Marriage, according to our young Millennials

Asked about her plans for marriage, 19-year-old Tang Wen Yu imagines herself tying the knot in her late 20s or early 30s, once she has completed higher studies and her “finances are secure”.

On the other hand, 23-year-old Fong Yu Yang is already engaged. “Some of my friends don’t really put marriage as their first priority because they have other personal achievements that they want to accomplish first, like a good career or to travel around the world,” he says. But, having been with his girlfriend for seven years, they find that their relationship has not held them back from pursuing their goals.

Wen Yu and Yu Yang are among 30 students who are partnering MSF to redesign our iconic ROM and ROMM Building. It is part of our ongoing collaboration with Institutes of Higher Learning – including Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Ngee Ann Polytechnic(NP) and Temasek Polytechnic.

Wen Yu recalls being slightly “shocked” when fellow participants shared their dreams of marrying early. Although marriage is not yet on the cards for her, she says that the involvement to redesign ROM and ROMM project is special because it gives her a chance to make an impact “on the real world”. “It’s cool to know that we might be married in the very same building that we [helped to] design,” she says.

Currently studying Sustainable Urban Design and Engineering at NP, she says one possible idea for the revamp is replacing the prosaic seats at the waiting area with a comfortable lounge. Perhaps inspired by the coffee culture of her generation, she suggests setting up a café to serve couples waiting for their turn for solemnisation.

As for Yu Yang, he imagines a special area for love locks which couples can attach to bridges, fences and other public fixtures to symbolise their love. If there is insufficient space for this, this feature could be digitalised. Taking inspiration from Changi Airport’s Social Tree, he also suggests creating a similar installation at ROM and ROMM for people to upload and share photographs. Yu Yang is currently studying Engineering Systems and Design at SUTD.

On Valentine’s Day earlier this year, MSF collaborated with the Singapore Memory Project to launch “MyROMStory”, a portal for couples to share such photographs and their memories. MyROMStory encourages couples to remember their special day and inspire those who have said “I do” to re-commit to each other and say “I still do”.

As a designer herself, Wen Yu would like her own wedding to be “decorative, but still very intimate”, with only her close family and friends in attendance. Wen Yu has been with her boyfriend for four years. When he found out about her participation in this project, he was excited like her, she says.

Yu Yang’s girlfriend was also delighted to learn of his participation in the project. They had not previously thought of having their solemnisation in the ROM building, but are now considering it. His participation in the refurbishment project is “going to be a special reason why we should get solemnised and married in the ROM building itself”.

A youth caseworker’s reflections

The rehabilitation of youth offenders may begin in the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes, but it should not and does not stop there. Once they are discharged from the Homes, the youths face the sometimes daunting task of reintegrating into their schools and families.

Guiding them in this transition is key to keeping them on track in their rehabilitation journey. This is where caseworkers like Ms Lim Li Min play a pivotal role. Having served as a caseworker for seven and a half years in MSF, Li Min’s job entails conducting individual and family counselling, helping youths gain new skills, and linking them up with opportunities in the community, to address the risks and needs of those under her charge.

Ranging from displays of anti-social behaviour and violent tendencies to estrangement from family members, the challenges the youths face are increasingly complex. “Caseworkers need to be agile and resourceful to support them in personalised ways so they can have a good re-start in our community,” says Li Min.

Currently, youths are given post-care support for two months after they are discharged from the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes. After assessing that some of them continued to feel lost after the two-month period and unable to approach someone they could trust for advice, MSF will extend post-care support to one year. The pilot with about 15 to 20 selected youth will commence this year and will be progressively expanded in 2020 to include every youth discharged from the two Homes.

Under the initiative, MSF will work with appointed Voluntary Welfare Organisation partners to assign post-care workers to journey alongside the youths in the community. The post-care officers will engage the youths at least six months before they are discharged from the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes. Caseworkers like Li Min will then have a longer time to partner with these post-care officers to work out discharge plans and facilitate relationship building between the youth and their post-care officers. This will ensure a smooth reintegration and sustained rehabilitation.

Jervin Tay, now 19, is one of the youths counselled by Li Min. In 2017, after a rioting case, he was ordered by the Youth Court to reside in the Singapore Boys’ Home for 12 months. With the help of his parents and Li Min, Jervin turned his life around and even completed a barista programme.

