Working together to support children with developmental needs

Iyad Perdaus, the childcare department of voluntary-welfare organization Perdaus, has a Learning and Development Support Unit (LDSU) that runs the MSF-funded Development Support and Learning Support (DS-LS) programmes. This programme, run by therapists and specially-trained Learning Support Educators (LSEds), provide targeted support for pre-school children with mild developmental needs.

As shared in MSF’s Committee of Supply debates 2017, MSF will expand the development support programme to more preschools and build up a pool of 200 LSEds. We speak to Mdm Zaiton Mohd Ali, Head of Iyad Perdaus, on how they are running the DS-LS programme in their centre. Also read about LSEds here and other support services for children with special needs here.


Q: Tell us about Iyad DS-LS

Iyad Perdaus was appointed by MSF on 1 April 2017 as one of the centres providing the Development Support and Learning Support (DS-LS) programmes. We aim to improve children’s developmental outcomes and achieve better school-readiness. Currently, all three of our centres are running the programme to benefit more children.

LDSU Briefing and Sharing
 LSEds doing a briefing and sharing session for our kindergarten teachers on tools for screening.

Q: Share with us about your learning support programmes.

The form teacher uses the Ecological Congruence Assessment to assess if any K1 and K2 children may require additional learning support. Our LSEds will conduct further screening using multiple sets of assessment tools. The children will be referred to a MSF-contracted Educational Psychologist and the consultant team from KKH and NUH.

Based on the child’s needs, a Development Support or Learning Support programme will then be offered to the child once his/her parents have given their consent. Priority will be given to a K2 child as he/she has a shorter runway to start primary school.

In 2018, we have served over 35 children. We are glad that most parents are very supportive of the programme to help the child to be more ready for Primary 1.

Teaching Materials 3
Activities to help children learn to read lower-case letters.

Q: Any memorable stories about students?

Teachers noticed that one child struggled to stay engaged during large group lessons and required one-to-one guidance during writing and reading classes. The LSEd identified that he needed Learning Support in the area of Literacy, and worked with him on areas such as how to write letters, read by sight, and construct sentences.

The child has since shown progress. He can read all lowercase letters and more than 10 common words, and construct at least 4- to 5-word sentences about a picture. In the classroom setting, the child is now more engaged during literacy and writing activities. This is made possible with the collaboration of the class teachers who incorporated some of the strategies shared by the LSEd.

Parents play an important role in the child’s progress and development. His parents were involved through the Home Programme, where the child continues to practice the skills and strategies learned during the sessions and utilise the resources shared by the LSEd through hands-on games or activities at home.

Q: Any key takeaways from running the programme?

With consistency and collaboration from all the stakeholders – parents, teachers and LSEds, children receiving DS-LS will be able to acquire the skills and knowledge, increase their level of engagement, participation and independence, as well as strengthen their social interaction and relationship. It makes our team proud and happy when our students make progress and adjust better transiting to primary school.

What is a Learning Support Educator?

As a Learning Support Educator (LSEd), Cheryl Goh serves a few PCF Sparkletots preschools that offer the Development Support and Learning Support (DS-LS) programmes.  At the end of each intervention session, she goes through the session summary with the preschool teacher on strategies taught and how the teacher can use them at an appropriate time.

 As announced in MSF’s Committee of Supply 2017, MSF will be expanding the DS-LS programmes to more preschools, and build up a pool of 200 LSEds over the next five years. Also learn more about the programmes from childcare centre Iyad Peradus here and other support services for children with special needs here.

We speak to Cheryl about her three-year experience as an LSEd.

Q: What made you decide to become a Learning Support Educator?

As a child, I faced challenges in understanding the numeracy concepts or language taught in school and remembered how helpless I felt, in the classroom with little support. This experience in my early years piqued my interest to pursue a career in early childhood education, as I wanted to make a difference in nurturing young children and helping them take the first steps to a bright future.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Educational Studies and Leadership, I joined PCF Sparkletots as a Childcare Teacher in June 2012.  While I enjoyed my role, I desired to do more to support children who required learning support. As the largest preschool employer in Singapore, PCF Sparkletots offers multiple career tracks for educators who wish to pursue different career pathways. PCF Sparkletots facilitated my request for a transfer and I went on to complete the Specialist Diploma in Early Learning Support before embarking on my journey as a Learning Support Educator in the Development Support (DS) & Learning Support (LS) Programme in Jan 2015.

It has been such a rewarding and meaningful experience seeing the children and their families benefit from the DS-LS Programme, and I am glad to be part of their learning journey.

IMG_8463
Cheryl working with a student.

 

Q: What do you do as an LSEd?

Together with my Mentor LSEd, we facilitate Teacher’s Briefing sessions by guiding PCF Sparkletots teachers on identification of children with mild developmental needs with use of the Ecological Congruence Assessment (ECA) form and other relevant information. When teachers identify students, we follow up to establish the developmental needs of the child during screening by conducting both standardised (e.g. for general development and literacy) and non-standardised assessments (e.g. observations and child’s work samples).

