Social workers have been accused of 'overfiltering' cases of elderly abuse, leading to only a small number being referred to the Guardianship Board. Board director Paula Scully yesterday blamed a conservative attitude among social workers and society in general for trying to keep such problems within the family. The Social Welfare Department handled 97 cases of elderly abuse last year. But the independent statutory board - set up in February last year with powers to appoint legal guardians for people with mental disability or illness - received only 38 applications, including all categories of cases in addition to the elderly. 'People think that they should only come to us when there is a really bad situation,' Ms Scully said. 'We would say why don't you phone us: it may be that you are being too conservative. In fact, you should come to us at a much earlier stage. And a guardianship order would help promote the best interests of the elderly with dementia. 'The social worker should regard the patient as the priority, because maybe after a few months the situation will get worse. So why tolerate that situation - why not come to us and get an order?' Ms Scully said social workers were often overworked and had only limited resources. But Peter Cheung Kwok-che, president of the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union, said the board's services and legal powers were not well enough known by the public. 'I agree the board is vital to society,' Mr Cheung said. 'The Government must do more publicity on it so that more people can be helped.'