Li Min helped Jervin to better communicate with his parents. Since his discharge in July 2018, Jervin has committed himself to making the best out of his life. He is currently in National Service and hopes to complete his ‘O’ Levels and get a diploma in the F&B industry.

Rehabilitation is not always smooth sailing, and Li Min says schools, employers and families should be prepared that these youths may “require a lot more support in the community” than in Homes.

“Building rapport and a relationship is key to being able to support a youth effectively”, she says. Only then will caseworkers be seen as “trusted adults” by the youths. “This gives them some motivation to change and move forward with their aspirations in life, knowing that they are safely anchored in someone who believes in them and whom they can fall back on.”

And relationship-building will continue to play a key role as caseworkers, and in the near future post-care officers, work hand in hand to support our youths.

 

 

From preschool to home: supporting a child with learning needs

Ethan Wong, like any other preschooler, enjoys playing with toy cars and Lego blocks. The bubbly five-year-old attends NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool @ Punggol Place. According to his mother Mrs Wong however, he used to have some difficulty following instructions and would be easily distracted in class.

After a screening assessment by his preschool, which identified him as eligible for early intervention services, his parents enrolled him in the Learning Support (LS) programme in September 2018. Under this programme, children with learning needs receive support in their preschools from Learning Support Educators, in areas such as handwriting, social communication, language development and literacy.

In addition to supporting Ethan once a week at his preschool, the Learning Support Educators also taught Mrs Wong how to better support her son at home. She conscientiously incorporates the toys that her son likes into step-by-step instructional games to increase his attention span for example.

Today, after eight months of early intervention support, Ethan is able to stay attentive in class and follow two- to three-step verbal instructions. Mrs Wong says such improvements take time and require support both within and outside of the classroom. “I believe parents need to take part. Parents need to go back and practise more with their kid at home,” she says.

It helps that the LS programme is conducted within the preschool. Mrs Wong does not need to seek external sources of help and can spend more time supporting her child’s development. She also finds it a useful resource for parents who may not be familiar with such programmes, and is a “good start” for children with mild learning needs.

In preschool, Ethan was supported by Ms Veronica Tang, a Learning Support Educator from NTUC First Campus. Ms Tang – or “Teacher Veron”, as students affectionately call her – gives extra guidance to children from My First Skool with developmental needs. Over the course of three months, she conducted 10 early intervention sessions with Ethan. These sessions were customised to Ethan’s specific learning needs, targeted at focusing on tasks at hand and following step-by-step instructions through the use of play and daily routines. Ms Tang provided a progress report to Mrs Wong after each session.

Ms Tang says early intervention services give “peace of mind to parents” because they know they have “additional support” at their children’s preschools.

Recognising the importance of such support, MSF announced in January 2019 that spending on early intervention programmes would be raised to around $60 million per year, up from $45 million previously.

The Ministry further announced in April 2019 the setting up of a cross-sectoral inclusive preschool workgroup to study and develop recommendations to further support children with moderate to severe developmental needs within preschools. The workgroup is co-chaired by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and National Institute of Education Associate Dean (Education Research) Kenneth Poon.

And progressively from July 2019 till end 2020, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will oversee both early intervention services and preschool services.

These initiatives will ensure better coordination and delivery of the various services for children with developmental needs.

Ms Deniece Bidhiya, Senior Manager (Learning & Developmental Support) at NTUC First Campus’ Child Support Services, says more parents have been enrolling their children in such programmes since the school started offering them in 2012.

Initially, she shares, some parents were apprehensive. A common concern was that their children might feel singled out through such intervention lessons, or be viewed differently by their friends.

“I always assure parents that the Learning Support Educators are professionals and know how to build a relationship with not just the child, but also their peers.”  She adds that the children find Ms Tang’s activities so fun, they sometimes cannot wait for their turns with her.

As Ms Tang describes her approach to education, “Learning cannot be just: ‘Sit at the table, read a book and then write, write, write’. It needs to be engaging.”

Judging by the scene when she walks around the preschool, the students are certainly engaged. They crowd around her, eager to chat and share their latest drawings with her.

