1. Mr Chairman Sir, my Minister has spoken about the growing complexity of the problems that we now face due to a rapidly ageing population, the growing income gap and other factors. My Ministry recognises such needs, and we not only regularly review our schemes to ensure that they remain relevant but also continue to look at ways to reach out to the needy amongst us. I always find it a tremendous pleasure to work with the people in the social service sector – an amazing lot with a tremendous amount of compassion among them, which is highly infectious.
2. Compassion, Sir, is the most important ingredient in delivering an effective social service. But we recognise that we also need effective systems, processes and people. To reach out to those in need, the government cannot do it alone. Hence, we work closely with the CDCs, the FSCs, the VWOs and grassroots organisations, all of whom play a very crucial role in helping us to fulfil our mission. Only with such a strong partnership will we be able to reach out to the frail, single elderly living alone, the single mother struggling to bring up her children and the low income family that needs help when the father loses his job. So, a key element in delivering an effective social service system is community involvement. Local outreach and assistance can complement national schemes in an important way. They are part of the social safety net, and help to fill in gaps. But, no matter what we do, there will continue to be those who fall through the cracks for whatever reason. How can we prevent this?
3. A second key element therefore, Sir, must be effective coordination. I am as concerned as the several MPs who had spoken in this Committee, such as Ms Foo Mee Har, on the need for even better coordination and integration in the delivery of social services. Be it financial assistance, family services, or eldercare, we need to improve so that we can catch as many people as possible, even if it is not possible for us to catch everyone. We cannot and actually do not expect those needing help to be familiar with all the schemes available. So I want to assure Ms Foo that they don’t have to know the hundred schemes NCSS has listed. Neither should they have to repeat the same stories to different agencies, nor fill up the same information in different forms. Help agencies should work with one another so as to provide holistic and effective assistance. We need to synchronise and aim towards a no-wrong-door policy.
4. Sir, a third key element is to recognise that our needy families have different needs, so we have to be client-centric. We have to tailor our assistance to suit their needs and circumstances. I take note of Mr Gan Thiam Poh’s suggestion of having a common definition to determine eligibility across assistance schemes. This may sound administratively simpler but it is not necessarily in the best interests of the needy. A differentiated approach when it comes to subsidies and assistance to address distinct types of needs is therefore more helpful.
5. Let me now share with Members how we apply these concepts in different areas to revamp our service models, improve our processes and raise the standards of service delivery, so as to better support our elderly, our low-income families, and our children.
(II) Caring for Elderly Singaporeans
6. Let me start with the elderly. Sir, I agree with Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, Dr Lily Neo and Mr Patrick Tay that we need to adopt a holistic approach in caring for the elderly. That is why we take a Whole-of-Government approach on this. Minister Gan Kim Yong chairs the Ministerial Committee on Ageing, which involves different ministries – Finance, Manpower, National Development, Health and my Ministry – and other government agencies.
7. Sir, our elderly have contributed to the success of Singapore, and we are grateful. We understand how they feel and their heartfelt desires as they age and become frail. If we ask any of our elderly persons today for their preference, most will say that they want to be with or close to their families. They want to live in the community. But, they do not want to be a burden to their children, their relatives or their neighbours and their friends.
8. Sir, to help our elderly age-in-place, we need a fundamental re-look at how we design and organise community- and home-based care to better support them in their homes and community. This will also help reinforce the role of the family in caring for them. I am pleased to announce that my ministry will be revamping two key services so that our elderly will receive more effective care and support. These are the Integrated Day Facilities, or IDFs, and Home-based Care.
[Announcement 1] Integrated Day Facilities
9. What is the Integrated Day Facility (or IDF for short) and why does it mark a fundamental change in how we deliver eldercare services, many would ask.
10. Today, Sir, we have standalone, stovepipe community-based care. There are day care centres, day dementia care centres and day rehabilitation centres. The polyclinics and even hospitals provide general nursing services, all operating in silos.
11. More often than not, our elderly need services across these facilities. Currently, our elderly and his family have to shuttle from one facility to another, sometimes within the same day. This is far from being “client-centric”.
12. MCYS will re-design this with the Ministry of Health. We will coordinate and integrate these services into more convenient, elderly-centric and family-friendly one-stop centres.
13. As a one-stop centre, Integrated Day Facilities will provide:
a. First, basic day care for the frail elderly, including those who are wheelchair-bound, and those with moderate to severe dementia.
b. Second, specialised services and programmes such as rehabilitation and dementia programmes for those with higher care needs.
c. And third, information, referral and care coordination services to both our elderly and their families.
