What I’d Like to Say to Social Workers (Part 3)

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

Our social service sector has served and helped many people over the years. But there is always room for improvement, which begs the question – how can we improve ourselves and become even better than before?

In the final post of this series, I will share the last four thoughts that I shared with Principal Social Workers at their annual Seminar in January this year.

Missed the earlier posts? Read them here and here.

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7. Having your Heart and Mind in the Right Place

Social workers serve with a big heart, but having big hearts does not equate to having “bleeding hearts”. Rather, it’s about having a heart big yet strong enough to encompass all the challenges that come in in the long haul.

Which brings us to sustainability, the key in all that the social service sector does. And that could start with the sector taking a step back to see all that it has been doing, and being clear in what it’s good at. Because that’s what our social service sector needs – big hearts, clear minds and strong values – to power on.


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8. Having a Collective Belief

Like everyone else, social workers have their own beliefs and understanding of certain issues, and tension sometimes arise as a result.

Social worker or not, we feel the tension because our fundamental positions are different. So it is important for us to first establish what exactly our beliefs are.

The different beliefs and principles that we have guide our approach in the things we do, which may in turn differ from that of others’. Thus, to move as one, the social service sector has to come together and establish a shared narrative of the issues it deals with to better understand its collective beliefs.



9. Preventing Vulnerables from Falling

Our social workers do their part to reach out to those in need. But as a whole, the sector should strive to help them at an even earlier stage, so that those in need can recover and get back on their feet sooner.

To do so, coordination among stakeholders on the ground can be improved. By stringing them together, the sector can take pre-emptive steps and work together to bring about earlier interventions.

So deal with things upstream and structure programmes and interventions in a more definitive way. With that, more issues can be addressed earlier, and a lot of resources and effort can be saved.


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10. Strong Leadership Inspires

Social work is meaningful, purposeful and grounded in the daily lives of people we help. But just because we are doing good on the ground, doesn’t mean we can’t or should not lead. Social work still needs strong leadership, and that can come from within the sector.

So what does leadership mean to the social service sector?

Ultimately, in any field, strong leadership inspires. It provides the direction and mobilises people. It creates the environment that keeps people going. It keeps the work sustainable.

As leaders, the more good you do, the more effective your outreach will be. And with that, I believe the healthcare and social service sectors will be able to climb to greater heights.


Some of you may find these points useful or applicable to your area of work, within or beyond the healthcare and social service sectors. I encourage you to apply them where you are, be it at work or in school, and see how it works out. And if these 10 thoughts have stirred in you some interest in either of the sectors, how about joining as a social worker or a volunteer? You will be warmly welcomed 🙂

What I’d Like to Say to Social Workers (Part 2)

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

Picking up from where we left off, here are the next 3 thoughts that I shared with Principal Social Workers at their annual Seminar in January this year 🙂

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4. Encountering Challenges with an Open Mind

Social workers and their work are all part of a larger picture, rather than exist on their own.

All of us have causes we are eager to champion – and we should champion them. Because if we don’t, then no one else will.

At the same time, there is a need to remember that social workers and the sector exist within a larger group of people, and that they work in a broader landscape. In this landscape, there are many other factors and people they have to consider when making decisions. So while focusing on the details is important, social workers have to be careful not to miss the woods for the trees.

Yes, constraints and challenges may arise as a result. Still, I hope our social workers will always approach the challenges they encounter with an open mind, and may they never let anything stop them from translating their goals into reality.


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5. Being Efficient and Productive

Many people think about the spirit and heart of giving when it comes to the social service sector.

Behind all these “heart work” though, systems and processes are still necessary to organise limited resources better and nurture passionate social workers on a sustained basis, especially considering the lack of manpower in the sector (volunteers, this is a call out to you!).

Some may think, won’t things get too mechanical? I’d say that’s unlikely, as long as the competency frameworks and toolkits remain a guideline and not an absolute rule. While it’s true that social service is a lot about serving from the heart, I believe some degree of systematisation is good – it keeps the sector efficient and productive, yet preserves the spirit behind the work.


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6. Tackling Problems Creatively

Again, with the lean manpower environment that the social service sector operates in, social workers need to be creative in organising themselves and in how they harness volunteers.

