Using policies to bridge gaps in society

As a policy officer, Shermain reviews and formulates policies within the Rehabilitation and Protection Group to help protect and support vulnerable individuals and families.

At the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Rehabilitation and Protection Group (RPG), officers deal with the care, protection, and rehabilitation of individuals to create a safe and nurturing environment for children, young persons and families.

But while frontline officers are the more visible ones on the ground, there is a complementary group of officers working behind the scenes on the policies that help fill in gaps and needs in our society.

Shermain, a policy officer with the Rehabilitation and Protection Group, analyses data, reviews legislation, and engages stakeholders on a typical work day.

The process of coming up with a policy usually starts with identifying a gap or need. “Gaps or needs may be identified as part of a legislative or policy review. We would then seek to formulate or amend a policy to bridge this gap or address this need.” said Shermain.

She recognises that it is often difficult for her to fully understand the situation on the ground. “We work a lot with our key stakeholders in formulating policies. While we try to ensure we are as well acquainted with the operations as possible, our operations colleagues will always be more informed of the intricacies of the operations. We therefore tap a lot on their expertise to help us understand the operational needs and implications of our policies” said Shermain.

Breaking cycles of abuse, neglect, and offending is something that Shermain believes in strongly. “Working in RPG, you definitely have to be someone with a passion for people, especially for the vulnerable. If you want to be a policy officer, you should be someone with an eye for identifying gaps and needs in society, who appreciates Singapore’s societal and operating context, and sees the importance of collaboration with the different stakeholders.” said Shermain.

“Sometimes, the sheer magnitude of our policy reviews can be overwhelming,” Shermain said. “However, knowing that our work benefits people in society makes me hopeful and gives meaning to the work I do. Of course, it also helps a lot that our colleagues and bosses are super supportive, caring, and passionate.”

If you are interested to pursue a meaningful career at MSF, find out more information on our website or at Careers@Gov.


With unity comes strength and resilience

In celebration of World Social Work Day, Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne (from left to right) from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, share their story of how they helped a pair of young siblings overcome childhood trauma, and eventually reunite with their father.

Social work may be tough, but it is where you see the most positivity, strength, and resilience in life.

Anna (not her real name) had been providing foster care to a pair of young siblings, who were victims of severe childhood trauma. The children’s father, John (not his real name), who was their only kin at that point in time, was unable to care for them.

Initially, the siblings had trouble getting used to living with Anna in a structured environment. The young siblings, who were only 3 and 4 years old then, could not cope with their emotions and displayed signs of aggression due to the intense trauma that they experienced.

There were times where Anna found it challenging to guide the kids well. That was when foster care officer Jeanne stepped in to provide support for Anna and taught her about the effects of childhood trauma. Together with Jeanne, clinical psychologist Elizabeth helped Anna work through her anxieties and taught the siblings skills to stabilise their emotions.

At the same time, child protection officer Rachel worked with John to stabilise his job and living arrangements. She also worked on strengthening his parenting skills, hoping to eventually reunite John with his children. The team subsequently linked the father with a Family Service Centre to build up his support network, which he lacked.

In the months that followed, Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne worked closely to best support Anna, and put in extra effort and hours to reconnect the children with John more frequently. They also took time to meet the children’s school and student care personnel regularly to help them understand the children’s past traumatic experiences and how to respond to their current behaviours.

Their hard work eventually paid off. John was able to pick up good parenting habits and play the role of a committed caregiver for his children. Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne were pleased to see that the kids were well-fed with John cooking for them on a regular basis. Most importantly, they were glad that the kids were happy and safe.

Soon after the siblings returned to John, the team organised a get-together with the family and Anna’s family. It was a heart-warming gathering, and John acknowledged Anna’s instrumental role in providing a stable, nurturing environment for his children.

“While we were doing different things, we were all on the same page, and could be confident in making decisions with the support from our team. Learning from each other has also helped in the work that we do,” Jeanne said.

Reflecting on the journey of helping the two siblings, Elizabeth said: “We are proud to be able to ‘graduate’ them from MSF’s help. There is nothing is like going home.”

Rachel echoed the sentiment. “Many times, it is the people and the work that keep us going. We are really happy when we see children and families reunite,” she said.

A brief overview of MSF’s work 2016

Whether it is to support families, foster a more inclusive Singapore, or provide a good start for every child, MSF will continue to work to nurture a resilient and caring society that can overcome challenges together.

Here are some of what MSF has done in 2016:


Families are the building blocks of our society. That’s why we believe that having strong families is key to our nation’s progress.

Find out more:
Safe and Strong Familes Pilot:
Marriage Preparation Programme:
Positive Parenting Programme:
Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA):


Building a society that supports those who come from less-advantaged backgrounds and those living with disabilities is important to us.

Find out more:
ComCare Assistance:
SHARE as One:
Recommendations for 3rd Enabling Masterplan:


Our children are the nation’s future, and having a strong start in life will enable them to reach their potential in adulthood.

Find out more:
Baby Bonus scheme:
Early Childhood Manpower Plan:
Amendments To The Child Development Co-Savings Act:

Every end is a new beginning

As 2016 draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on what has been done to give all children a good start in life, lay deep foundations to build strong homes, and strengthen the support for Singaporeans in need.

