1. Engage them as a full time maid and caregiver
In the past, only the wealthier Singaporeans hired foreign domestic workers (also known as maids or FDW), to help out with house chores and child care duties. As the elderly population increases drastically in recent years, they are now also given an additional role of a caregiver. In 99% of the homes I visit, these foreign domestic workers have dual, or sometimes triple roles to fulfil. On top of their caregiver duties for the elderly, their daily duties include all household chores and/ or child care duties. Despite it being the norm here, you would unlikely see a similar scenario in any of the Western countries. It is advisable to exercise prioritization. If caring for an elderly is the reason why you got a helper, then do ensure that someone helps out with some of the household chores. By doing so, you are promoting adequate attention on the care recipient.
2. Taking away their weekly off day
How did you feel when you had to work throughout the week even if you are allowed to google? Isn't it ironic how you ensure you get your weekly off day yet hesitant to give a day off to your helper. When the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) laid out the rule for employers to give a day off to foreign domestic workers, there were lots of complaints and disagreements. Although some employers obliged, many choose to pay for their helper to not have a rest day. Their common fears are that their workers would ‘turn bad’, or that family members must now step up to care for the elderly folk. Everyone needs a break so that they can run a longer race. If they are going to stay for two years as intended on the contract, they need to be spared time to be relieved from care-giving stress. So instead of paying to your helper, why not pay for a part time caregiver for a day if you are unable to do the job so that your helper can rest.
3. Total reliance on your foreign domestic worker
Often times when I do home visits, I would first speak with the next-of-kin of the elderly. I say ‘often’ because sometimes the family is nowhere to be seen. They are either at work or they don’t live with the elderly and are not willing to make preparations to come meet me when I am scheduled to be there (for caregiver training). If they do happen to be present, the next-of-kin would usually direct me to their helper when I ask about the medications that the elderly is taking, or their daily routines. It is sad that people would put such strong reliance on a stranger, when caring for your loved ones should really be a family responsibility.
4. Poor supervision for your foreign domestic worker
To have a FDW to care for your elderly while you are at work is a bonus. Another mistake that many Singaporeans make, is to offer poor guidance and supervision for their care-giving maid. They would completely entrust in the FDW for all matters pertaining to the elder’s care and not check on them. It is only until after their employment contract ends, that they notice some medication error, or poor care resulting in bed sores or malnutrition and others. So make sure you check, supervise or be James Bond if you need to - catch them off guard and see if they retain the standards taught to them.
5. Poor communication
When your helper comes from Indonesia, they may not understand your local Malay. Although the helper from Philippines speaks English, alas, our elderly may not. And when she comes from Myanmar, none would understand each other. Google translate does go some way to address this problem, but most elderly are not tech-savvy enough to utilize this. And the last I checked, google translate doesn’t cover our common dialects like Hokkien or Cantonese yet. The good news however, as you may have heard many times, is that verbal language only takes up 7% of the message conveyed. 55% comes from the non-verbal language which all of us should practice using when communicating with the foreigner with language differences.
6. Not arranging for extra training for your foreign domestic worker
Most maid agencies would claim that elder care training has been conducted for all their maids prior to employment. I believe some really do. However, the training conducted is mostly general and not specific to certain elderly conditions such as dementia care, stroke and diabetic care, just to name a few. So be wise and do not save on an important education like this. If you prepare your caregiver with a good foundation, you can certainly reduce some of their work anxiety and stress.
7. Not making contingency plans
The greatest mistake of all is not making backup plans for rainy days. After all, foreign domestic workers are strangers before they meet you and your family. They do not need to have emotional strings attached to your family, although some do. No matter how long she works for you, her true family is in her hometown and she will go back to them one day. So always make plans, find out your resources but most of all, you and your family should know how to care for your own elderly folk. You must be aware of the daily needs and the medical demands required for your loved ones, so that you can take over anytime your helper is away, sick, or when she decides to throw in the towel.
Ms Ivy Low, the author, is a senior registered nurse and the founder of WhiteAngel Caregivers Consultancy Pte Ltd. She has over 13 years of experience in Nursing and over the last few years, her company focuses on training FDW and family members on how to care for a sick and/or elderly at home.