Once volunteers get onboard, how then can they be tapped to extend the reach of social workers so that they can help transform more lives?

The answer: By transforming the volunteers themselves.

So I hope our social service sector can create more opportunities for giving, and be ready as receptacles for the givers.

Likewise, volunteers. Allow yourselves to be engaged and transformed through your giving. With that, you can be the extra helping hands that the social service sector needs.


The social service sector, nevertheless, does have its own share of challenges and constraints. But there are steps that can be taken to get around them, steps that our resilient social workers can take to keep the sector going.

Enjoying the read? Stay tuned for our final post in the series!

What does it take to be an ‘Operationally Ready’ Dad?

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

For many of us who have served our time in National Service, we all know that to be operationally ready, we need to put in time and to train hard. There are no shortcuts to an effective defence. In many ways, to be a good dad, we need to also spend time, we need to put in effort to practice fathering and to always be ready.

Training to be operationally ready in NS…no dad bod here.

Time spent with children is never quite enough. But we need to work hard at it and focus on not just the big things, like providing for the family, but also on the small things, like just being there with your children. I am a firm believer in not just quality time but also quantity time. Whatever we can manage, we should try.

Side-note: Also important to help your wife out too.
#IronTherapy #IronMan?

I am sure many of us have our own ways of trying to be a good dad. After a long day of work, I make it a point to pop into their rooms to chat before they sleep. Sometimes I am just there to listen to their daily concerns. Sometimes it is an opportunity to reflect on lessons learnt from things we experience. We try and play board games where we can. Sometimes we go out for a jog or swim or cycling. These days, we also spend time sharing our favourite Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live (SNL) episodes as we trawl through Youtube.

Time flies. Years ago he was just a little boy.  

Every moment that we miss never comes back; especially as they are growing up, ever so quickly. Just being there, as much as possible, helps me stay in touch with them as they mature.

These may be just moments in time, but they become memories for life. 🙂

Support for Active Fatherhood

During my Ministry’s recent Committee of Supply debate, I spoke on how our families make life meaningful for us.  Families really are the foundations for our society.

Active fathering is a vital part of strong families.

There is now more support for active fatherhood.  We introduced paternity and shared parental leave to give fathers more time with their children right from birth. Fathers are also eligible for childcare leave.

More fathers today want flexible work arrangements. The Work-Life Grant incentivises employers to provide flexible work arrangements.

Our Dads for Life movement actively engages and reaches out to the fathers in the community, schools and workplaces.

But ultimately, active fatherhood is a personal choice and commitment.

Being An Active Father…Even After Divorce

It’s true – after a divorce, it can challenging for dads to remain actively involved in the lives of their children.

This is especially so when dads do not live with their children, and perhaps see them only on weekends.

So how can divorced fathers play their part?

To help parents learn to co-parent effectively, the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs) have programmes such as the Mandatory Parenting Programme and Parenting PACT for divorcing and divorced parties (as well as Children-in-Between, for the children).

From 1 April, the DSSAs have also started providing the Supervised Exchange and Supervised Visitation programme to facilitate child access arrangements. My Ministry will be sharing more details on this in the coming months.

On a more personal level, it is crucial that divorced dads make the best use of the time they have when they are with their children. Be present – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

As author Catherine M Wallace aptly put it:

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big. Because to them, all of it has always been big stuff.”  

Divorced dads can show a presence in their children’s everyday lives by leveraging on technology. I know it is not quite the same, but it can be meaningful too.

Dropping a simple “Thinking of you” message to them in the middle of the day may seem trivial, but it tells them that you care, and are still there for them. Skype-ing them to have a chat when you aren’t able to meet is also one way of just connecting with them.

We often don’t realise how important our roles as fathers are. A recurrent pattern we pick up with youths at risks or even adults with various issues is that of an absent father. However imperfect we may all be, let’s all strive to be good dads and role models to our children, instilling good values that will anchor our families through challenges in life.

If we aren’t there to guide our children and be there for them as fathers, who will care enough to do so?

