KidSTART: Kickstarting better child development

KidSTART officer Lee Wei Qi finds joy in “being on the ground, and working directly with parents and young children”. As part of the Home Visitation Team of the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA)’s KidSTART programme, she makes her way to their homes, to equip and empower parents in caregiving.

Since the programme started in 2016, over 900 children have received KidSTART support, in the pilot regions of Kreta Ayer, Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong, Boon Lay and Geylang Serai.

One of KidSTART’s guiding principles, as Wei Qi puts it, is “Parents are the children’s first teachers.” It is therefore crucial to equip parents with the knowledge and skills to nurture their children effectively and independently.

One parent who has benefited from KidSTART support is Nurhidayah Binte Abdullah, a mother of three. Initially, she had allowed her children excessive screen time on the television and their electronic devices, thinking that games and videos would suffice as learning. Following Wei Qi’s visits and advice on the importance of outdoor activities, use of language to engage children and the harmful effects of excessive screen time, she now regularly brings her children to the playground, conversing with them as they develop psychomotor skills.

From being completely silent during Wei Qi’s initial visits, Nurhidayah’s three-year-old daughter is now chatty and vibrant. “When we go outdoors, they are running, climbing and observing things around them,” says Wei Qi, explaining the importance of developing a child’s different senses for learning.

KidSTART’s methodology in this area is guided by the Abecedarian Approach, which is evidence based and developed in 1972 by Dr Joseph Sparling and Dr Craig Remy. Its hallmarks include turning everyday experiences into opportunities for learning, conversing and adding educational content.

KidSTART officers, like Wei Qi, also teach parents songs and rhymes that can be incorporated into daily routines to enhance the quality of interaction for parent and child.

Wei Qi and her team are currently working on a guide with more tips for KidSTART parents to incorporate into their routines. One challenge is customising resource material to make it more accessible to parents, she says, joking that the English in some of the existing textbooks is “a bit cheem” (Singlish for profound).

With her fellow KidSTART colleagues, Wei Qi is also looking to incorporate infographics and localised examples as illustrations for learning. For example, instead of telling parents to bring their children to the backyard, as is common in Western countries, they would tell them to bring their children to the void deck or playground.

It has not always been smooth-sailing for the KidSTART home visitor. Wei Qi says that when she first started, some parents would challenge her, questioning her ability to teach about parenting given that she is not a parent herself.

However, over time, the former early childhood educator and preschool principal managed to build rapport with the parents and they began to see how Wei Qi was able to engage them and their children through her warm, intentional interactions and extensive knowledge of early childhood development. They saw for themselves how well their children responded to the techniques taught by Wei Qi and eventually “let their guard down” and trusted her.

Besides giving individual attention to parents, KidSTART also leverages on peer support through its Group Connect sessions. At these sessions, parents are invited to connect with one another and are happy to exchange telephone numbers. Knowing that they all have common concerns, such as tackling sibling rivalries and ensuring child nutrition, helps to bond the parents too, says Wei Qi. KidSTART also works closely with community partners and if families require additional support, they are referred to Family Service Centres (FSCs) and Social Service Offices (SSOs)

Parents who have completed the programme still keep in touch through a WhatsApp group they created. They share baby items with one another and set up play dates among themselves. They have built their own social support network and are independently keeping their networks going, something which KidSTART supports.

For Wei Qi, KidSTART is not a one-way process. “As much as we are sharing parenting strategies with them, I think we as officers also learn a lot from the families—they are very resilient…despite the stresses they face in their lives.

“Seeing their love and care for the children is really touching and inspiring.”

Community support – key to successful probationer rehabilitation

Toh Yue Sen, a 25-year-old Sports and Exercise Science student at Republic Polytechnic, hopes to get a degree after completing his diploma. A decade ago, pursuing an education was the farthest thing from his mind.

Back then, as a teenager, he had committed theft and robbery and was ordered to reside in Singapore Boys’ Home for two years. A few years later, he was remanded in prison for acting on behalf of an unlicensed moneylender.

During the prison remand, Yue Sen met Selina Yeo, his Investigating Probation Officer. Guided by Selina, he re-looked at where he was headed and took stock of his life prospects.

“I cried because I was touched when she talked about my family, my sisters,” he says. He realised how his incarceration would affect his loved ones and was relieved when he was placed on probation by the Court.

That was just the start of his rehabilitation. Supported by MSF’s Probation and Community Rehabilitation Service, Yue Sen started to make positive changes to his life.

