, a beneficiary of a will, a trust, or a family office. CFS will handle all fund administration and leverage our unparalleled insight into Singapore’s charitable landscape to provide philanthropy advice that ensures your giving is targeted, accountable and impactful. CFS strives to ensure that every grant that goes out creates positive change.

As a donor, you will save on legal expenses and enjoy upfront tax deductions at the prevailing rate on eligible donations. Donors will also receive regular statements tracking incoming donations to the DAF and outgoing disbursements to charities. CFS has an established track record when it comes to setting up DAFs and our DAF payout rates outperformed the entire US DAF industry by 12% and their community foundations by 2 times. 

If you would like to begin your giving journey with CFS, get in touch with us.

This article was written by Sunita Sue Leng, a former financial analyst and journalist, who believes that the written word can be a force for good. She hopes to someday write something worth plagiarising.

1 https://www.asiaone.com/health/elderly-health-costs-rise-tenfold-2030-report

2 https://www.sos.org.sg/pressroom/singapore-reported-452-suicide-deaths-in-2020-number-of-elderly-suicide-deaths-highest-recorded-since-1991

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Stories Of Impact

Learning Initiatives for Employment (LIFT): Transforming Lives for the better

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At just 18 years old, Jeevan never imagined that he would find himself resigned to his fate in life.

“Three years ago, I dropped out of school, did some things, and ended up on probation. At that point in time, I thought that this would be the end for me – this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life,” recalls the young man.

Despite repeated rebuffs from many employers, things took a turn for the better after Jeevan was accepted into Bettr Barista’s Holistic Training programme.

Bettr Barista’s Holistic Training Programme is committed to equipping vulnerable individuals from marginalised groups with skills to be employed and stay employed. Through the programme, they are trained not only in practical skills as a barista, but also in interpersonal skills to integrate back into society.

“I went to 20 interviews in two months, but they all rejected me because of my probation. It was tough until I came to Bettr. I didn’t expect to get accepted and I was mentally drained after all those rejections. When I was accepted, I was quite happy and really looking forward to it as something that could change my life.”

As a result of going through two months of BB’s Holistic Training programme, Jeevan is currently employed at Five &2 Bistro.

Changing lives for the better, even for those who are resigned to their fate – this is the mission of Bettr Barista, whose programmes are aimed at turning the lives around for marginalised groups and equipping them with holistic skills to get and stay employed. These groups include youth-at-risk like Jeevan, persons with disabilities, persons recovering from mental illnesses and disadvantaged women.

Improving the lives of the marginalised since 2011

Bettr Barista and Project Dignity are two of the social enterprises partnered with the Learning Initiatives for Employment (LIFT) Community Impact Fund (CIF), spearheaded by the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS).

Since 2011, 135 participants have enrolled into Bettr Baristas Holistic Training (HT) programme, which saw an increase from an average of 12.6 to 40 trainees every year after it began receiving funding from LIFT.

The HT programme is an intense two to four months full-time work-and-study programme, which provides training ranging from emotional self-awareness counselling and workshops in Professional Coffee Education, to soft skill development and employment readiness.

By December 2020, a 65% graduation rate is expected from the cohort of 40 participants from April 2019 to October 2020, in spite of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The remainder of the cohort which did not graduate faced extenuating circumstances, with an unsupportive home environment cited as one of the key challenges faced by the participants.

18 of the graduates have already found employment with BB’s referral partners, in sectors such as Social Services, Family Services and Probation & Community Rehabilitation.

Giving dignity to the intellectually disabled through culinary arts

Project Dignity’s Train-and-Place programme helps equip marginalised individuals with practical skills to gain and sustain employment through a 22 day vocational Food and Beverage (F&B) On-Job-Training programme.

Those who participate are disadvantaged individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues. They learn about aspects of working in the F&B industry, such as basic food hygiene and quality control procedures to prepare ingredients and serve customers.

As of October 2020, the programme outcome reports a high completion rate of 94% from the 50 participating trainees, with 76% gaining employment after completing the programme. Additionally, 22% of employed participants remain employed for a sustained period of at least three months, with six trainees remaining employed for 12 months or more.