A social enterprise on a mission to nurture individuals with special needs

For husband and wife duo Soek Ying and Barry, giving differently-abled individuals a space to grow and develop skills for gainful employment motivated their founding of social enterprise Mustard Tree. Their son, Ryan Koh, an autistic young artisan with an affinity for arts and crafts, was the main reason why Soek Ying and Barry started Mustard Tree. Now, an omni-channel retail platform, Mustard Tree shows no signs of slowing down on its mission to empower its beneficiaries to make a dignified living.

We speak to Barry about Mustard Tree, his philosophy, and hopes for the enterprise.

Could you tell us more about Mustard Tree? 

Mustard Tree was founded by my wife, Soek Ying, and I. We run an omni-channel retail platform (Bricks & Mortar & Online) and a modest training outfit in the hope that we can better target and enable those who have fallen behind (above 18 years old & unable to land a permanent job). We aim to build capabilities in art/craftwork and retailing and to help our clients regain self-worth.

What inspired Mustard Tree to give people with special needs a space to shine?

Soek Ying and I are parents to Ryan, now 22 years old. What started as a mummy’s pride to showcase her son’s work on Facebook quickly transformed into a little enterprise. People were reaching out to ask about his work and how to go about purchasing them. In fact, some of his initial craft work which were so rough and not well made at all were snapped up quickly. One of the buyers shared this: “”Everyone leaves different fingerprints on a piece of work. If this is his style, you can’t ask him to change.” We were so touched and inspired by these encouraging words that it bolstered our confidence to part with his very first batch of felt frogs. Spurred by this experience, we continued exposing him to different forms of materials and craft work. A dear friend of ours also volunteered to come over to our house once a week to teach Ryan how to sew. Although we were wary of his sensory issues to certain noise, we ventured to buy him a sewing machine. We were all amazed by the results. Today, our aim is to impact lives of people with special needs just like Ryan – who did not have the opportunity to uncover their God-given talents or offered a chance to showcase their talents. With like-minded partners, we develop customised training courses for people with special needs, so that they can be empowered with industry standard skills, which will either enable them to seek gainful employment or set up shop as a home-based entrepreneur like Ryan.

How are these individuals empowered through your enterprise?

We train them, we hire some of them, refer them for job placements if possible. If they cannot be placed at that time, they would continue to pursue their craft with us, as we curate these products and retail these items on their behalf.

Could you share more about a few of your artists and how they have been empowered by Mustard Tree?

Madam Tay, a 68 year-old physically handicapped artisan, has been with us the longest. We met her during an SG Enable training session. After Madam Tay attended a floral arrangement trial in Mustard Tree and was accepted into the class, she said that she was very appreciative that she was able to fulfil her childhood dream of learning how to do flower arrangements.

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Madam Tay joined Mustard Tree two years ago to show that her physical disabilities will not stand in the way of getting a job

Before we met Madam Tay, she was staying at home and did not have much to occupy her thoughts as she was unable to find work. When our physical retail store at Ng Teng Fong Hospital opened two years ago, she joined us to prove to naysayers that her physical disability will not stand in the way of her getting a job.

Another artisan with Mustard Tree is 28-year-old trainee Madelene Tan, who has learning delay and hearing impairment as a result of a brain tumour. She attended SPED Schools and was working at her father’s company for eight years. She first started attending our weekly craft classes around middle of last year. In Oct 2018, she joined us as a full-time trainee. Since then, she has progressed well. From a relatively quiet, less confident individual she has now blossomed to be more independent and vocal. She helps us to tend to the huge amounts of flowers that pass through Mustard Tree on a weekly basis – she carries, stores, conditions, trims these flowers and is now able to do simple flower bouquets. She also adds the finishing touches on our products.

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Madelene Tan tends to the large volumes of flowers that pass through Mustard Tree every week, and even puts together simple flower bouquets for sale]

Support Mustard Tree in training people with special needs and empowering them with skills to seek gainful employment by checking out their  online store and physical store located at Ng Teng Fong Hospital at Jurong East, Level 2.