What I’d Like to Say to Social Workers (Part 1)

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

In January this year, I met with 160 Principal Social Workers from the healthcare and social service sectors at their annual Seminar.  We had a great chat about the complexity of social work issues and the ethical dilemmas our social workers had to deal with.

These are passionate, self-driven social workers and leaders in the profession, and I was very encouraged by their energy and enthusiasm to help those in need around us.

I would like to share the 10 thoughts I raised with these social workers at the session. I hope they will be useful to you – whether you are an aspiring social worker, volunteer, or just someone who wishes to understand what social workers go through.

Let’s start off with the first 3:

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1. Social Workers are Agents for Change

In fact, the whole social service sector is a vehicle for change.

The work that social workers do isn’t just about helping the less privileged, but everyone in Singapore as well. In the process of giving and caring for others, we also receive and we begin to reconnect with our sense of compassion and humanity.

There is a ripple effect. Through social work, and through getting people involved, society as a whole benefits when we build a selfless society.



2. Together, We Can Do Better

Many of you would agree that the healthcare and social service sectors are strongly intertwined, with many stakeholders, volunteer welfare groups and ad hoc volunteers involved.

Everyone has a different part to play, and that makes collaboration, partnership and bridging all the more important.

So, social workers need to build trust and connections within the sectors. After all, they are all working toward the same goal, even if some views differ at times.


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3. Learning Never Stops

Learning never stops – not for you, not for me, not for social workers.

Rather, it is an ongoing process. We need to evaluate and subject ourselves to introspection now and then, and for social workers, that process can start by reflecting on past events.

What went well? What did not? What can be done differently next time, and what were the lessons learnt?

So, to our social workers and to all of you, let us keep learning. Only then can we improve ourselves from strength to strength.


Summing it up, social workers are ordinary people like you and me, walking the same journey as everyone else. Yet, they have the extraordinary potential to change the world around them. Keen to hear more about my other points? Look out for my next post 😉

Once a Parent, Always a Parent


My dad and I.

When I was younger, my dad regularly brought me jogging around the estate. I still remember the one-mile route we took. I also remember cycling with him to the edge of Ghim Moh when it was still a construction site. I can still recall catching guppies in Orchard Road, when the large drains behind Orchard Shopping Center was still exposed.

I remember my mom bringing me along her school outings to the zoo and especially to the drama competitions at the Singapore National Theatre. I also remember attending home economics classes much to the amusement of the older sisters in the school.

Now, I’m a parent too – to two lovely kids. Well, not quite kids anymore…teenagers. As I look back at my childhood and compare it to my own experiences, I realise that our children don’t need us to be super heroes.

They just need us to be present. To be there with them in the everyday ordinary things that we all do. And through our actions, assure them that we love and cherish them.

What is Co-Parenting About?

Recently I spoke in parliament about the changes we made to the Women’s Charter. The main intent of our changes was to highlight to parents the importance of putting our children’s interest at heart.

And in cases of divorce, this would mean learning to co-parent our children. We must remember that even though divorced, we very much remain parents to our children.

My officers told me this story they encountered in the course of their work. A divorced couple thought co-parenting just meant that both parents could see their son and have access to him. That’s all. They did not see the need to talk to each other, nor agree on how to bring up their son. The mother was a busy career woman, and a firm disciplinarian. The father (because he only saw the son on weekends) was not strict at all, allowing him to do whatever he liked.

However, the father seldom gave his son a weekly allowance – even though he was supposed to. Why? Because he felt that his ex-wife was more successful than him. So she should chip in more, right?

But you guessed it – his ex-wife refused to give in.

So their teenage son felt that no one really cared for him, and was confused by their inconsistencies in setting boundaries. He started hanging out in malls. When asked about this by his mother, he argued that his father allowed him to do so. As he did not get a regular allowance from his father, he would steal from his mother’s wallet.

The son got into trouble one weekend – he and his friends were caught shoplifting at the mall.

The father realised that things could not go on this way. He tried talking to his ex-wife, something which he had not done since the divorce. It was not easy, but since then the couple have put their differences aside to co-parent their son.

The father now sets boundaries like his ex-wife, and gives his son his allowance regularly. And they each try to spend more time bonding with their son, who is now happier and more grounded.