We provide learning support packages (Literacy, language & Social Skill Group) for the children identified and in-class support for children in the DS Programme. We also collaborate with key stakeholders to support and equip parents and teachers with the strategies to help and empower them and the children under their care.

Q: Any memorable moments at work?

It is always memorable seeing the child applying new acquired skills and using the strategies back in the class after intervention has ended. We teach the child strategies to better function in class. For example, the child learns how each letter sounds and how to spell unfamiliar words by blending the letter sounds. At home and in the class, the child uses these skills to write sentences about a picture, or to spell unfamiliar words.

Q: Any words of encouragement for LSEds?

Relax and enjoy the journey! Ask as many questions as you can when you are in doubt. There is a wealth of knowledge that we can tap from other professionals. Be proactive and be open to feedback and suggestions. Each child and family is unique and requires different approaches to succeed. What works with one child may not work with another. Hence, explore, be creative and be flexible. 🙂

The community has a role to play in tackling issues of family violence

The following piece is an op-ed on family violence by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim which was published in Berita Harian on 25 September 2018. The English translation is appended below for reference.


Masyarakat punya peranan tangani isu keganasan keluarga

BARU-BARU ini, saya hadiri satu persidangan anjuran Rumah Wanita Casa Raudha mengenai keganasan rumah tangga.

Ini mencetuskan satu siri sinopsis yang ingin saya ketengahkan di sini.

Sebagai seorang kanak-kanak, saya sering mendengar pepatah orang-orang tua “Jangan masuk campur hal orang lain”.

Bagi mereka, menolak rasa ingin tahu kanak-kanak dengan memberitahu mereka supaya jangan jaga tepi kain orang adalah lebih mudah daripada melibatkan mereka dengan urusan orang lain.

Saya selalu merasa ada sesuatu yang tidak kena dengan nasihat sebegini. Meskipun kita mahu memastikan anak kita selamat dan terhindar daripada orang yang tidak dikenali, kita juga mahu mereka menjadi baik, berhati perut dan mempunyai perasaan ihsan.

Daripada memberitahu anak kita supaya tutup mata terhadap masalah orang lain, kita perlu mengajar mereka supaya buka mulut jika ternampak perbuatan salah laku sejak kecil.

Ini penting lebih-lebih lagi sekarang ini kerana saya lihat dan dengar kes keganasan rumah tangga. Semuanya berlaku di belakang pintu tertutup.

Dan yang paling menyayat hati saya ialah apabila ia melibatkan kanak-kanak dan anggota keluarga yang terdedah kepada bahaya tersebut dan tidak berupaya melindungi diri mereka sendiri.

PENDERAAN MENYAKITKAN

Malangnya, sesetengah kanak-kanak menjadi mangsa perbuatan orang yang sepatutnya memberi mereka kasih sa yang dan perlindungan – ibu bapa dan anggota keluarga mereka.

Keganasan yang dilakukan berupa penderaan secara fizikal, pengabaian atau penderaan seksual, yang bukan saja mengakibatkan kecederaan tetapi juga menjejas emosi dan/atau psikologi kanak-kanak.

Hasil penyelidikan menunjukkan bahawa kanak-kanak tersebut menampilkan kadar kognitif yang lebih tinggi dan keadaan psikologi dan emosi yang mencabar.

Dalam beberapa kes, kita melihat generasi keluarga yang membesar dengan penderaan. Dan lingkaran itu terus berputar.

Baru-baru ini, rakan-rakan saya berkongsi dengan saya cerita sedih seorang wanita bernama Lydia (bukan nama sebenar), ibu yang begitu menyayangi anak kecilnya.

Lydia yang menjadi mangsa penderaan suaminya, terpaksa melarikan diri ke rumah perlindungan bersama anaknya itu.

Mereka tinggal di sana selama beberapa bulan, di mana beliau mendapat pekerjaan yang stabil dengan bantuan rumah perlindungan berkenaan.

Anaknya juga menyertai program sokongan bagi menangani trauma yang dialami nya akibat terdedah kepada keganasan keluarga.

Meskipun pada permukaaanya keadaan mereka sudah mula menjanjikan harapan, namun kehidupan mereka jauh daripada sempurna.

Lydia telah memfailkan perceraian dan mendapatkan hak penjagaan anaknya, tetapi suaminya terus mengganggu mereka.

Bagi Lydia dan anaknya, bekas luka emosi mereka berterusan, lama selepas luka fi zikal telah terubat.

Masalah yang melanda Lydia mungkin sudah berlalu berbanding dengan ramai mangsa penderaan.

Namun terdapat beberapa mangsa kembali kepada pendera, kadang-kadang bersama anak mereka.

Ramai daripada kita tidak faham mengapa mangsa masih sanggup menjalin hubungan yang menyakitkan hati mereka.

Alasannya, saya dimaklumkan rakan khidmat sosial saya, banyak dan berbeza sebabnya.

Ada yang percaya bahawa pendera boleh berubah.

Ada yang melakukannya bagi memastikan hubungan anak dengan kedua ibu bapa tidak putus.

