A youth caseworker’s reflections

The rehabilitation of youth offenders may begin in the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes, but it should not and does not stop there. Once they are discharged from the Homes, the youths face the sometimes daunting task of reintegrating into their schools and families.

Guiding them in this transition is key to keeping them on track in their rehabilitation journey. This is where caseworkers like Ms Lim Li Min play a pivotal role. Having served as a caseworker for seven and a half years in MSF, Li Min’s job entails conducting individual and family counselling, helping youths gain new skills, and linking them up with opportunities in the community, to address the risks and needs of those under her charge.

Ranging from displays of anti-social behaviour and violent tendencies to estrangement from family members, the challenges the youths face are increasingly complex. “Caseworkers need to be agile and resourceful to support them in personalised ways so they can have a good re-start in our community,” says Li Min.

Currently, youths are given post-care support for two months after they are discharged from the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes. After assessing that some of them continued to feel lost after the two-month period and unable to approach someone they could trust for advice, MSF will extend post-care support to one year. The pilot with about 15 to 20 selected youth will commence this year and will be progressively expanded in 2020 to include every youth discharged from the two Homes.

Under the initiative, MSF will work with appointed Voluntary Welfare Organisation partners to assign post-care workers to journey alongside the youths in the community. The post-care officers will engage the youths at least six months before they are discharged from the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes. Caseworkers like Li Min will then have a longer time to partner with these post-care officers to work out discharge plans and facilitate relationship building between the youth and their post-care officers. This will ensure a smooth reintegration and sustained rehabilitation.

Jervin Tay, now 19, is one of the youths counselled by Li Min. In 2017, after a rioting case, he was ordered by the Youth Court to reside in the Singapore Boys’ Home for 12 months. With the help of his parents and Li Min, Jervin turned his life around and even completed a barista programme.

Li Min helped Jervin to better communicate with his parents. Since his discharge in July 2018, Jervin has committed himself to making the best out of his life. He is currently in National Service and hopes to complete his ‘O’ Levels and get a diploma in the F&B industry.

Rehabilitation is not always smooth sailing, and Li Min says schools, employers and families should be prepared that these youths may “require a lot more support in the community” than in Homes.

“Building rapport and a relationship is key to being able to support a youth effectively”, she says. Only then will caseworkers be seen as “trusted adults” by the youths. “This gives them some motivation to change and move forward with their aspirations in life, knowing that they are safely anchored in someone who believes in them and whom they can fall back on.”

And relationship-building will continue to play a key role as caseworkers, and in the near future post-care officers, work hand in hand to support our youths.

 

 

From preschool to home: supporting a child with learning needs

Ethan Wong, like any other preschooler, enjoys playing with toy cars and Lego blocks. The bubbly five-year-old attends NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool @ Punggol Place. According to his mother Mrs Wong however, he used to have some difficulty following instructions and would be easily distracted in class.

After a screening assessment by his preschool, which identified him as eligible for early intervention services, his parents enrolled him in the Learning Support (LS) programme in September 2018. Under this programme, children with learning needs receive support in their preschools from Learning Support Educators, in areas such as handwriting, social communication, language development and literacy.

In addition to supporting Ethan once a week at his preschool, the Learning Support Educators also taught Mrs Wong how to better support her son at home. She conscientiously incorporates the toys that her son likes into step-by-step instructional games to increase his attention span for example.

Today, after eight months of early intervention support, Ethan is able to stay attentive in class and follow two- to three-step verbal instructions. Mrs Wong says such improvements take time and require support both within and outside of the classroom. “I believe parents need to take part. Parents need to go back and practise more with their kid at home,” she says.

It helps that the LS programme is conducted within the preschool. Mrs Wong does not need to seek external sources of help and can spend more time supporting her child’s development. She also finds it a useful resource for parents who may not be familiar with such programmes, and is a “good start” for children with mild learning needs.

In preschool, Ethan was supported by Ms Veronica Tang, a Learning Support Educator from NTUC First Campus. Ms Tang – or “Teacher Veron”, as students affectionately call her – gives extra guidance to children from My First Skool with developmental needs. Over the course of three months, she conducted 10 early intervention sessions with Ethan. These sessions were customised to Ethan’s specific learning needs, targeted at focusing on tasks at hand and following step-by-step instructions through the use of play and daily routines. Ms Tang provided a progress report to Mrs Wong after each session.

Ms Tang says early intervention services give “peace of mind to parents” because they know they have “additional support” at their children’s preschools.

Recognising the importance of such support, MSF announced in January 2019 that spending on early intervention programmes would be raised to around $60 million per year, up from $45 million previously.