Make Our Children Our Priority

The above story is not an unusual example. True, it is not easy for divorced couples. But I encourage fathers, and mothers, to work with their ex-spouses to co-parent. Children need both their parents. Perhaps even more so as they struggle with the stresses of a divorce.

We all remember the impact of our parents on us. We cannot underestimate how parents are key influencers in a child’s life. Their presence (or absence) has a profound impact on a child’s development.

The changes I announced to the Women’s Charter are also part of our efforts to strengthen social support systems, infrastructure and services to protect women and support families, especially when marriages break down.

But the legislative changes are but one part of the equation.

The other part? Our roles as parents. Make our children a priority.

And be there for them. Sometimes, it may be the children who are resistant to spending time with us. Be patient.

Providing them with a listening ear will help them feel accepted, help them heal, and learn to trust again.

Ultimately, it is every parent’s duty to protect the interest of our own children. Making time to be with our children, giving them the space to grieve and come to terms with the way things will be after a divorce, will certainly provide them with a sense of security.

Because after all, we will always be mums and dads to our children.

What’s in your CNY checklist?

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

It is two days to the Lunar New Year. Many of us diligently go through the checklist of what needs to be done:

Spring clean and decorate the house, buy festive goodies and clothes for the kids, make preparations for reunion dinner, pack ang pows … and the list goes on.

For most Chinese families, Lunar New Year is one big family affair. There is plenty of feasting, catching up with relatives, friends and exchanging of festive greetings.

How one generation loves, the next generation learns

As we spend time with family and loved ones this season, let us make time to show appreciation to our parents and elders. For all they have done for us, they certainly deserve our respect, care and concern. How we care for our elders will be how our children learn to care for us when we grow old.

Share your own stories at the Filial Piety Facebook page.

If you are not living with your elderly parents, visit them or bring them home to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Spend some quality time with your family – put that in your CNY checklist!

For some of us, the celebrations go beyond our immediate families. It includes going door to door to bring festive joy to fellow Singaporeans, especially to those who live alone or who may be financially strapped and cannot afford to celebrate Lunar New Year; or others, who have been abandoned by their loved ones.

There are also groups of residents who come together to care for others in their community. We saw this happen at Yuhua Market and Food Centre last week, where some hawkers and volunteers cooked and served dishes to more than 300 needy elderly and families at a charity dinner held in their community, for their community.

Such is the inclusive and caring society that we can build and be a part of when we begin to look beyond ourselves and start to look out for others.

Wishing you and your family good health and happiness for the Lunar New Year!

MSF Addendum to The President’s Address

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

At the opening of the 13th Parliament on 15 January 2016, President Tony Tan Keng Yam outlined the key priorities of the Government over the next few years. Even as we address the many challenges ahead, we need to also remind ourselves of the kind of society we are and the kind of people we aspire to be.

We are a dynamic and diverse nation. This can be a big strength so long as we remain united and anchored on shared values. Building a caring society and a more engaged community will help us achieve that.

When we begin to care for others, we begin to look beyond ourselves as individuals. Collectively, we all play a part in strengthening our social safety nets and ensure continued social mobility, so that no Singaporean is left behind.

My hope and vision for Singapore, is that it will become an even more inclusive society, and a great place for our people, whether young or old, whether able or differently abled.

Strong families and resilient individuals are the basic building blocks of our nation. This is why over the next few years, my MSF colleagues and I will do more in anticipating and responding to changes in societal trends, demographics and family structures.

You can read the full version of the MSF Addendum below, and we will share more details of our plans with you very soon.


Ministry of Social and Family Development

Addendum to The President’s Address


1.             The social needs of our citizens and families are becoming more complex as the demographics, economics and family structures in Singapore change. Our social policies and services must evolve so that we can continue to nurture resilient individuals and strong families. Our societal culture must also evolve so that we can become a more inclusive and caring society where no Singaporean is left behind.

2.             The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will focus on:

i.      strengthening marriages and families;

ii.     providing a good start for our young;

iii.    extending a helping hand for the vulnerable;

iv.    fostering a caring community.