Supporting our young ones


(From visit to a pre-school earlier this month)

We want to help parents in their care-giving responsibilities, achieve the best possible outcomes for our younger generation, and foster a more inclusive environment for them to grow up in.

This year, MSF enhanced key policies and amended several laws, such as the Women’s Charter, where divorcing couples with minor children have to attend the mandatory parenting programme before they can file for divorce.

The Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) has been expanded to 118 Primary and Secondary schools this year. The programme equips parents with skills to promote their children’s psychological, social and emotional competence, and over 80% of parents found it relevant to their parenting needs.

We’ve also launched the Safe and Strong Families (SSF) pilot programme to strengthen family-based care and community support for vulnerable children. Eligible families will receive counselling and coaching.

Making Singapore more accessible for all


(Checking out some of the enhanced family-friendly features at The Grandstand in August)

As a father with two kids, I know how challenging it is for parents with young kids to plan a family outing out. Families with elderly members or wheelchair-users face struggles as well.

To ensure that families enjoy positive experiences outside of the home, we provided funding to neighbourhood shopping malls to introduce or enhance their family-friendly facilities, such as family rooms and inclusive playgrounds. By this year, most of these malls have implemented their enhancements and received favourable feedback from shoppers. These malls have done a commendable job and shown their commitment and effort to make their premises safer and more convenient for different family needs.

Let’s get ready for the next leap forward

I think that my Ministry, together with our community partners, have taken small but significant steps forward. But this is really just the beginning and we do not intend to rest on our laurels.

Together, I believe we can do it even better in 2017, and make Singapore a better home for all families.

“Trusting him to the fullest”

Photo of Qixiang.JPGBy Qixiang @ MSF

Qixiang is a Senior Child Protection Officer at MSF. He works to protect and safeguard the interests of vulnerable children, to help them seek a safe and nurturing environment to grow up in. These children are assessed to be at risk of abuse or neglect – or are already victims of abuse.

One of the hardest things for anyone to do, would be to let someone into their life when they are at their lowest. Someone they can turn to, confide in and rely upon. Someone that they can trust.

And this is exactly what Qixiang was to the family.

As a Child Protection Officer (CPO), Qixiang works with families to protect vulnerable children and provide them with the best possible environment to grow up in. CPOs usually step in when there are very clear safety concerns – when children are reported or assessed to be at high risk of abuse or neglect, and external intervention is required to assist the family in looking out for the children.

Qixiang recalls a family that he worked with who had been struggling with issues of violence and alcohol abuse.

Not spared from their abusive son and worried for the safety of their three young grandchildren; the pair of elderly grandparents were frightened and initially resistant to letting in people into their lives – let alone a stranger like Qixiang.

Earning their trust to understand the situation and offer assistance was an uphill battle.

“I tried for a long time to get them to open up to me. And each time, I always made sure to be honest and sincere – and act more like a confidant rather than a position of ‘authority’.”

Eventually Qixiang’s earnest pleas got through the family, and his usually calm and composed demeanor breaks into a warm smile as he recalls the moment of ‘breakthrough’.

Gaining the clients’ trust is important as officers need to know that the families would turn to them in times of need. At the same time, relationships built on trust would allow the officers to have confidence that safety plans would be met, in the case when help is not available.

Giving credit to the revised Partnering for Safety Framework for his success; Qixiang elaborates on how a combination of the collaborative nature of the revised framework, being empathetic and very transparent with the family worked in unison.

However, there might be times when cases do not seem to be progressing, or mistakes seem to be recurring – and this can potentially be very frustrating. With how heavily dependent the job is on CPOs’ emotional and mental strength, work can take toll on its officers.

“If I know that I am not in the best position to deal with a case, I take some time off to exercise, meet with friends; self-care is very important. Taking care of your own mental health and emotional well-being before you meet with clients is key,” Qixiang shares.

Deep-seated issues within the families are also often a common factor in many of these cases. As such, working with the families can be highly challenging. Many may not be welcoming or receptive – and some may even be hostile to CPOs’ assistance.

“I try my best to calm down and reassure the clients; and then explain the rationale behind all our plans,” Qixiang says, on the way he manages the situation.

“I also always keep it at the back of my mind that nothing the clients say or do is personal. It is also very easy to judge in this line of work. I think it is important not to see them as they are – but what they could be.”

“Many of the perpetrators could also be grappling with a range of issues themselves as well that could have stemmed from when they were young. Child Protection is about giving children a better beginning, and rectifying everything right from the start”

“And this is the very role of CPOs – to see the good in the people and help them achieve it. That is what I try to do in my everyday work.”

Reaching his second year as a CPO officer in MSF in the coming month, Qixiang is full of optimism for the future.

Commenting on how the pair of elderly grandparents wrote in to thank him for looking after their three grandchildren and stated that they “confide in him 100%”, Qixiang says bashfully:

“I felt really proud when the family was eventually able to empower themselves and break out of the cycle. And also to make better decisions, not just for the children, but also for themselves.”