The Ministry further announced in April 2019 the setting up of a cross-sectoral inclusive preschool workgroup to study and develop recommendations to further support children with moderate to severe developmental needs within preschools. The workgroup is co-chaired by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and National Institute of Education Associate Dean (Education Research) Kenneth Poon.

And progressively from July 2019 till end 2020, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will oversee both early intervention services and preschool services.

These initiatives will ensure better coordination and delivery of the various services for children with developmental needs.

Ms Deniece Bidhiya, Senior Manager (Learning & Developmental Support) at NTUC First Campus’ Child Support Services, says more parents have been enrolling their children in such programmes since the school started offering them in 2012.

Initially, she shares, some parents were apprehensive. A common concern was that their children might feel singled out through such intervention lessons, or be viewed differently by their friends.

“I always assure parents that the Learning Support Educators are professionals and know how to build a relationship with not just the child, but also their peers.”  She adds that the children find Ms Tang’s activities so fun, they sometimes cannot wait for their turns with her.

As Ms Tang describes her approach to education, “Learning cannot be just: ‘Sit at the table, read a book and then write, write, write’. It needs to be engaging.”

Judging by the scene when she walks around the preschool, the students are certainly engaged. They crowd around her, eager to chat and share their latest drawings with her.

Stay-at-home Mom with Peace of Mind

Lee Siok Hong’s family is one of 5,000 households slated to benefit from enhanced child care subsidies. As a non-working mother, the increase in subsidies will allow her to focus on raising her two young children.

Sitting on the couch in her living room, Siok Hong is surrounded by the trappings of home. For most of the day, she tends to her six-month-old baby, Mavis, while her older child, Oscar spends his day at a child care centre.

The 38-year-old put her career in admin and customer service on hold to focus on raising her two children in their crucial early years. With her husband as the sole breadwinner, Siok Hong and her family fall under the middle income category – they do not have to worry about making ends meet, but still feel the pinch of raising a child.

Siok Hong estimates that monthly child care costs for Oscar alone reach up to $450. This adds to the family’s expenses, which include necessities such as diapers for Mavis.

The increase in child care subsidies which Siok Hong will receive from the Early Childhood Development Agency will go a long way in helping her defray some of these costs.

From 1 March 2019, thanks to the Government’s enhanced support for non-working mothers, families like Siok Hong’s can enjoy a further boost in subsidies ranging from $100 to $440, subject to means testing.  It is on top of a $300 monthly basic subsidy.

Besides higher subsidies, Siok Hong can also enjoy these subsidies until her younger child turns 24 months, up from 18 months previously.

Siok Hong recalls that when she took care of Oscar as an infant, she often had to wake up in the middle of the night to tend to his needs. Going to work the next day was exhausting. While Oscar was at infant care, he often got sick and this brought Siok Hong constant worry and stress at work, as she was unable to leave to pick him up.

Instead of having to repeat this tiring routine for Mavis, Siok Hong feels reassured that she can stay home to focus on caring for her.

Read more about ECDA’s announcements here.

More on MSF’s announcements here.

Want to join social work? Be a ‘fool’ like this social worker

Ian Peterson has worked for 18 years as a social worker, without losing his resolve. His secret? Faith, openness, optimism and love.

When Ian became a social worker 18 years ago, people sometimes called him a fool. His profession was not well understood then and he was seen to be just a “paid volunteer”.

Now, though, “fool” has taken on a new meaning in his life.

Each letter of the epithet stands for one of his ideals.
“F” is for faith – in people and their assets.
“O” is for openness to the experiences of clients and their families.
“O” is for optimism in the face of difficulties.
“L” is love for social work.

The 46-year-old’s sense of purpose is an integral part of fulfilling his daily responsibilities as the Cluster Director (Northwest) of Care Corner Singapore Ltd.

He works with vulnerable clients and fellow social workers, overseeing three family service centres at Admiralty, Queenstown and Woodlands. In his time, he has helped those struggling with family violence, gambling and drug addiction. A proponent of an integrated approach to social service, Ian coordinates with his colleagues to identify common issues that clients face. Based on these findings, together they might launch targeted and group programmes for these clients.

Ian is now working with MSF, applying his knack for community-based care to launch Community Link (ComLink) at Marsiling. As part of this initiative, social service hubs will be launched in four areas: Jalan Kukoh, Marsiling, Kembangan-Chai Chee and Boon Lay. Overall, ComLink will benefit some 1,000 families staying in rental flats. While ComLink is new, Ian says it builds on current support networks.

“I believe that in every community so far that I’ve worked with, there is some level of community participation already.  You are just enhancing what’s existing to see whether you can take it to the next level.”

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Ian having discussion with his colleague

For Ian, the relationship between social workers and clients is a collaborative journey. Clients do not simply have deficits but bring their own assets to the table, he says. His work involves collaborating with clients and “helping them to reach that level of motivation, where they can move on in life and to increase their social mobility”.