Strong Marriages and Families

3.             The family must remain the basic building block of our society. The Ministry is committed to making Singapore a great place for families. We will work with Government agencies, businesses and employers, as well as community organisations to create a conducive environment for Singaporeans to start families and raise children, enjoy family life and experience meaningful family ties.

4.             We will provide greater support for couples to prepare for and strengthen their marriages, and offer evidence-based parenting programmes in our schools and community. These will include marriage preparation and support programmes for young couples and Singaporeans marrying foreigners.

5.              MSF will also strengthen support for vulnerable families so that they can overcome their challenges and become more stable and resilient. We will look into new ways of engaging such families early, and work with social service agencies to assess their needs holistically to provide more coordinated and effective assistance.

A Good Start for Our Young

6.             Children are our hope and future. The Ministry will strive towards giving all our young children a good start in life. We will extend greater attention and support to those from disadvantaged or vulnerable backgrounds so that they too can realise their potential.

7.             The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will continue to expand childcare capacity, particularly in housing estates with more young children. There will be one childcare place for every two children by 2017. ECDA will provide parents with more good quality and affordable childcare options through its Anchor Operator and Partner Operator schemes. It will also continue to enhance the quality of preschool education and the professional development of early childhood educators.

8.             To help vulnerable children from low income or disadvantaged families, we will work with other Government agencies and community organisations to identify them and support their developmental needs during their early years. We will also introduce initiatives to help these families improve their home environments for the children’s learning and development, as well as support the children at pre-schools.

9.             For children who need protection or care outside of their own homes, we will broaden the care options available to them. This will include working with Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and volunteers to increase the number of foster families who can offer a nurturing environment for these children to grow up in.  To better help youths-at-risk, we will strengthen both government and community systems, programmes and capabilities in prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation.

A Helping Hand for the Vulnerable

10.             Those with less and those in need will receive an extra helping hand to overcome their difficulties and improve their lives. We will continue to strengthen our social safety net, review legislations and policies, and improve services to keep in step with emerging needs.

11.             We have completed the network of 24 Social Service Offices (SSOs) across Singapore as well as the first phase of the Social Service Net (SSNet) – an integrated information sharing and case management system that will link MSF with other Government and VWO help agencies. Building on their reach on the ground, SSOs will further improve the coordination in planning and delivery of social services for residents within each HDB town. We will also expand SSNet to cover more help agencies. Together, these efforts will ensure that Singaporeans with complex social support needs receive more holistic and integrated help.

12.            For persons with disabilities, we will develop the next Enabling Masterplan to build a more inclusive society where they can lead more meaningful lives and become integral members of society. Through assistance in early intervention, education, training and employment, we will help them maximise their potential at different stages of their lives. We will also render greater support for caregivers. We will work with employers, businesses, community organisations and volunteers to raise public understanding and acceptance of persons with disabilities within our communities.

13.            To safeguard the interests of the growing number of elderly in Singapore, the Government will review legislations, policies and services to better protect those who are subject to abuse, neglect or self-neglect. We will also look into strengthening support for vulnerable adults in residential care through streamlining regulatory and care standards for residential homes.

A Caring Community

14.             The future of caring in Singapore is one where Singaporeans come together to look out for and support one another, especially those amongst us who need a helping hand. Government agencies, VWOs, corporates, community organisations, social service professionals and the wider public all play a part. Through what we do and how we do it, the Ministry hopes to nurture a culture and spirit of giving in Singapore.

15.             Professionals including early childhood educators, learning support specialists, social workers, counsellors, therapists, psychologists and care workers lie at the forefront of the social service sector. Through ECDA and the Social Service Institute (SSI), we will groom a larger pool of committed and skilled social service professionals and leaders.  We will also expand opportunities for them to develop their capabilities and build fulfilling careers.

16.             VWOs play a critical role in mobilising volunteers and donors to complement the work of social service professionals and effort by the Government. The National Council of Social Service (NCSS) will work with VWOs to improve their organisational capability and management of volunteers so as to involve more Singaporean individuals and groups in enriching volunteering experiences. The Community Chest will extend its reach by tapping on new platforms and partnerships to raise funds and rally public support to meet social needs.


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