Ada yang merasa bahawa mereka telah melakukan sesuatu yang menyumbang kepada masalah penderaan. Ada yang tidak tahu pilihan lain.

Tetapi apa yang saya pelajari juga, ada sesuatu yang disebut “lingkaran keganasan”. Ia bermula dengan fasa pertama – di mana ketegangan mula muncul. Fasa kedua menyaksikan ledakan krisis. Fasa ketiga ada lah apa yang melemahkan kebanyakan mangsa – fasa berbulan madu. Ia adalah ketika pendera kononnya mahu bertaubat.

Pendera cuba memujuk rayu dan meminta maaf. Pendera memberi jaminan kepada mangsa bahawa apa yang terjadi hanyalah sekali dan tidak mungkin berulang. Mangsa berlembut, memaafkan dan cuba melupakannya. Tetapi ketegangan kembali semula.

Sebagai sebuah masyarakat, kita perlu akur bahawa tiada sesiapa yang seharusnya didera. Kejadian penuh tragik dan lingkaraan keganasan perlu dihentikan.

Di Singapura, Sistem Rangkaian Keganasan Keluarga Kebangsaan menarik ramai rakan kongsi masyarakat bagi menangani isu keganasan keluarga secara kolektif. Kami mempunyai undang-undang, peruntukan kaunseling, tempat perlindungan krisis dan Pusat Pakar Keganasan Keluarga berasaskan komuniti dan Pusat Pakar Perlindungan Kanak-kanak.

Polis bekerja rapat dengan kementerian saya bagi menangani isu ini, bersama rakan kongsi daripada badan kehakiman, penguatkuasaan undang-undang dan perkhidmatan sosial.

Kita – sebagai jiran, rakan sekerja, rakan dan keluarga, apa yang boleh kita lakukan? Adakah kita hanya berdiri dan berpeluk tubuh? Apakah selepas kita melihat tanda tetapi tetap mengabaikannya?

Bagaimanakah kita dapat mengekalkan hati nurani yang murni apabila kita melihat ke arah lain semata-mata kerana tidak mahu “masuk campur hal orang lain”?

Polis, pekerja sosial dan pendamping hanya boleh bertindak jika setiap daripada kita berwaspada dalam mengesan dan melaporkan perbuatan penderaan.

Kita semua boleh memainkan peranan, sebagai contoh hanya dengan mengetuk pintu jiran kita apabila kita melihat sesuatu yang tidak kena atau dengan mengetepikan masa kita untuk meringankan stres pihak pengasuh.

Langkah mudah ini mengingatkan semangat gotong-royong yang pernah wujud di Singapura. Marilah kita hidupkan semula semangat kampung ini yang boleh membantu mencegah masalah penderaan daripada te rus berleluasa.

Apabila “orang lain” adalah jiran kita, rakan sekerja, sahabat dan anggota keluarga, tidak ada alasan untuk kita tutup mata.

Walaupun “orang lain” adalah orang asing bagi kita, kita mesti melakukan perkara yang betul.

Dan kita sedar “perkara yang betul” adalah “masuk campur” kerana jika tidak “orang lain” mungkin mati.

Terdapat banyak “Lydia” dalam kalangan kita.

Setiap tahun, hampir 3,000 mangsa keganasan keluarga mendapatkan perintah perlindungan di Mahkamah Keadilan Keluarga. Mungkin lebih ramai lagi yang takut tampil bagi mendapatkan pertolongan.

Marilah kita membantu mangsa dan keluarga mereka bagi memecahkan lingkaran penderaan dan pengabaian mereka dan lakukannya lebih awal. Marilah kita bertindak, hulurkan tangan dan pecahkan kesunyian terhadap keganasan keluarga – hari ini.

Penulis Setiausaha Parlimen Kanan (Pembangunan Sosial dan Keluarga merangkap Pendidikan)

Profesor Madya Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

Source: Berita Harian, Singapore Press Holdings Limited.

https://www.beritaharian.sg/wacana/masyarakat-punya-peranan-tangani-isu-keganasan-keluarga

The community has a role to play in tackling issues of family violence

I recently attended a conference by Casa Raudha Women Home on domestic violence. This sparked off a series of synapses, which I’m sharing here.

As a child, I would often hear this age-old adage from my elders “Jangan masuk campur hal orang lain”.

For them, dismissing a child’s inquisitiveness by telling them not to be a busybody is easier than getting them involved in the complexities of other people’s business.

I have always felt that there was something troubling about this piece of advice. While we want to keep our children safe and away from strangers, we also want them to be kind, compassionate and empathetic. Instead of telling our children to turn a blind eye to other people’s problems, we should teach them to speak out if they see wrong being done from an early age.

This rings true even more crucially now, as I see and hear of cases of domestic violence. Most happen behind closed doors. And the ones that break my heart the most, are the ones that involve children and vulnerable family members who cannot fend for themselves.