14. The IDF, Sir, will significantly improve the delivery of community care to our elderly as each elderly person’s progress will be tracked, services co-ordinated and specialised services brought to them in the same centre.
15. This concept represents greater synergy between MCYS and MOH. And this is not limited to the IDFs. We will work more closely with MOH on other services and caregiver support.
16. We will locate IDFs in the heart of our communities. The first two new IDFs will be built this year – one in Tampines and another in the Bishan/Toa Payoh area. We will also upgrade 6 existing day care and day rehabilitation centres into IDFs.
17. Let me just share with you a story of an existing example of an IDF. This is the case of Mr Ho Koon Chuan, who is currently enjoying the benefits of the IDF model. Mr Ho is 86 years old today and he attends St Luke’s ElderCare in Hougang. St Luke’s has already started delivering integrated services. Rather than having to shuttle around, Mr Ho goes to St Luke’s for both his physiotherapy and day care needs, all under one roof. St Luke’s even provides transport to and from his house. As we roll out the IDFs, I believe more will benefit, just like Mr Ho.
18. By 2016, Sir, we will have about 40 IDFs which can serve up to 6,000 elderly persons requiring day care. Over the next 5 years, we estimate we will invest about $100 million in IDFs.
19. Sir, while there are elderly persons who will benefit from the IDFs, there are others who prefer or need to be cared for in their homes. Today, most of our home care services are service-centric. An elderly person has to integrate the services himself. Sometimes, he may even have different care staff visiting his home, providing services such as housekeeping, laundry and personal hygiene. The elderly can feel like a service item on a work schedule.
20. We can do much better. And I agree with Dr Intan Azura and Mr Sitoh Yih Pin both of whom will be very happy to know that we are revamping the model so as to provide coordinated and client-centric home-based care. We call it “Ensuite Social Home-based Care”.
21. The central idea, Sir, is to have a single care worker who is trained and equipped to perform a range of services for the elderly person in a single visit. The Centre for Enabled Living has worked with a couple of organisations to pilot this service model and it has worked.
22. I am pleased to announce that my Ministry will develop and expand Ensuite Social Home-based Care. We will progressively widen the range of services to include other services such as maintenance exercises for elderly who need it.
23. By 2016, we will scale this up to benefit 4,000 elderly, more than twice the number of users for home-based care today. This is estimated to cost the government about $80 million over the next 5 years.
[Announcement 3] Enhanced Subsidies for Community and Home-Based Care
24. Sir, while we improve the delivery models of community- and home-based care, we must be mindful about cost. The elderly and their families must be able to afford these services.
25. Even as we improve and enhance our services for the elderly, we will strive to keep the fees affordable. I am pleased to announce that MCYS will raise our means-tested subsidies and extend them to more income groups. Elderly persons from larger households will benefit from the new per capita household income criteria. The changes are aligned to the revised subsidies for intermediate and long-term care under MOH.
26. These subsidy changes will take effect from the third quarter this year. Around two-thirds of Singaporean households with elderly will be eligible. Middle income households will see the largest increase in subsidy levels. We will also absorb the GST to reduce costs further.
27. Despite these enhancements, some flexibility in implementation and service delivery with compassion is important. My Ministry will work with the Centre for Enabled Living to see how we can also empower VWO service providers with a ‘contingency fund’. Providers can use the fund to top up the amount of assistance for those with family difficulties.
28. Sir, let me now turn our attention to how we can better support the vulnerable elderly in the community. They may be socially disconnected. Many are poor and living alone in rental flats. They have weak or no family support.
29. Over the years, Sir, we have built Seniors Activity Centres, SACs, across the island to promote social interaction among the elderly. These SACs also help detect and prevent social isolation.
30. Let me just give you an example of Mdm Pang, she is one of the many elderly who have benefitted from the SACs’ support. Mdm Pang lived alone in her rental flat at Holland Close without financial or social support. The staff at the Fei Yue Seniors Activity Centre identified Mdm Pang and reached out to her. They provided her a listening ear and helped her apply for financial assistance. The proactive efforts of Fei Yue staff lifted Mdm Pang’s spirits. I was heartened to learn that she has since become an active participant in block parties and “Yum Cha” sessions organised by the SAC. There are many others similar to Mdm Pang, whose lives have been brightened, thanks to the SACs’ efforts.
31. However, Sir, the SAC in its current form will not be effective in meeting future needs. There will be more single elderly and many of them will not live in rental flats. Today, there are 35,000 elderly living alone. We expect this figure to increase to 61,000 by 2020, and 83,000 by 2030. These elderly persons could be vulnerable especially if there is no one at home to take care of them.