The 38 trainees who were employed received a salary which ranged from $500 to $1,600. Trainees who completed the programme but were not able to receive employment cited extenuating circumstances from challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and nursing home restrictions

If you would like to support someone in their journey towards sustained employment opportunities, please visit our donation drive on Giving.sg.

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The Straits Times: Teacher gives students with disabilities hope

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by Rahimah Rashith, 24 October 2016

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

The ending to beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White gives an apt rendering of the relationship between teacher Jeyaram Kadivan, 34, and his former student, Mr Caleb Tay, now 20.

Over the course of a year in 2009, Mr Jeyaram spent his weekends thumbing over a paperback edition of the novel, scanning each page into his laptop using a machine that converted the scanned images into words. Read more.

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Singapore Tatler: Kith and Kin

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Family relaxing on couch, on a magazine. (Singapore Tatler Upfront)

The family behind Naumi Hotels and Rang Mahal Restaurants, Surya, Ritu and Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala, shares how its late patriarch Shyam Sundar Jhunjhnuwala’s spirit of entrepreneurship and giving lives on through the generations with the S S Jhunjhuwala Charity Fund established with the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS). With philanthropic advice from CFS, the family continues its patriarch’s legacies and focuses on education, welfare initiatives, as well as health-related issues for underprivileged women and children in Singapore. Read more.

Courtesy of Singapore Tatler, February 2019

Speaking after the association’s annual general meeting at Kallang Netball Centre on Friday, Liang-Lin, a fund manager for a US$7 billion (S$9.5 billion) firm focused on green real estate investments in Asia, hopes to bring her expertise to the table and increase the amount of financial support for Singapore netball during her four-year term.

The 53-year-old took over from Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jessica Tan, who has been the association’s president since 2012. Tan had reached the end of her tenure, which saw the national team make several breakthroughs, including a gold medal at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore.

Liang-Lin holds various appointments such as being Singapore’s representative to the G20 for Women appointed by the Ministry of Finance. She is also a board member of the Community Foundation of Singapore, which promotes philanthropy through facilitating the establishment of charitable funds.

She said: “One of the things that is overlooked when we look at philanthropy and fundraising is that sport is not really part of the things that people will automatically think about.

“Less than one per cent of the funds that we raise in the Community Foundation goes to sport. The values that sport brings need to be amplified more, so that corporates… see the need to support sport. I think that link needs to be stronger so that we get not just more corporate sponsors, but also they can come in for longer periods of time.”

While national agency Sport Singapore provides funding to netball, corporates can also do their part, she added.

She said: “If we play our cards correctly, we can get corporates to come in and hopefully support them, to see the wider purpose of sport and bring the nation together.”

She also hopes the association can be proactive in looking for financial support, adding: “We must work more strategically with governing bodies on educating corporates on the importance of really supporting sport.”

The former netball player also made references to the recent Women’s World Cup for football, noting the “ability for a game that focuses on women in the sport to bring global attention”.

She said: “I want that kind of trajectory of the limelight going to women’s sport. I think that is a trend that will continue, and I hope that netball will be part of that trend.”

Meanwhile, Tan was satisfied that she has achieved the three objectives she had set out to do when she came on board – to improve quality of play, build a fan base and create an ecosystem which involves coaches and players.

The 57-year-old added: “As much as I do feel sad about having to step down, but at the same time, leadership renewal is very important.

“I think Trina will help to galvanise the team together, and bring a lot of new perspectives and quality to the association.”

Join us in making an impact on Singapore sports scene! Reach out to us for more information.

Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction

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The competition was organised by City Harvest Community Services Association and received support from FUN! Fund, a Community Impact Fund jointly established by the Community Foundation of Singapore and the Agency for Integrated Care, with the aim of addressing social isolation among the elderly.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of National Development Mr Tan Kiat How attended the event. He encouraged the elderly to stay physically and mentally well, as well as urging them to participate in community activities and enjoy their golden years together.

Learn more about FUN! Fund at https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.


The programme provides the children with a non-threatening platform to connect with peers and have positive conversations. In addition, it exposes them to different people who can assist to broaden their perspectives.

L.S., a volunteer with the Reading Odyssey programme @ Spooner Road



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Stories Of Impact

Restoring the Mental Health of Girls Who Have Survived Abuse: HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre

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A festive gathering of individuals seated around a beautifully adorned Christmas tree, radiating warmth and joy.