VIOLENCE HURTS

Sadly, some children suffer at the hands of the people who are supposed to provide them with care and safety – their parents and family members. Such abuse comes in the form of physical abuse, neglect or sexual abuse, which cause not only physical harm, but emotional and/or psychological harm to the children. Research has shown that such children exhibit higher rates of cognitive, psychological and emotional challenges.

In some cases, we see generations of families growing up with abuse. And the cycle perpetuates itself.

Recently, my colleagues shared with me the heart-breaking situation of a woman, Lydia*, a doting mother of a young child. Lydia had suffered violence at the hands of her husband and fled to a shelter with her young child. They stayed there for many months, during which she secured stable employment with the shelter’s help. Her child also attended the shelter’s support programme to cope with trauma – accumulated from long-term exposure to family violence.

While their situation is starting to look hopeful on the surface, their lives are far from mended. Lydia has filed for divorce and custody of her child, but her husband continues to harass them. For Lydia and her child, their emotional scars persist, long after the physical ones are no longer visible.

Yet Lydia may already seem enlightened, compared to many other victims of abuse. There are some who decide to return to their abuser, sometimes with children in tow. Many of us do not understand why victims stay on in a relationship that hurts them.

The reasons, I have learnt from my social service colleagues, are countless, and vary from relationship to relationship. Some believe that the abuser can change. Some do it to ensure that their children have contact with both parents. Some feel that they have done something to trigger the abuse. Some know no other options.

But what I have also learnt, is that there is something called a “cycle of violence”. It starts off with the first phase – where tension starts to build. The second phase sees the explosion – the crisis. The third phase is what misleads most victims – the honeymoon phase. It’s when the abuser appears to repent. The abuser cajoles, persuades and pleads for forgiveness. The abuser assures the victim that what transpired was a one-off episode, with no chance of a sequel unfolding. The victim relents, forgives and tries to forget. Until the tension starts to build again.

As a community, we must agree that no one deserves to be abused. That this tragic, vicious cycle of violence must stop.

In Singapore, our National Family Violence Networking System ropes in many community partners to address family violence issues collectively. We have robust laws, counselling provisions, crisis shelters and community-based Family Violence Specialist Centres and Child Protection Specialist Centres. The Police work closely with my Ministry to address this issue, alongside partners from the judiciary, law enforcement and social services.

For each one of us – as neighbours, co-workers, friends and family, what can we do? Do we simply stand by and do nothing? How can we see the signs and still ignore them? How can we maintain a clear conscience when we look the other way, because we don’t want to “masuk campur hal orang lain”?

Police, social workers and befrienders can only step in if each of us is vigilant in detecting and reporting suspected abuse. We can all play our part, for example simply by knocking on our neighbour’s door when we notice something amiss or by volunteering our time to relieve caregivers of their stress. These simple acts of kindness are reminiscent of the kampong spirit that Singapore once shared. Let us bring this spirit back. It can go a long way to prevent abuse.

When “orang lain” is our neighbour, co-worker, friend and family member, there really is no excuse for ignorance. Even if “orang lain” is a total stranger, we must do the right thing. And we know deep down that the “right thing” is to “masuk campur” if we have to. Because otherwise, “orang lain” may die.

There are many “Lydia”s in our midst. Each year, almost 3,000 family violence victims file for protection orders at the Family Justice Courts. There may be more who are afraid to seek help. Let us help these survivors and their families to break their cycles of abuse and neglect, and break them early. Let us step in, offer help and break the silence against family violence – today.

Writer Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Social and Family Development & Education)

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim

Mrs Laura Hwang at ASEAN Forum on Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment

Building resilience and harnessing innovation to support women’s economic empowerment

The following speech is from Singapore Government Representative for Women’s Rights on the ACWC, Mrs Laura Hwang’s opening address at the ASEAN Forum on Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment on 27 Aug 2018. The Forum is co-organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, under the ambit of the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).


I am happy to see many familiar faces. It is my honour to welcome all of you in the presence of Singapore’s first female President, Madam Halimah Yacob.

ASEAN’s Commitment

A key principle in the ASEAN Charter our commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. To articulate this, ASEAN has two bodies: the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights – AICHR, and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children – the ACWC.

These two bodies work closely to promote and protect the rights of the people of ASEAN, especially its women and children, whom we see as more vulnerable and needing more protection. Singapore’s contribution to this has included the joint organisation between AICHR and ACWC last year of a Workshop on the rights of children and the Forum today on the economic empowerment of women.

This Forum aims to bring together prominent women business leaders, young female entrepreneurs, and change-makers to share their experiences, discuss ways to empower more women in ASEAN and to inspire governments.

Building Resilience and Harnessing Innovation

ASEAN is a region of opportunity for its people. To ensure that we provide an enabling environment for all, ASEAN must collectively work towards sustainable change, and prepare us for a new future of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – the VUCA macro-economy which is rapidly taking over the globe.

Hence, this Forum which focuses on women’s economic empowerment is themed “Building Resilience and Harnessing Innovation”. It is opportune to discuss what we need to do to support the economic participation of women. Supporting women to fulfil their aspirations, both in family and career, can undoubtedly bring about progress not just economically, but as a society – to be more equitable and resilient.

