(Taken on a family trip to Japan, Dec 2016)
The picture you see above was first shared on my Instagram page, which received an interesting comment: “落叶归根“.
Literally translated, this phrase refers to how the fallen leaves have returned to its roots. The fallen leaves are a metaphor for old age, and ‘roots’ describe one’s home.
In a related way, I think ‘roots’ also represents our families – where our values, memories and ties were first formed, and firmly anchored. If you think about it, the family really is the building block for a safe and stable society, and it is important for our families to stay strong. Families are also who we turn to for comfort and support, and a refuge when times are difficult and uncertain.
Giving children a good start in life
(During my visit to one of the KidSTART group sessions at Henderson.)
This year, we’ve made some progress to enhance our support to help strengthen families, as well as to help our children get a good start in life. It’s a continual effort, and I’m proud of the work put in by my MSF team. It is a cause they feel passionate about.
For example, to help couples build stronger marriages, we have been offering an evidence-based introductory marriage preparation programme, PREP, free-of-charge, at the Singapore Registry of Marriage (ROM) during lunch time.
To give our children a good start in life, we rolled out additional support measures this year. All newborns now get a $3,000 Child Development Account First Step grant. Changes to the Child Development Co-Savings Act accorded all new mothers the full 16-week maternity leave, and mandatory two weeks of paternity leave for new fathers from 2017. We made important moves on maternity leave and the CDA account to better support unwed mothers.
KidSTART is a pilot programme that aims to provide more assistance to children from vulnerable backgrounds to ensure their future success. This effort by the Early Childhood Development Agency brings together family, community and pre-schools to build a strong support system for the child. I look forward to meeting the little ones at their first day of (pre)school in a few days’ time. 🙂 I trust that this programme will succeed and move on beyond its pilot status.
Faishal has also shared in his blog post about the work done to help parents via the Positive Parenting Programme and the Safe and Strong Families pilot, as well as to support parents and children amidst divorce.
We are also working to further develop the early childhood education sector to offer meaningful and rewarding careers for Singaporeans, and quality care and education for our children. We announced the Early Childhood Manpower Plan this year, and we hope to attract another 4,000 educators by 2020.
Building a community of support for those in need
Notwithstanding our best efforts, unfortunate circumstances do occur. We need to be always ready to provide help and timely services to the more vulnerable in society.
Our ComCare schemes disbursed $130 million to about 87,000 beneficiaries in FY2015, this is 10% higher than the previous financial year. We have also enhanced the assistance package to households on ComCare Long-Term Assistance by raising the cash assistance rates for our beneficiaries. For example, a one-person household will now receive $500 per month from $450. We will continue to work closely with the community and voluntary welfare organisations to support the less unfortunate among our midst.
Even as we recognise families as important sources of refuge and support, sadly, for some, they can be vulnerable to abuse by loved ones. Last month, we launched a three-year “Break the Silence” campaign to encourage bystanders to speak up against family violence. Violence is not a private matter and is not acceptable. All of us have a role to play to step up and help, by having the courage and knowledge to take action. You can interrupt incidents of family violence with little acts of kindness, and contact the various help centres. Do call the Police immediately if a life is in danger.
(Ah Ma made the first step to break the silence against family violence.)
For those who need foster homes and families for support, we were pleased to see an increase in fostering as we celebrated 60 years of fostering in Singapore. Foster parents are such incredible big-hearted folks who open their homes and heart to care for vulnerable children. To further support the efforts taken to help these children, a third fostering agency will be set up in 2017.
Fostering a more inclusive Singapore
We have also achieved much in helping each and every Singaporean to fulfil their potential, regardless of their abilities. In the past two years, MSF, together with MOE and SG Enable, piloted the School-to-Work Transition Programme with five Special Education schools to facilitate a smooth transition from school to the workplace for graduating students with disabilities. I am heartened that 80% of the first graduating cohort of were successfully employed, and 83% stayed in the job for more than six months.
Just last week we received the 3rd Enabling Masterplan report from the steering committee led by Ms Anita Fam. We will study their findings and recommendations carefully to make Singapore even more caring and inclusive for persons with disabilities.
Supporting one another in the year ahead
While MSF continues to do its best to support the vulnerable and those in need, and strengthen families so that they can fulfil their dreams, it is also my hope that fellow Singaporeans can do their part to care for one other. If we could all reach out to others in the community, and begin to look beyond ourselves and our own families, we would begin to see a very different society – one that is more caring, more selfless and more compassionate.
One way you can show support to one another is through the Singapore Cares movement. Many of us have expressed the desire to do more and work with others to support individuals and families that need help. The movement is an opportunity for everyone – you, your company, or institution – to partner with charities in Singapore and/or areas where needs exist, and make an impactful difference. By coming together and contributing to the social causes you care about, we can support one another in the year ahead. Together, we can show that Singapore cares.
As 2017 approaches, there could be more challenges ahead that we have to face. But I take heart in knowing that we will all walk this journey together with our loved ones and support one another as one big Singapore family.