Social assistance officers: Helping people everyday

From financial assistance appeals to requests for adult diapers, these are just some of the requests received at Desmond Lim’s office, where he strives to get help for Singaporeans in need.

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In January 2020, Social Assistance Officer (SAO) Desmond Lim helped an 80-year-old lady who was looking for adult diapers.

“She walked in and was gesturing, to communicate to me that she really needed adult diapers. Her usual store had run out of stock, and she thought we had diapers since we also serve the elderly. In addition to helping her with her request, we went a step further to assess if she needed financial assistance or other areas of support,” recounted Desmond.

That was just one of many encounters Desmond has had with Singaporeans from all walks of life. Now with MSF’s Social Service Office (SSO) for almost two years, the 29-year-old’s job has been to help clients get holistic support for their different needs.

With his team at SSO @ Bukit Panjang, he uncovers why some individuals may be unable to provide for themselves. To customise the assistance, he has to consider various factors – such as each family’s needs and challenges – before ensuring they receive comprehensive, convenient and coordinated help.

For example, in some cases, families rely on sole breadwinners because some members of the family are unable to work, which affects the household income.

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Home visits are part of Desmond’s job as a social assistance officer.

Not all cases are straightforward. He has come across physical, emotional or psychological abuse of some family members in some of his more complex cases. He recalled one where a man controlled his wife financially.

Such cases are not new to Desmond, who was previously a child protection officer.

In many cases, the team coordinates with other agencies and community partners such as family service centres, town councils and social service agencies to address the clients’ needs in a timely and integrated manner. The agencies work together towards a common goal: to help the family get back on their feet eventually.

What’s a typical work day like?

Desmond’s day starts at 9am. The SAOs take turns to be the duty officer of the day, whose responsibility is to attend to clients who turn up at the office. On a regular day, they see up to six clients.

On days when he is not scheduled as the duty officer, Desmond will follow up with his existing clients by examining their financial status through their CPF statements, bank statements and payslips.

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Meticulousness is important, as Desmond has to carefully consider the needs of his
clients, and effectively coordinate help across multiple agencies and community
partners.

“While we may not be able to do everything here, we work at the backend with other agencies and facilitate the right assistance to meet the clients’ needs. We want to make it convenient for clients to get the help they need. For example, we sometimes utilise video conferencing with HDB for some clients facing issues with housing,” said Desmond.

It can be tiring at times, but meaningful

Sometimes, being both a case worker and counsellor to his clients can be emotionally draining. Nevertheless, Desmond says it is all part of the job.

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Desmond is also pursuing part time postgraduate studies in counselling as he believes it will equip him with the soft skills required to support his clients.

“Being in the social service (sector) requires empathy and the desire to help, whether it is on the ground or at the policy level. Ultimately, what makes a good social assistance officer is not just the experience and skills to assist and advocate for families, but the passion to want to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable,” he said.

Does Desmond’s job interest you? Join us as a Social Assistance Officer!