Building Resilience

Building resilience is a shared responsibility of multiple parties including governments, the private sector, and importantly the individual. We need to use the talents and abilities of all, and many studies show very clearly that inclusion and diversity are important for greater outcomes.

Society, businesses and governments need to not only advocate that women’s economic participation brings tremendous benefits, but to cascade this down into actions that enable a culture of inclusion and diversity.

The global competition for talent is fierce, and ASEAN needs to ensure that we retain and attract the best. Practices that prevent talent from being part of nation building will only slow down our development.

Harnessing Innovation

We don’t need a crystal ball to look at the future and to see the paramount importance of technology. To effectively harness innovation, we must be able to generate innovative ideas, to keep pace and reap the benefits from new ways of doing business. We now shop, find information, organise and pay across digital platforms. It is critical to promote STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education for girls, as these are the relevant skills in the job markets of today and tomorrow.

With the rise of disruption and globalisation, many traditional jobs held by women are under threat by automation, AI and other technologies. Currently, women remain underrepresented in high growth sectors such as computer science, engineering and management. In Session 1, Empowering female employees at the workplace, we will hear solutions and ideas from speakers from socio-government, entrepreneurial and unionist sectors.

And we are seeing success by innovative women – for example, In Thailand, after noticing a high rate of road accidents due to drink driving, 2 young women started an app for inebriated partygoers to book a chauffeur service for a safe ride home. They have facilitated more than 100,000 rides in the past 4 years – you could say they avoided 100,000 possible accidents!

You will be hearing how one of our young woman leaders is bringing affordable insurance and mobile health services for low-income families, using mobile technology. And there are many examples in other ASEAN Member States too.

Conclusion

By 2030, which I hope all of us here will be around to see! ASEAN has the potential to be the world’s 4th largest economy. As we progress further along the road to being an economic community through the ASEAN Economic Community, we know that half the citizens of ASEAN are women. Their input and their efforts are critical in the successful development of ASEAN.

I look forward to hearing and learning from our speakers and moderators, and from the very distinguished floor. I thank them in advance for how they will be sharing their unique views and expertise and inspiring us.

My special thanks to our President, for gracing the occasion and being the greatest example to us all of women’s leadership. Having had the privilege of working with her during her term as Minister of State in the Ministry of Social and Family Development, her support for women’s empowerment is genuine and heartfelt. President Halimah, you are an inspiration for us all.

Thank you.  Have a wonderful forum.

 

This is what helping families looks like

Mohamad Maliki Osman For The Straits Times

When I was an undergraduate in social work three decades ago, I learnt that welfare to the poor is a temporary safety net: it is to help individuals “get back on their feet”.

This lesson resonated with me. Growing up, my family diet was often rice and soya sauce. Clothes and books were handed down from older to younger siblings. My bed was a straw mat in the corridor, because our one-room rental flat was too small for all of us.

Like many families back then, we struggled. But my father, a blue-collar worker who raised nine children, taught me the values of self-reliance, hard work and family support. “There is no shortcut to success – just work hard,” he would remind us.

My experience was not unique. Many of my contemporaries, now well-established in their careers, grew up in similarly challenging situations. For example, Professor David Chan of Singapore Management University lived in a rental one-room HDB flat in Bukit Merah with his parents and three siblings for the first 30 years of his life. He had to work full-time for several years to save up to pay for his subsequent university education.

Many of us grew up experiencing many years of being poor, but we also went through the journey of improving our lives with determination and hard work. So we can see things from the perspective of those who are not well-off, and also know it is possible to improve one’s life in Singapore. This became even clearer to me after I graduated as a social worker and later became a Member of Parliament, as I worked almost daily with families in need of different kinds of help.

But times have changed, and there is a real difference between my growing-up years and now. Today, families in rental flats receive much more help. Financial assistance, food rations, spring cleaning and home painting, changing to energy-saving light bulbs, free tuition for their children, and many other kinds of help are readily available and regularly offered by organisations and individuals alike.

Despite the extensive help extended, some commentators claim that the poor in Singapore, especially those living in rental flats, have severe unmet needs, and are being neglected.

They say the poor are struggling because help often comes with onerous conditions; that parents do not go to work because they cannot find suitable childcare arrangements, and that they do not qualify for childcare subsidies because they are not working.

But the facts disprove these claims. There are extensive healthcare and childcare subsidies available to mothers in low-income households, including those who are not working.

Low-income households are entitled to subsidies and can pay as little as $5 a month for full-day childcare service. This low monthly fee makes childcare services entirely affordable even for the poorest, provided the parents are willing to make adjustments and take up full-time jobs, like many other low-income parents in Singapore.

Taxpayers’ money should not just be given away, even to the needy, without expecting the recipients to help themselves. Social workers working with low-income households on a daily basis (sometimes for many years) have a good understanding of the difficulties they face, and the challenges in helping them. Many have learnt that imposing certain conditions on the families receiving subsidies does help them structure their lives, a necessary first step in progressing towards a better life.