For example, Ian once worked with a family going through a painful divorce. In “journeying” together with the mother and her three children, Ian saw them create new meaning in their adjusted lives. “They became strong pillars of support for each other, especially when they were able to open up and share how difficult it was to lose the dad.” The older children had to step up to help with housework, and for the youngest, the challenge was homework.

Community, it seems, is never far from Ian’s musings on social work. As the “fool” says: “Always know that there’s always a lot of team support and community network that exists.”

MSF will be working with community partners to launch ComLink in four estates to provide more integrated and coordinated support for families in rental flats. Read more about this here.

More on MSF’s announcements here.

70-year-old Colours Her Way to Health

At the Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre in Hougang, a fellow resident passes Mdm Jaya Lidya d/o Samuel  an outline of a house overlooked by trees. Beaming, Mdm Jaya gets to work, shading the branches brown. This is part of a typical day for the 70-year-old who, like the scene she is colouring, is a picture of exuberance.

When she was young, though, Mdm Jaya contracted polio, which has affected her mobility. In spite of her condition, she is determined to live a full life, enjoying wheelchair dancing, flower making, cooking and bingo, – among other activities at Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre.

Mdm Jaya is also close to her family. She lives with her sister in a HDB studio apartment. She has a big extended family, too, including nephews and nieces who like to share jokes with her whenever they visit.

Besides this crucial family support, she receives cash assistance as part of ComCare Long Term Assistance (LTA). Since 2016, this scheme has helped to defray some of her living and medical expenses.

From 1 July 2019, Mdm Jaya, along with other ComCare LTA beneficiaries, will receive an increase in cash assistance.

Mdm Jaya cites her family and her social service officer from Social Service Office @ Hougang, Priya d/o Sreetharan, as her pillars of support.  Having worked together over the past two years, Mdm Jaya and Priya have grown particularly close. This connection is important, says Priya, for understanding and meeting the needs of those they serve.

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Mdm Jaya with Priya from Social Service Office @ Hougang and Moses from Fei Yue Cluster Support

Apart from ComCare LTA, Mdm Jaya receives aid from the Silver Support Scheme and the Pioneer Generation package. Helping Mdm Jaya get the best support from the network of support, Priya says, requires coordination between various agencies, like Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where Mdm Jaya receives her medical treatment.

For Mdm Jaya, volunteering is all part of quality living. She takes part in various events by organisations for the disabled, and is helping to raise funds for the Singapore Cancer Society.

“I do a lot of activities,” says this pioneer who has become an invaluable member of her community. “You can say I’m quite busy!”

For more information on the ComCare enhancements, see here.

More on MSF’s announcements here.

Changing lives with a PoP

After an enviable medical and corporate career, Dr Rajeshree Nimish Parekh has dedicated her life to empowering women. Her method of choice: empowering women through the intricacies of beading and braiding.

Bracelet-making involves a rhythm. “Left, right, in, out, again and again,” says Dr Parekh, affectionately known as Gina by her colleagues, who has found the looping of strings into knots to be a “soothing influence”. Since turning this hobby into a charitable enterprise, she has introduced other women to its joys—and its empowering effects.

As part of her PoPstrings Project, residents at the Star Shelter bond through learning to make bracelets. PoP stand for “Power of Positivity”. For these survivors of domestic violence, braiding and beading are a means of earning supplementary income when the finished products are eventually sold.

Before turning her hands to beads and threads, Dr Parekh had applied her dexterity to surgery.

In India, where she was born, Dr Parekh was the chief operating officer and medical director at UnitedHealthcare India. She was also consulting and working for various companies from her time in India to Singapore. The corporate world, though, left her with the nagging feeling that “there was something missing in my life”.

She took a break from work and started braiding as a hobby. Along the way, she would gift family and friends her creations.

 Her bracelet-making hobby would evolve after a chance meeting with mutual acquaintances at a wedding in Kenya. One was a Star Shelter employee. They chatted and met up with fellow women at the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), which founded the shelter in 1999. At that meeting, Dr Parekh offered her medical skills. To her surprise, SCWO was most drawn to her PoPstrings Project.

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When asked what empowerment means to her, she says it is a level playing field for everyone, and the ability to express yourself. “It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that women must have corporate careers or be at the workplace. Empowerment can even be having equal footing in the home environment, where you are respected for who you are and your opinion is valued.”

Looking back at her career, Dr Parekh recalls often being the only woman at meetings between senior leaders. With PoPstrings however, she is intent on keeping the project as inclusive as possible.

Residents sometimes will bring their children along for braiding classes. When a resident’s nine-year-old son asked if he could learn how to braid, Dr Parekh’s answer was obvious.

“I said ‘sure’. I’m not setting gender stereotypes here.”