32. I am pleased to announce, Sir, that we will revamp the SACs so that they can be more effective in reaching out to the vulnerable elderly, which a number of MPs, such as Mr Vikram Nair, Dr Lily Neo, Mr Patrick Tay and Mr Sitoh, had alluded to. For a start, the centres, Sir, will widen their scope to include those not living in rental flats but who need social support. To extend coverage, we will ramp up the number of SACs from 41 to 58 by 2016, so as to cater to 39,000 elderly then, up from 18,000 elderly today.
33. We will also restructure the way SACs are organised. We will create 16 “Anchor SACs” out of the 58 SACs. These will function as social work and support nodes for vulnerable elderly in the community. They will work with various touchpoints in the community to receive alerts and referrals of vulnerable elderly not living in rental flats. They will have trained volunteers to provide closer supervision for the elderly. Dr Lily Neo will be happy to know that under the MOH mental health blueprint, the Agency for Integrated Care will partner our SACs to provide additional services, such as community mental health services to better support vulnerable elderly. We will resource our SACs with extra funding and social work capabilities to enable this. My Ministry is committing an estimated $70 million over the next five years to ramp up and resource the SACs.
[Announcement 5] Seniors Group Homes
34. Sir, yet another new development that we are experimenting with is the concept of Seniors Group Homes. These homes are meant for elderly persons who have problems with activities of daily living. We will enable elderly persons to live together and support each other in a cluster of rental flats. Care staff will provide support to the residents. The Seniors Activity Centres, with their expanded scope will also cover these group homes. With this arrangement, frail elderly need not be institutionalised prematurely. They will be able to age with dignity in their own homes, even if it is a rental flat. We have just started a pilot at MacPherson that I recently visited, and we will develop another one in Bukit Merah. We expect to cater to a few hundred elderly over the next 5 years.
Independent Living Among Elderly
35. Sir, let me now speak briefly on what we will do to support our elderly who prefer to and are able to live independently on their own. More elderly are finding Studio Apartments an attractive form of housing in their golden years. With the enhanced incentives by MND, more may move from a larger flat to a studio apartment. For this group, Sir, we should enable them to live independently.
[Announcement 6] Stepping Up of Seniors Service Centres
36. I am happy to announce, Sir, that we have begun to partner the commercial sector to bring elderly-friendly services to the doorstep of the elderly living in the studio apartments. This is a service innovation. These Seniors Service Centres have social space and services, such as alert alarm systems, provided free of charge to the residents. At the same time, they provide fee-based services such as therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine, which I understand are hugely popular with the residents. Because of these commercial activities, centres tend to open 7 days a week and into the nights – a plus for the elderly.
37. A few months ago, sir, I visited the pilot centre – ECON Health and Wellness – in Bishan, located under the Golden Jasmine block of studio apartments. I saw for myself how residents who gathered at the centre look out for each other, lend a listening ear to one another. Some even told me that they would visit those who are under the weather – because if they did not see the elderly person coming down to the centre, they start wondering and they go and visit them. The centre has begun to attract elderly persons outside of the studio apartments who enjoy the friendship and support.
38. Such centres are a step towards building a community for the aged, as Mr Sitoh suggested. They are also good examples of how we can blend the customer service and operational capability of the commercial sector, with the care and compassion of the community, for the benefit of our citizens. We will open at least another three new such centres this year co-located with the studio apartments.
Supporting Caregivers and their Families
39. Over the course of the last two weeks, Sir, many members have spoken about caregivers, including Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Mrs Lina Chiam and Dr Intan Azura. Caregivers are our unsung heroes who shoulder stress and responsibility.
40. We know that caregiving is often a long and challenging journey. But, with the right support, it can also be fulfilling and life-affirming. My Ministry will journey alongside caregivers. We will provide support for them to lean on.
[Announcement 7] Centre for Enabled Living Initiatives
41. Let me share with you, sir, how we will be doing this in three main areas:
a. First and most important is to provide information and referral. As a first stop, families can turn to the Centre for Enabled Living, or CEL, established by MCYS. Families can find information on elderly and disability care services, financial assistance schemes and caregiver training programmes, through its website. Those who are less comfortable with the internet can also call CEL’s helpline – 1800 8585 885. In the coming years, Sir, CEL will improve its case coordination so that elderly, adults with disabilities and their families can get help in putting together care plans that meet their needs, and fit their circumstances.
b. Second, Sir, we will do more to improve caregiver training. We agree with Mr Sitoh Yih Pin that it is important to educate and train our caregivers. This will improve the quality of care for our elderly. Caregivers can also gain more confidence that they are taking proper care of their elderly family members, thus reducing their anxiety and stress.