The relevant point here is this: In making conclusions about the poor in Singapore, we need to be careful about using some particular cases or groups to generalise about the poor, the system, and the outcomes. We need to look at the facts and understand the situations. We should also draw lessons from the many inspiring households who got back on their feet because they took ownership of their problems, worked hard, and made good use of the help they received.

So what is really going on regarding helping low-income families living in rental flats? Let me illustrate with a real-life project we undertook over several years.

‘HOMELESS’ AND RENTAL FLAT DWELLERS

The rental flat dwellers I am referring to were previously homeowners. They had sold their flats for various reasons and used up the cash proceeds. They then lived with family or friends, or rented rooms in the open market, and when they outstayed the goodwill of friends and family or funds ran out, they ended up at the beach and parks.

They all asked for a subsidised rental flat, although most did not qualify. So as a temporary measure, the Government gave them a roof under the Interim Rental Housing (IRH) scheme. It is interim because the social workers need time to work with them on their more complex underlying problems and get them ready to sustain more permanent housing arrangements.

Clearly, these families were undergoing tough times. We empathised with them and mobilised community resources to help them – financial assistance, nightly homework supervision for their children by residents in the neighbourhood, employment assistance, parenting support, counselling, befriending, and so on. In five years, we helped 1,180 families in the IRH programme. Of these, 84 per cent were former homeowners, and almost two-thirds (64 per cent) had received more than $100,000 in proceeds from the sale of their last flat. This means that they previously had jobs to pay for their mortgages, and they had the potential to own a flat again. For those out of jobs, we helped them get jobs again. We helped place their children in childcare centres with large subsidies to enable the parents to work. Conditions were imposed. Work was the first condition because with work, they could get a loan to purchase a home again.

The helping process was not easy. Some families, with the parents and adult children all not working, would get upset when the issue of jobs was discussed. Some were unhappy when social workers asked how much they spent on non-essentials. What struck the social workers was that in some families, the young children asked our social workers why their parents could not give them pocket money when they could purchase cigarettes and alcohol.

Sadly, some families became verbally abusive and threatened the social workers when the help rendered did not meet their expectations. But the social workers persevered. The outcome was clearly positive – almost half of the families managed to purchase new homes, and moved into them, feeling proud that they were homeowners again.

Our experience in the IRH programme is not unique. All over Singapore, there are many examples of communities coming together to help those in need. Preventive programmes include Kids 0-3 by K K Women’s and Children’s Hospital and its community partners. This particular programme helps poor and vulnerable young, pregnant women until the children reach three years of age to give these children a strong start in life.

From my experience over 25 years, I have found that different families respond to similar life circumstances differently, producing different outcomes, even when they are offered the same help. What distinguishes those families who make it is their willingness to improve their life conditions.

Families living in rental flats elsewhere have the same potential to improve their lives, including those interviewed by Associate Professor Teo You Yenn (author of the book This Is What Inequality Looks Like) , who concluded from her research that families became or remained poor because our systems disadvantaged them. I disagree. I believe, like other families in Singapore, that these research respondents also have hopes and dreams, and they too appreciate the value of work, can acquire self-confidence and self-reliance and achieve their aspirations. What they need is the right kind of structured help and intervention. Help which comes with a trusting relationship, respecting and giving them self-confidence and hope, and which makes them realise that they have to do their part. This is what the social workers, the Government and the community have been doing, and will continue to do and do better.

WHAT HELPING FAMILIES MEANS

A fundamental issue in helping the poor is the definition of basic needs. Most will agree that poverty is absolute when one lacks access to shelter, clean running water, electricity, food, healthcare services, and affordable education. These are accepted internationally as basic needs. In Singapore, these basic needs are met for nearly everyone, including most of those living in rental flats.

The fact is that many, nearly 50 per cent of rental flat tenants, did have their own bigger (subsidised) flats, but had sold them and used up the cash proceeds. This means that while they may be down today, they were up yesterday and can certainly be up again tomorrow. If we attribute the cause of their being poor to the system, we should note that the same system that “disadvantaged” them today “advantaged” them yesterday. In fact, the system has not disadvantaged them.

As part of the continuous effort to help families, the Fresh Start programme was introduced last year to help rental flat tenants who previously owned flats to own their homes again. We provide social support and grants to guide and incentivise these families, giving them hope. And yes, there are conditions to be met, as conditions help families make progress, and ensure taxpayers’ money is spent effectively and responsibly to help the poor.

We have far fewer poor families in Singapore today than in the past, and they are receiving help in an ecosystem that works reasonably well by any standard. We need to continue improving the system and make sure all families in real need receive adequate help. Equally important, we need to understand these families’ actual circumstances over time. This understanding starts with objective facts and accurate descriptions. The underlying philosophy of Singapore’s approach is helping these families get on their feet, which involves providing resources and developing their sense of responsibility and resolve. This is what helping families means.

• Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman is Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as Mayor of South East District. His doctoral degree is in social work.

Source: The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

Helping families find hope and courage to change

Sudha Nair For The Straits Times

What should social workers do with a family that spends $500 on cigarettes and cable TV, yet applies for financial aid? Questioning the poor on their needs and choices is part of helping them.