He performed community service at a welfare home at Pelangi Village where he befriended elderly residents. He viewed his time there as “a gift” instead of a mere assignment, thanks to the friendly staff and residents. Yue Sen’s parents told Selina that he became more patient after serving at the home.

Yue Sen’s class advisor, Cass Lim, in ITE College East also played a crucial role in his rehabilitation. She recommended him for various courses and worked closely with Selina to guide him. With their support, Yue Sen became a role model in his fitness training course at ITE, where he was selected to be the class discipline master. He was also awarded the National Youth Achievement Award in 2018 for his leadership qualities and exemplary conduct in school.

This network of coordinated care across organisations is a key focus in MSF’s community rehabilitation efforts. To support probationers in their rehabilitative journey, MSF collaborates with many corporate and community partners to provide them and their families with diverse types of support. Strong community and family support were key factors that supported a high probation order completion rate of 84% in 2018.

Yue Sen shared that his parents played a big part in his rehabilitation. His father began taking an active interest in his boxing hobby, and supported him during a competition in July 2015. This helped to bond the family together.

Selina says Yue Sen’s parents acknowledged and supported his efforts to change himself, which improved their relationship. Yue Sen shared that he is now able to communicate openly with them without worrying that they may end up arguing or disagreeing with one another. He added that poor family communication could be the reason why some probationers struggle.

“Successful rehabilitation really starts with the family,” adds Selina. Recognising this, MSF is collaborating with Functional Family Therapy LLC to implement Functional Family Probation that focuses on the involvement of everyone in the family to strengthen support for the probationer.

Selina says some probationers do not succeed in rehabilitation because of the lack of family support and unconstructive engagement. “If the probationers are able to focus on developing better relationships with their family and commit to being constructively engaged in their studies or at work, it will encourage them to make amends and be more responsible.”

Yue Sen is committed to staying on the right path. He says he leads a “normal” life, going to school and working part time in the Food and Beverages industry.

His teenage follies and time on probation have taught him about the consequences of wrong decisions, and he is determined to stay out of trouble.

“It’s not worth my time.”

Marriage, according to our young Millennials

Asked about her plans for marriage, 19-year-old Tang Wen Yu imagines herself tying the knot in her late 20s or early 30s, once she has completed higher studies and her “finances are secure”.

On the other hand, 23-year-old Fong Yu Yang is already engaged. “Some of my friends don’t really put marriage as their first priority because they have other personal achievements that they want to accomplish first, like a good career or to travel around the world,” he says. But, having been with his girlfriend for seven years, they find that their relationship has not held them back from pursuing their goals.

Wen Yu and Yu Yang are among 30 students who are partnering MSF to redesign our iconic ROM and ROMM Building. It is part of our ongoing collaboration with Institutes of Higher Learning – including Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Ngee Ann Polytechnic(NP) and Temasek Polytechnic.

Wen Yu recalls being slightly “shocked” when fellow participants shared their dreams of marrying early. Although marriage is not yet on the cards for her, she says that the involvement to redesign ROM and ROMM project is special because it gives her a chance to make an impact “on the real world”. “It’s cool to know that we might be married in the very same building that we [helped to] design,” she says.

Currently studying Sustainable Urban Design and Engineering at NP, she says one possible idea for the revamp is replacing the prosaic seats at the waiting area with a comfortable lounge. Perhaps inspired by the coffee culture of her generation, she suggests setting up a café to serve couples waiting for their turn for solemnisation.

As for Yu Yang, he imagines a special area for love locks which couples can attach to bridges, fences and other public fixtures to symbolise their love. If there is insufficient space for this, this feature could be digitalised. Taking inspiration from Changi Airport’s Social Tree, he also suggests creating a similar installation at ROM and ROMM for people to upload and share photographs. Yu Yang is currently studying Engineering Systems and Design at SUTD.

On Valentine’s Day earlier this year, MSF collaborated with the Singapore Memory Project to launch “MyROMStory”, a portal for couples to share such photographs and their memories. MyROMStory encourages couples to remember their special day and inspire those who have said “I do” to re-commit to each other and say “I still do”.

As a designer herself, Wen Yu would like her own wedding to be “decorative, but still very intimate”, with only her close family and friends in attendance. Wen Yu has been with her boyfriend for four years. When he found out about her participation in this project, he was excited like her, she says.

Yu Yang’s girlfriend was also delighted to learn of his participation in the project. They had not previously thought of having their solemnisation in the ROM building, but are now considering it. His participation in the refurbishment project is “going to be a special reason why we should get solemnised and married in the ROM building itself”.

