“If we can help, we will”

14125204_xxlBy Li Li@MSF

As an officer in the Office of the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (CMP), Li Li conducts conciliation during which she tries to persuade the children to maintain their parents. She also assists the elderly and their family, by referring them to other social or voluntary agencies for support and/or assistance.

 Li Li has lost count of the number of times she has been scolded by the adult children of the elderly she is tasked to help.

As she attempts to persuade these children to support their parents, the common response she gets is: “You’re just an outsider. If you’re the welfare ministry, provide the money then.”

The elderly, who approach her at her Lengkok Bahru office or who are referred to her by MPs, Family Service Centres and Social Service Offices (SSOs), are often those who are unable to support themselves. Hence, they have to struggle to get maintenance from their children.

After interviewing them, Li Li contacts the children to hear their side of the story and possibly, persuade them to support their parents. This step though is often the hardest part of the process – and her job.

In the course of trying to even speak with the children, she has had them bang the table, threaten her, and slam the door in her face when she tried to visit them at home.

“Before joining, I thought it was nice to offer help to people,” Li Li says. “But here, it’s a bit different. You try to intervene, you get scolded kaypoh[1].”

And even when she gains access into these families’ lives, she often finds herself thrown in the middle of a mind-boggling moral dilemma.

She recalls the time when a woman approached her for help after her husband became paralysed and could not work.  The case turned out to be more complicated, however, when she found that the woman was the second wife of the man. The children from his first marriage were unwilling to maintain him because they were angry with him for remarrying.

To add to that, his stepchildren – the woman’s children from her previous marriage – saw no obligation in supporting a stepfather who had not raised them up. Who then, was to be made to support their father?

Then there are the thorny cases she has seen more than once – children who refuse to support their parents because they had been abused by them when they were young. Should she still make the children pay?

Topping it all off are the misconceptions people have of her job and her role.

The elderly think she can help them get their children to support them beyond their basic needs – such as a parent who came to her wanting his child to give him money for airfare – while the children think she sides with the elderly and that she is just here to force them to pay.

Yet, despite the rough times and misconceptions, Li Li continues to strive on, contented with the compelling sense of achievement that she is able to break ground.

As an officer constantly on the ground, Li Li occasionally takes on other responsibilities, such as referring parents and children with their consent to other social or voluntary agencies for other support and/or assistance.

“If we can help, we try to help,” she says.

More than that, it is the satisfaction she gets from watching families reconcile and reconnect, as well as helping the elderly get their maintenance, that keep her on the job.

She recalls the case of an absent father who was remorseful of his past and volunteered at a senior activity centre to make amends. Believing their father was sincere in his efforts to change, his children eventually agreed to maintain him. And to Li Li, witnessing such grace and forgiveness, can sometimes be all that she needs.

[1] Kaypoh: A Singlish term, that can be used to describe a person/an action as nosy or a busybody.

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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Some Thoughts on Government Financial Assistance Trends (And How You Can Help)

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

We are releasing the ComCare Trends report today. You can read it here. This report tracks the number and type of households which received financial assistance.

What ComCare aims to do is to provide financial assistance for low-income individuals and families. It is funded by the ComCare Endowment Fund that was established in 2005. The fund stands at about $1.7 billion today.

ComCare has various schemes to meet different needs. We have short-to-medium term assistance, long-term assistance and assistance for children.

But ComCare is only one part of a broader system. Help is also provided via other schemes administered by MOH, MOE, HDB etc. Families may also receive counselling and support from social service agencies and professionals.

Here are some observations I have about the report:

#1 Singaporeans received more ComCare financial assistance

In the financial year of 2014, we provided about $116 million in financial assistance (not including other forms of assistance beyond ComCare).

This is an increase of 10% as compared to the previous financial year.

The increase is not too surprising because we have increased our efforts in the last few years to bring help closer to those in need.

We have built a network of Social Service Offices (SSOs) across the island – one in every major HDB town. Some are co-located with WDA’s career counselling services, or near Family Service Centres.

This has made help more accessible than before. We have also adjusted some of our income criteria thresholds so that more can be assisted.

There are 24 Social Service Offices island wide

However, should we be seeing a continuous increase in number of recipients for subsequent years?

#2: More are receiving short-to-medium term assistance

First, let’s look at what has remained quite constant for the main applicants of short-to-medium term assistance across the past 3 financial years:

  • 51.0% were in their 40s and 50s
  • 64.6% had below GCE ‘N’ or ‘O’ level education
  • 26.2% of main applicants are employed

Now, what has been increasing in the last 3 financial years?

  • More short-to-medium term assistance households staying in HDB 1-2 rooms. This has increased from 43.5% in FY12 to 46.8% in FY14.
  • There are more 1 – 2 persons households under short-to-medium term assistance from 51.4% in FY12 to 55.8% in FY14.

If one is unemployed for one reason or other, I can understand the financial challenges faced. What we need to understand further is the group where the main applicants are employed, and yet still require financial assistance.

Often, financial difficulties are just the tip of the iceberg. Some families may need help over a period of time because the difficulties they face can be complex and multi-faceted.

We must be holistic in the way we support those who need help. Providing financial assistance is important but only one part of the broader equation.

Do we help them re-skill, or even upgrade their skills so that they take on better jobs and earn higher wages? Do we strengthen Workfare and the Progressive Wage Model further?

For some, do we provide counselling and social work to address underlying concerns? Clearly, for some, we may need to case manage because it involves assistance from multiple agencies.

#3 : Many long-term assistance recipients are single elderly

The statistics from the ComCare trends report show:

  • 65.1% of long-term assistance households were one-person households aged 65 and above
  • 67.9% of long-term assistance main applicants stay in 1-2 room HDB flats

Long-term assistance households  by household composition

LTA households
Source: ComCare Trends Report FY12-14

We all know that our society is aging and we may see more vulnerable elderly among us. The financial challenge is but one of several. As we age, our physical and mental capacities will decline. There is risk of social isolation. Family caregivers may struggle to cope. To make matters worse, some may even face financial exploitation.

Apart from ensuring that the financial support is effective, we need to also strengthen our overall eco-system to look after the elderly. We are already exploring different initiatives and looking at how to better design the social and physical infrastructure. We will also be introducing the Vulnerable Adults Act, and make amendments to the Mental Capacity Act next year. MSF intends to expand capabilities to protect vulnerable adults.

How You Can Help

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, I believe it requires a kampung to look after our own. While the Government remains committed to keeping policies effective and relevant to support the vulnerable, all of us in the community must also do our part.

What can we do?

For a start, if you come across anyone that requires assistance, please talk to them, find out more and refer them to the nearest Social Service Office or to let us know so that we can follow up with them.

Secondly, do continue to donate to support good causes.

Even more importantly, do give of your time. The more volunteers we have helping, the more good we can do. And if we organise ourselves better, we can begin to go upstream and carry out preventive measures, which is even better than catching people when they fall.

Let’s work together to enlarge the community of support for those in need.  And in the process, we will build a more caring and compassionate society, and a better home for all.

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