Stay-at-home Mom with Peace of Mind

Lee Siok Hong’s family is one of 5,000 households slated to benefit from enhanced child care subsidies. As a non-working mother, the increase in subsidies will allow her to focus on raising her two young children.

Sitting on the couch in her living room, Siok Hong is surrounded by the trappings of home. For most of the day, she tends to her six-month-old baby, Mavis, while her older child, Oscar spends his day at a child care centre.

The 38-year-old put her career in admin and customer service on hold to focus on raising her two children in their crucial early years. With her husband as the sole breadwinner, Siok Hong and her family fall under the middle income category – they do not have to worry about making ends meet, but still feel the pinch of raising a child.

Siok Hong estimates that monthly child care costs for Oscar alone reach up to $450. This adds to the family’s expenses, which include necessities such as diapers for Mavis.

The increase in child care subsidies which Siok Hong will receive from the Early Childhood Development Agency will go a long way in helping her defray some of these costs.

From 1 March 2019, thanks to the Government’s enhanced support for non-working mothers, families like Siok Hong’s can enjoy a further boost in subsidies ranging from $100 to $440, subject to means testing.  It is on top of a $300 monthly basic subsidy.

Besides higher subsidies, Siok Hong can also enjoy these subsidies until her younger child turns 24 months, up from 18 months previously.

Siok Hong recalls that when she took care of Oscar as an infant, she often had to wake up in the middle of the night to tend to his needs. Going to work the next day was exhausting. While Oscar was at infant care, he often got sick and this brought Siok Hong constant worry and stress at work, as she was unable to leave to pick him up.

Instead of having to repeat this tiring routine for Mavis, Siok Hong feels reassured that she can stay home to focus on caring for her.

Read more about ECDA’s announcements here.

More on MSF’s announcements here.

Want to join social work? Be a ‘fool’ like this social worker

Ian Peterson has worked for 18 years as a social worker, without losing his resolve. His secret? Faith, openness, optimism and love.

When Ian became a social worker 18 years ago, people sometimes called him a fool. His profession was not well understood then and he was seen to be just a “paid volunteer”.

Now, though, “fool” has taken on a new meaning in his life.

Each letter of the epithet stands for one of his ideals.
“F” is for faith – in people and their assets.
“O” is for openness to the experiences of clients and their families.
“O” is for optimism in the face of difficulties.
“L” is love for social work.

The 46-year-old’s sense of purpose is an integral part of fulfilling his daily responsibilities as the Cluster Director (Northwest) of Care Corner Singapore Ltd.

He works with vulnerable clients and fellow social workers, overseeing three family service centres at Admiralty, Queenstown and Woodlands. In his time, he has helped those struggling with family violence, gambling and drug addiction. A proponent of an integrated approach to social service, Ian coordinates with his colleagues to identify common issues that clients face. Based on these findings, together they might launch targeted and group programmes for these clients.

Ian is now working with MSF, applying his knack for community-based care to launch Community Link (ComLink) at Marsiling. As part of this initiative, social service hubs will be launched in four areas: Jalan Kukoh, Marsiling, Kembangan-Chai Chee and Boon Lay. Overall, ComLink will benefit some 1,000 families staying in rental flats. While ComLink is new, Ian says it builds on current support networks.

“I believe that in every community so far that I’ve worked with, there is some level of community participation already.  You are just enhancing what’s existing to see whether you can take it to the next level.”

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Ian having discussion with his colleague

For Ian, the relationship between social workers and clients is a collaborative journey. Clients do not simply have deficits but bring their own assets to the table, he says. His work involves collaborating with clients and “helping them to reach that level of motivation, where they can move on in life and to increase their social mobility”.

For example, Ian once worked with a family going through a painful divorce. In “journeying” together with the mother and her three children, Ian saw them create new meaning in their adjusted lives. “They became strong pillars of support for each other, especially when they were able to open up and share how difficult it was to lose the dad.” The older children had to step up to help with housework, and for the youngest, the challenge was homework.

Community, it seems, is never far from Ian’s musings on social work. As the “fool” says: “Always know that there’s always a lot of team support and community network that exists.”

MSF will be working with community partners to launch ComLink in four estates to provide more integrated and coordinated support for families in rental flats. Read more about this here.

More on MSF’s announcements here.