The community has a role to play in tackling issues of family violence

The following piece is an op-ed on family violence by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim which was published in Berita Harian on 25 September 2018. The English translation is appended below for reference.


Masyarakat punya peranan tangani isu keganasan keluarga

BARU-BARU ini, saya hadiri satu persidangan anjuran Rumah Wanita Casa Raudha mengenai keganasan rumah tangga.

Ini mencetuskan satu siri sinopsis yang ingin saya ketengahkan di sini.

Sebagai seorang kanak-kanak, saya sering mendengar pepatah orang-orang tua “Jangan masuk campur hal orang lain”.

Bagi mereka, menolak rasa ingin tahu kanak-kanak dengan memberitahu mereka supaya jangan jaga tepi kain orang adalah lebih mudah daripada melibatkan mereka dengan urusan orang lain.

Saya selalu merasa ada sesuatu yang tidak kena dengan nasihat sebegini. Meskipun kita mahu memastikan anak kita selamat dan terhindar daripada orang yang tidak dikenali, kita juga mahu mereka menjadi baik, berhati perut dan mempunyai perasaan ihsan.

Daripada memberitahu anak kita supaya tutup mata terhadap masalah orang lain, kita perlu mengajar mereka supaya buka mulut jika ternampak perbuatan salah laku sejak kecil.

Ini penting lebih-lebih lagi sekarang ini kerana saya lihat dan dengar kes keganasan rumah tangga. Semuanya berlaku di belakang pintu tertutup.

Dan yang paling menyayat hati saya ialah apabila ia melibatkan kanak-kanak dan anggota keluarga yang terdedah kepada bahaya tersebut dan tidak berupaya melindungi diri mereka sendiri.

PENDERAAN MENYAKITKAN

Malangnya, sesetengah kanak-kanak menjadi mangsa perbuatan orang yang sepatutnya memberi mereka kasih sa yang dan perlindungan – ibu bapa dan anggota keluarga mereka.

Keganasan yang dilakukan berupa penderaan secara fizikal, pengabaian atau penderaan seksual, yang bukan saja mengakibatkan kecederaan tetapi juga menjejas emosi dan/atau psikologi kanak-kanak.

Hasil penyelidikan menunjukkan bahawa kanak-kanak tersebut menampilkan kadar kognitif yang lebih tinggi dan keadaan psikologi dan emosi yang mencabar.

Dalam beberapa kes, kita melihat generasi keluarga yang membesar dengan penderaan. Dan lingkaran itu terus berputar.

Baru-baru ini, rakan-rakan saya berkongsi dengan saya cerita sedih seorang wanita bernama Lydia (bukan nama sebenar), ibu yang begitu menyayangi anak kecilnya.

Lydia yang menjadi mangsa penderaan suaminya, terpaksa melarikan diri ke rumah perlindungan bersama anaknya itu.

Mereka tinggal di sana selama beberapa bulan, di mana beliau mendapat pekerjaan yang stabil dengan bantuan rumah perlindungan berkenaan.

Anaknya juga menyertai program sokongan bagi menangani trauma yang dialami nya akibat terdedah kepada keganasan keluarga.

Meskipun pada permukaaanya keadaan mereka sudah mula menjanjikan harapan, namun kehidupan mereka jauh daripada sempurna.

Lydia telah memfailkan perceraian dan mendapatkan hak penjagaan anaknya, tetapi suaminya terus mengganggu mereka.

Bagi Lydia dan anaknya, bekas luka emosi mereka berterusan, lama selepas luka fi zikal telah terubat.

Masalah yang melanda Lydia mungkin sudah berlalu berbanding dengan ramai mangsa penderaan.

Namun terdapat beberapa mangsa kembali kepada pendera, kadang-kadang bersama anak mereka.

Ramai daripada kita tidak faham mengapa mangsa masih sanggup menjalin hubungan yang menyakitkan hati mereka.

Alasannya, saya dimaklumkan rakan khidmat sosial saya, banyak dan berbeza sebabnya.

Ada yang percaya bahawa pendera boleh berubah.

Ada yang melakukannya bagi memastikan hubungan anak dengan kedua ibu bapa tidak putus.

Ada yang merasa bahawa mereka telah melakukan sesuatu yang menyumbang kepada masalah penderaan. Ada yang tidak tahu pilihan lain.

Tetapi apa yang saya pelajari juga, ada sesuatu yang disebut “lingkaran keganasan”. Ia bermula dengan fasa pertama – di mana ketegangan mula muncul. Fasa kedua menyaksikan ledakan krisis. Fasa ketiga ada lah apa yang melemahkan kebanyakan mangsa – fasa berbulan madu. Ia adalah ketika pendera kononnya mahu bertaubat.