Clara* was just fifteen when she attempted suicide for the first time. She had believed her father’s violence was normal. It was not until she spoke to a psychiatrist that she realised violence and sexual abuse were not something that happened in every family. On her sixteenth birthday, after a second suicide attempt, Clara entered Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre (DRTC).

Our teenage years are when we develop crucial social and self-management skills, a time when the foundation for a successful adult life is laid. Survivors of childhood trauma often grapple with its long-term effects throughout their lives, underscoring the critical need for early intervention.

“Children are precious gems. For the ones who could not grow up in a safe and caring environment, they are placed into therapy group homes like HCSA DRTC. We work in teams to help the girls manage their trauma. I also do whatever simple ways I can in their recovery journey to help them see that the world is not as bad as it seems.”

Child Abuse: A Growing Problem

Regrettably, cases of child abuse have been rising annually for the past decade. In 2021, the Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated 2,141 cases of child abuse, marking the highest number in 10 years.

The majority were cases of neglect, which jumped 143 percent from 375 cases in 2020 to 910 cases in 2021. Physical abuse, usually the most common form of abuse, was the second-highest form of abuse in 2021, and child sexual abuse cases also saw a 70 percent increase in 2021.


HCSA DRTC: Healing Trauma and Nurturing Futures

HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre (DRTC) was established in 2011 to provide a caring, safe, and therapeutic environment for teenage girls who have suffered neglect, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

DRTC’s beneficiaries include girls aged 12-18 assessed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to have moderate to high trauma needs and who are facing persistent difficulties with behavioural and emotional issues.

By employing effective clinical therapies, the centre aims to help these girls become healthy individuals capable of successfully reintegrating into their schools, families, and society.

The girls live at the centre for 12 to 18 months and undergo a clinical programme that comprises three key phases to work through their trauma and restore their mental health.

The initial phase focuses on safety, stabilising the child while building trust and a sense of security. Following this, the regulation-focused treatment aids in teaching coping techniques to manage emotions and behaviours effectively. Finally, the beyond-trauma treatment provides tools to prevent relapses.

A value-based system guides each girl to align her actions with her values and aspirations, empowering her to take charge of her life. When she is ready to graduate, a six-month aftercare programme prepares the girl to rejoin her family, if it is safe for her. If her family home is unsafe, the programme prepares her to live with a foster family or assists her in transitioning to independent living.

An Urgent Need for Capacity Increase

As a certified Trauma Systems Therapy organisation, the most severe cases of complex trauma and abuse are referred by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to DRTC.

Owing to the extensive resources and continuous, vigilant care necessary for these cases, MSF has imposed a limit, allowing DRTC to cater to a maximum of 12 girls concurrently. The operational expenses for maintaining this capacity amount to approximately $1.5 million annually.

With the rising number of child abuse cases and the urgent need for specialised trauma treatment services, DRTC is pushing to increase its resident capacity from 12 to 29.

To aid this expansion in services, DRTC will require additional funding and is calling for volunteers to help as befrienders and trainers.

“Caring for these young survivors is not just about healing wounds; it’s about shaping resilient futures,” says Gerard Wong, Senior Executive, HCSA Community Services. “We appeal to the generosity of CFS donors to join hands with us in expanding our outreach, impacting the lives of these young women, and offering them the chance to heal from adversity and rewrite their stories.”

Shining a Light on a Worthy Cause

CFS has supported DRTC since 2020. To date, CFS donors have contributed $70,000 to support the centre’s operating costs. The contributions go towards the salaries of therapists and staff, running costs of the residence, and food for the residents.

As testament to the programme’s impact, Clara says, “Dayspring turned out to be a strong pillar of support, helping me through difficult times in school and with my family. Even when I experienced suicidal thoughts, the staff never gave up on me and remained understanding and patient.”

“Surprisingly, when I saw my father for the first time after entering Dayspring, I was not angry at all. I felt at peace. I realised I had forgiven him. I told him that I believed he was a good person deep down. I understood: it is through forgiveness that we free ourselves and others from the invisible shackles that once held all of us down. This was when I knew how much Dayspring had changed me.”

To find out how you can support HCSA DRTC, please contact CFS.

* ‘Clara’ is not her real name. Her full story can be found at The Birthday That Changed My Life.

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