In a recent article, sociologist Teo You Yenn painted a bleak picture of the conditions rental flat dwellers live in (Let’s talk about meeting needs, not just equality of opportunity; ST May 30). She argued, among other things, that insufficient space can lead to children being open to negative influence and that the process of getting help can cause families living in rental flats to lose their dignity because they are often asked demeaning questions.

As a practising social worker of 32 years, I started my career working with disadvantaged families. In the last five years, my team of social workers and I have worked at the Housing Board’s Bedok Interim Rental Housing (IRH) project, also called P4650 after the two blocks the families lived in. These are our experiences with them.

The residents of P4650 comprised three groups: families waiting for a rental flat; families in financial straits and downgrading to smaller flats which were still being built; and families ineligible for public rental flats but unable to afford their own housing.

Many of these families were overwhelmed and left with little family support, having exhausted the goodwill of relatives and friends. Some were living on the beach or in parks before arriving at the IRH. Most were previous home owners who had sold their flats for various reasons, spent the proceeds, and then became homeless.

We had the daunting task of getting these families permanent housing. At least a quarter of the families had deep-rooted, multiple problems such as untreated medical and mental illness, addictions, entrenched financial problems, incarceration and severe family conflicts.

We tried to help these families prioritise their most pressing problems before working on their housing goals.

Another challenge was a group of families who only wanted tangible aid – financial help, food rations, rental and utility vouchers. Put bluntly, they were saying to us: “Just give us what we want and leave us alone.”

They resisted discussing their problems. A few became angry and abusive when social workers suggested meetings. It was difficult, but we persevered because these families needed help, too.

At P4650, we learnt the complexities these families presented – lessons that caution against painting a simplistic picture of rental flat dwellers with a broad brush.

FAMILY PORTRAITS

Let me share some of our takeaways.

All parents have dreams for their children. Yet, many disadvantaged families feel that having such dreams is beyond them. Some stay angry and disappointed with their lot in life.

We found that getting parents to express their hopes and vision for their families was critical in bringing about change. For some, it meant saying: “I wish we could have our own flat.” For others: “I wish I could afford to send my children for enrichment classes or overseas trips.”

Once a parent articulated such hopes, the social workers could discuss options to make seemingly unattainable dreams come true, working out solutions, and identifying the resources needed.

This co-creation of solutions was possible even for the most challenging families. For example, we worked intensively with a jobless and angry mother of three who depended on financial aid and food rations for three years while her husband was in jail. She expressed hope for her children to get a good education. It took some effort to show her that having a job would enable her to buy an HDB flat and provide her children with a more secure environment.

She found work, went on to buy a two-room flat, and stopped relying on handouts. After his release from prison, her husband found work, and the family income rose.

Then there was a father of five who earned $1,600 a month and refused help because he felt it was his duty to provide for his family. To save expenses, he wanted his oldest son to quit school. The boy, a top student at the Institute of Technical Education, was devastated.

We persuaded the father to let his son finish his education, with help to pay the fees.

We worked with Workforce Singapore to get the father started on a diploma course which could help him double his income. He agreed to accept temporary financial aid while he finished his diploma.

Those efforts paid off, and the family left the IRH to move into their own three-room flat. It was small, but it was theirs.

Social workers are sometimes faulted for asking seemingly intrusive questions and for their obsession with genograms and ecomaps (that, respectively, map a person’s family and friendship networks) and income and expenditure assessments. Asking good questions and using tools appropriately are in fact relevant and important. They are vital to understanding how families make decisions, and the various roles that family members play.

QUESTIONING SPENDING CHOICES AND NEEDS

We have seen many families make poor choices. They need help to assess their needs and wants.

Needs fall along a continuum, and there is a difference between a felt need (a perceived need), a normative need (a desirable standard), a comparative need (when two groups with similar characteristics do not receive similar service), and an expressed need (a felt need turned into action). A social worker helps families differentiate between these different types of needs.

Yes, we ask questions. And yes, we ask how families strapped for cash spend the little money they have. What do you do when you find the man of the house is a regular smoker, and feels he is entitled to that lifestyle choice? And what if his family is also paying for a full slew of cable television channels? Should social workers not question such a family spending $500 a month on cigarettes and cable TV while at the same time applying for financial aid?

Some say it would be “judgmental” of us to advise him to stop smoking; that we would undermine his dignity.

In this instance, the man of the house did indeed respond by becoming angry and abusive. But that cannot make social workers desist from asking such questions. Not least because public support for social assistance schemes will wane if the public is convinced social workers are spending taxpayers’ money and donations with no conditions.

How can one justify not advising a person to stop smoking while we routinely advise our children, and doctors their patients, about the risks of smoking? Are we being “judgmental” when we do so?

Several months after that angry man stormed out of our office, he returned ready to relook his spending habits and make the necessary changes to get his family out of the IRH.

It took nine months before he was ready to act. The family finally moved out of the IRH to their own four-room HDB flat. Their income has risen to more than $4,000 a month. Grateful for the help they received, the couple have become grassroots volunteers.