Pendera cuba memujuk rayu dan meminta maaf. Pendera memberi jaminan kepada mangsa bahawa apa yang terjadi hanyalah sekali dan tidak mungkin berulang. Mangsa berlembut, memaafkan dan cuba melupakannya. Tetapi ketegangan kembali semula.

Sebagai sebuah masyarakat, kita perlu akur bahawa tiada sesiapa yang seharusnya didera. Kejadian penuh tragik dan lingkaraan keganasan perlu dihentikan.

Di Singapura, Sistem Rangkaian Keganasan Keluarga Kebangsaan menarik ramai rakan kongsi masyarakat bagi menangani isu keganasan keluarga secara kolektif. Kami mempunyai undang-undang, peruntukan kaunseling, tempat perlindungan krisis dan Pusat Pakar Keganasan Keluarga berasaskan komuniti dan Pusat Pakar Perlindungan Kanak-kanak.

Polis bekerja rapat dengan kementerian saya bagi menangani isu ini, bersama rakan kongsi daripada badan kehakiman, penguatkuasaan undang-undang dan perkhidmatan sosial.

Kita – sebagai jiran, rakan sekerja, rakan dan keluarga, apa yang boleh kita lakukan? Adakah kita hanya berdiri dan berpeluk tubuh? Apakah selepas kita melihat tanda tetapi tetap mengabaikannya?

Bagaimanakah kita dapat mengekalkan hati nurani yang murni apabila kita melihat ke arah lain semata-mata kerana tidak mahu “masuk campur hal orang lain”?

Polis, pekerja sosial dan pendamping hanya boleh bertindak jika setiap daripada kita berwaspada dalam mengesan dan melaporkan perbuatan penderaan.

Kita semua boleh memainkan peranan, sebagai contoh hanya dengan mengetuk pintu jiran kita apabila kita melihat sesuatu yang tidak kena atau dengan mengetepikan masa kita untuk meringankan stres pihak pengasuh.

Langkah mudah ini mengingatkan semangat gotong-royong yang pernah wujud di Singapura. Marilah kita hidupkan semula semangat kampung ini yang boleh membantu mencegah masalah penderaan daripada te rus berleluasa.

Apabila “orang lain” adalah jiran kita, rakan sekerja, sahabat dan anggota keluarga, tidak ada alasan untuk kita tutup mata.

Walaupun “orang lain” adalah orang asing bagi kita, kita mesti melakukan perkara yang betul.

Dan kita sedar “perkara yang betul” adalah “masuk campur” kerana jika tidak “orang lain” mungkin mati.

Terdapat banyak “Lydia” dalam kalangan kita.

Setiap tahun, hampir 3,000 mangsa keganasan keluarga mendapatkan perintah perlindungan di Mahkamah Keadilan Keluarga. Mungkin lebih ramai lagi yang takut tampil bagi mendapatkan pertolongan.

Marilah kita membantu mangsa dan keluarga mereka bagi memecahkan lingkaran penderaan dan pengabaian mereka dan lakukannya lebih awal. Marilah kita bertindak, hulurkan tangan dan pecahkan kesunyian terhadap keganasan keluarga – hari ini.

Penulis Setiausaha Parlimen Kanan (Pembangunan Sosial dan Keluarga merangkap Pendidikan)

Profesor Madya Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

Source: Berita Harian, Singapore Press Holdings Limited.

https://www.beritaharian.sg/wacana/masyarakat-punya-peranan-tangani-isu-keganasan-keluarga

The community has a role to play in tackling issues of family violence

I recently attended a conference by Casa Raudha Women Home on domestic violence. This sparked off a series of synapses, which I’m sharing here.

As a child, I would often hear this age-old adage from my elders “Jangan masuk campur hal orang lain”.

For them, dismissing a child’s inquisitiveness by telling them not to be a busybody is easier than getting them involved in the complexities of other people’s business.

I have always felt that there was something troubling about this piece of advice. While we want to keep our children safe and away from strangers, we also want them to be kind, compassionate and empathetic. Instead of telling our children to turn a blind eye to other people’s problems, we should teach them to speak out if they see wrong being done from an early age.

This rings true even more crucially now, as I see and hear of cases of domestic violence. Most happen behind closed doors. And the ones that break my heart the most, are the ones that involve children and vulnerable family members who cannot fend for themselves.

