Better ComCare Long-Term Assistance for the Vulnerable

Due to complications arising from diabetes, Mdm Habibah Binte Hamdi had to amputate her leg a few years ago. Despite her physical condition, the 64-year-old attends to her daily chores independently. She enjoys interacting with the children from the kindergarten located on the ground floor of her HDB block, where she lives with her brother and his family.

She is committed to taking care of herself and living a full life, even if she requires help every now and then. “I try to be as independent as I can,” she quips.

Mdm Habibah was placed on public assistance after she was certified permanently unfit for work in 2015. She receives monthly cash assistance through the ComCare Long-Term Assistance (LTA) scheme. This helps with her daily living expenses, including food, rental, utilities, Service & Conservancy Charges, clothing, transport and communications.

To better support families and individuals in need like Mdm Habibah, MSF increased the cash assistance for ComCare LTA in July 2019. The increase means that one-person LTA households will receive $600 per month, up from $500 previously.  For a household with two LTA beneficiaries, the rate will increase from $870 to $1,000. Larger household types will receive higher amounts.

Increasing the cash assistance rates is only a part of MSF’s efforts to provide more comprehensive, convenient, and coordinated support to low-income and vulnerable families.

MSF is also simplifying the financial assistance processes for clients so that they no longer have to be assessed separately for MediFund when they visit public health care institutions.

Whenever Mdm Habibah heads to Changi General Hospital for check-ups and medicine, she is relieved and thankful that she needs to only show her LTA card (also commonly known as the Public Assistance card) for free medical treatment.

This arrangement reduces the stress for individuals who may be faced with multiple needs. Samuel Chua, Mdm Habibah’s social assistance officer from Social Service Office @ Tampines, says this has positively impacted the lives of many ComCare clients. “They can focus on their health and well-being.”

Samuel says Mdm Habibah’s independent streak comes from being part of the Merdeka generation – those who grew up during the turbulent years from 1950 –  1959 and contributed to Singapore’s development.

In recognition of their efforts, the government announced the Merdeka Generation Package at the National Day Rally in 2018. Mdm Habibah will receive a $200 Medisave top-up every year, from 2019 to 2023, among other benefits of the package.

Besides helping with Mdm Habibah’s medical expenses and appointments, Samuel also works with community partners, such as mosques and the North East Community Development Council, to invite Hdm Habibah to their events to keep her active.

Since meeting Mdm Habibah two years ago, Samuel has bonded with her.

When asked what it was like working with Samuel, Mdm Habibah joked that he has become more handsome over time.  She also shared that Samuel would arrange to meet her when she makes her way to SSO for review of her assistance at the drop off point and assist her after each meeting.

“That’s the kind of person he is, always ready to help.”

 

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.”

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.