If we say the poor should be spared hard questions or being challenged, and be given help without conditions, we would in effect be conceding that such families are hopeless and helpless. A cardinal principle in social work is that everyone has the potential to do well and social workers harness that potential.

Granted, change is uncomfortable. It demands learning new ways of behaving, and discarding old ones. So some families will resist change, preferring to persist with familiar habits. If truth be told, there is no shortage of help schemes to let families remain as they are.

But significant change was possible at P4650 because everyone worked together, and the families experienced hope, believed that change, although difficult, was possible and were willing to act once provided with information and workable options. We drew on many formal and informal organisations to make things happen.

The IRH site closed in April this year. In all, 1,183 families passed through our doors.

Approximately half the families went on to buy flats and fewer than half went on to rental housing. A small number chose to find their own housing or returned to live with relatives. These outcomes were far better than expected.

Some families who moved out earlier returned to the IRH to help others, in ways that facilitated them to get back on their feet. For example, one single mother came back to teach IRH mothers baking skills, so that they could make some extra money the way she did when times were tough.

P4650 was intensive and hard for the families and everyone involved.

But the true picture is one of continuous engagement, with many lives changed because families had the humility to acknowledge problems and the courage to change.

• Sudha Nair is executive director of Pave, a specialist centre that works on issues of family violence, child protection and disadvantaged families. She led Pave at Siglap, the team that worked at the Bedok Interim Rental Housing project.

Source: The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

Working together to break the silence on abuse

In celebration of World Social Work Day, Wei Ling (left), Centre Manager from the Thye Hwa Kwan Moral Charities’ Seniors Activity Centre and Shermaine, Senior Adult Protection Officer from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, share how an elderly woman facing abuse by her caregiver was helped.


When 80-year-old Mdm Jane* was finally convinced to leave her home to be admitted to the hospital, she disclosed that her caregiver Amy* and her siblings had threatened to harm her. Amy had also controlled her finances and restricted her food and water intake.

Amy, the daughter of Mdm Jane’s friend, became the elderly woman’s caregiver when she had to remain mostly bedbound after suffering a fall. Mdm Jane relied on Amy for all of her basic care needs.

It was a few months after Amy took on her caregiving role, that staff from the Senior Activity Centre (SAC) at Mdm Jane’s neighbourhood noticed that something was amiss.

Wei Ling, the centre manager of Thye Hwa Kwan Moral Charities’ Seniors Activity Centre, said: “We received feedback that Mdm Jane’s unit was always very noisy in the evenings, and filled with cigarette smoke. This was one of the signs that the home had turned too unconducive for Mdm Jane to stay. When SAC staff visited the unit again, the occupants did not answer.”

This differed from Mdm Jane’s usual friendly demeanour. She was usually welcoming towards staff from the SAC and social workers from the Cluster Support Service who visited her regularly.

Shermaine, a Senior Adult Protection Officer at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, was alerted to the case when the SAC staff approached the Social Service Office to seek advice. Together with community workers, Shermaine visited Mdm Jane and Amy on multiple occasions to understand the concerns surrounding Mdm Jane’s care.

Unfortunately, approaching Amy proved challenging. “Amy and her relatives were verbally aggressive, and she chased me out of the house once,” said Shermaine. They later learnt that Amy’s friends and relatives were occupying Mdm Jane’s home, which explained the unusual feedback from her neighbour.

Amy’s refusal to allow Mdm Jane to have private conversations with the community workers led to suspicions of abuse. Shermaine pulled various agencies together – including the Singapore Police Force, Housing Development Board, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), SAC, Cluster Support Service and the Polyclinic – to piece together information that they had on Mdm Jane, and come up with a way to address her situation. Mdm Jane’s eventual admission into the hospital was a step towards ensuring her safety and wellbeing. She is now under the care of professionals at an eldercare facility.

Reflecting on the case, Shermaine feels heartened by the support she received from her partners. “Sometimes I felt a bit intimidated to visit Mdm Jane and Amy, but having the support from community partners definitely helped. For example, the Police were very supportive and accompanied us on home visits to Mdm Jane’s place. Staff from the TTSH also facilitated Mdm Jane’s admission to the hospital for medical examination,” she said.

Echoing her sentiments, Wei Ling added: “We could not have done it without the help of the authorities and various community partners. I was very impressed by the keen observations of the MSF officers and Cluster Support social worker. They found out that Mdm Jane was in need of help to leave the house, despite her claiming in the presence of Amy that she was well taken care of.”

It was the unwavering determination of all partners that enabled them to intervene and help Mdm Jane in a timely manner. Shermaine emphasised: “It makes a difference when we all collaborate and work effectively together”.

*Anonymised name


If you are facing family violence, or suspect that someone you know may need help, please approach your nearest Family Violence Specialist Centres or call the ComCare hotline: 1800-222-0000.

Visit NCSS’ website to learn more about starting a career in social work. If you are interested to pursue a meaningful career at MSF, find out more information on our website or at Careers@Gov.