VIOLENCE HURTS

Sadly, some children suffer at the hands of the people who are supposed to provide them with care and safety – their parents and family members. Such abuse comes in the form of physical abuse, neglect or sexual abuse, which cause not only physical harm, but emotional and/or psychological harm to the children. Research has shown that such children exhibit higher rates of cognitive, psychological and emotional challenges.

In some cases, we see generations of families growing up with abuse. And the cycle perpetuates itself.

Recently, my colleagues shared with me the heart-breaking situation of a woman, Lydia*, a doting mother of a young child. Lydia had suffered violence at the hands of her husband and fled to a shelter with her young child. They stayed there for many months, during which she secured stable employment with the shelter’s help. Her child also attended the shelter’s support programme to cope with trauma – accumulated from long-term exposure to family violence.

While their situation is starting to look hopeful on the surface, their lives are far from mended. Lydia has filed for divorce and custody of her child, but her husband continues to harass them. For Lydia and her child, their emotional scars persist, long after the physical ones are no longer visible.

Yet Lydia may already seem enlightened, compared to many other victims of abuse. There are some who decide to return to their abuser, sometimes with children in tow. Many of us do not understand why victims stay on in a relationship that hurts them.

The reasons, I have learnt from my social service colleagues, are countless, and vary from relationship to relationship. Some believe that the abuser can change. Some do it to ensure that their children have contact with both parents. Some feel that they have done something to trigger the abuse. Some know no other options.

But what I have also learnt, is that there is something called a “cycle of violence”. It starts off with the first phase – where tension starts to build. The second phase sees the explosion – the crisis. The third phase is what misleads most victims – the honeymoon phase. It’s when the abuser appears to repent. The abuser cajoles, persuades and pleads for forgiveness. The abuser assures the victim that what transpired was a one-off episode, with no chance of a sequel unfolding. The victim relents, forgives and tries to forget. Until the tension starts to build again.

As a community, we must agree that no one deserves to be abused. That this tragic, vicious cycle of violence must stop.

In Singapore, our National Family Violence Networking System ropes in many community partners to address family violence issues collectively. We have robust laws, counselling provisions, crisis shelters and community-based Family Violence Specialist Centres and Child Protection Specialist Centres. The Police work closely with my Ministry to address this issue, alongside partners from the judiciary, law enforcement and social services.

For each one of us – as neighbours, co-workers, friends and family, what can we do? Do we simply stand by and do nothing? How can we see the signs and still ignore them? How can we maintain a clear conscience when we look the other way, because we don’t want to “masuk campur hal orang lain”?

Police, social workers and befrienders can only step in if each of us is vigilant in detecting and reporting suspected abuse. We can all play our part, for example simply by knocking on our neighbour’s door when we notice something amiss or by volunteering our time to relieve caregivers of their stress. These simple acts of kindness are reminiscent of the kampong spirit that Singapore once shared. Let us bring this spirit back. It can go a long way to prevent abuse.

When “orang lain” is our neighbour, co-worker, friend and family member, there really is no excuse for ignorance. Even if “orang lain” is a total stranger, we must do the right thing. And we know deep down that the “right thing” is to “masuk campur” if we have to. Because otherwise, “orang lain” may die.

There are many “Lydia”s in our midst. Each year, almost 3,000 family violence victims file for protection orders at the Family Justice Courts. There may be more who are afraid to seek help. Let us help these survivors and their families to break their cycles of abuse and neglect, and break them early. Let us step in, offer help and break the silence against family violence – today.

Writer Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Social and Family Development & Education)

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim

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:

msf2016-strengtheningfamilies

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: http://tinyurl.com/SSFpilot
Marriage Preparation Programme: http://tinyurl.com/marriageprogrammes
Positive Parenting Programme: http://tinyurl.com/TriplePPilot
Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA): http://tinyurl.com/LPAFeeWaiver

msf2016-inclusivesociety

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: http://tinyurl.com/ComCareAssistance
SHARE as One: http://tinyurl.com/SHAREasOne
Recommendations for 3rd Enabling Masterplan: http://tinyurl.com/Recommendations3EM

msf2016-goodstartforchildren

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: http://tinyurl.com/BabyBonusScheme
KidSTART: http://tinyurl.com/KidSTARTpilot
Early Childhood Manpower Plan: http://tinyurl.com/EarlyChildhoodManpowerPlan
Amendments To The Child Development Co-Savings Act: http://tinyurl.com/AmendmentsToCDCA

Family is where the heart is

min-leaves.png

(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“.

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

14907134_1259299637446142_4615688304235518474_n

(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.

Happy 2017!

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

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(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

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(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.