CEL has been working with VWOs and other training providers to develop more of such training courses. They will be in English, Mandarin, Malay or Tamil to cater to various caregivers. Together, they expect to train up to 10,000 caregivers this year. We will continue to subsidise these courses with the Caregiver Training Grant.
CEL will also administer the new additional $120 per month Foreign Domestic Worker grant. This will cover families with a per capita income of up to $2,200, who look after their elderly with high care needs. Sir, they include those with severe dementia who cannot perform 3 or more activities of daily living such as not being able to feed themselves, bathe, use the toilet, or move around independently. We are budgeting, sir, about $25 million over the next 5 years for this purpose.
We will require their foreign domestic helpers to go for caregiver training. CEL will launch the new FDW grant in the third quarter of this year.
c. Finally, Sir, the support for caregivers. We will provide more respite options. Apart from IDFs and Ensuite Social Home-based Care services which I announced earlier, CEL will also look at how it can develop more support services, such as counselling and elder-sitter programmes, to address the psycho-emotional stresses that caregivers often experience.
42. Sir, I have shared with this Committee some of my Ministry’s initiatives that support aging-in-place, vulnerable elderly, independent living and caregivers. All in all, we are committing $400 million over the next 5 years in transforming community and home-based services to support ageing in place.
43. I hope that with these new initiatives, our elderly will feel more assured. More of them can continue to stay in the community, either with their families or alone, and age with dignity. I also hope that caregivers will feel more empowered to provide care to their loved ones.
44. Sir, let me now move on to social assistance and support for our low-income families. My Minister had shared with Members the enhancements we are making to ComCare schemes. Other than ComCare, many schemes exist today to help the needy; delivered by different agencies. Each scheme has a role to play in the bigger picture, a role in helping and supporting low income families.
45. Sir, between yesterday and today, many Members, such as Mr Seah Kian Peng, Ms Denise Phua, Ms Foo Mee Har, Mr Vikram Nair and Mr Hawazi Daipi, had called for greater coordination and integration in the delivery of social services. These are essentially the client-centric and coordinated elements that I had mentioned at the beginning of my speech. I agree with them. Therefore, along with the changes to enhance ComCare schemes, we will expend efforts to improve service delivery, particularly at two key nodes – the Community Development Councils and the Family Service Centres.
46. We are working to improve the following areas, sir:
a. First, improving access to information and help avenues;
b. Second, enhancing the help experience and delivery;
c. Third, tightening the coordination between the Community Development Councils and Family Service Centres; and
d. Finally, increasing resourcing and training of social assistance officers.
47. Sir, some needy Singaporeans do not know where to seek help. Together with our community partners, we will step up our outreach and guide them along the way. As Mr Hawazi Daipi said, we must reach out to those who do not come forward by themselves.
48. First, Sir, we will update our ComCare publicity materials, and increase the distribution points. We will also make our publicity materials simpler and easier to understand. We have heard feedback that our people are often confused by the many help schemes. We will present the information in a more client-centric manner based on the type of help required rather than individual schemes. And at this point, I just want to reiterate that there is no need for our needy residents to know about any of the schemes. They just need to go to any of the touchpoints – the FSCs, CDCs, even the Members of Parliament to ask for help, and the help will be processed. The schemes are actually for backend processing and operations; there’s no need for the needy person to know about it.
49. Second, we will enhance grassroots leaders’ knowledge of help avenues. Grassroots leaders are an important touchpoint. Very often, they are the ones who first encounter those who need help. With training and regular updates, grassroots leaders can better look out for needy residents in their midst. We will equip them with a Starter’s Kit. With this kit, they can better advise needy residents on the assistance available, and connect them to help.
50. Finally, Sir, we will upload more relevant and user-friendly information online, and in print. We are creating a web-based social service portal called ComCare.sg. Those who need help will not need to know the schemes available. Once again I stress that. Instead, their needs will guide their online experience, and point them to where to go for help. We know not everyone who needs help is able to access the web. But those of us in the community, who want to help them, may. These enhancements will enable us to guide them better.
51. Sir, we will roll out all these initiatives progressively starting from next month. We hope that with these initiatives, more Singaporeans will know where to access help; and our schemes are not, and I quote, “best kept secrets” as Ms Foo Mee Har mentioned yesterday.
52. Sir, many needy Singaporeans approach the CDCs when they need assistance. As part of a concerted effort to raise the quality of service delivery, CDCs and their partners are experimenting with various ways to improve the experience and outcomes of clients who seek help.
53. We are testing out ideas across the entire journey of a client – from the point he walks into the CDC; to when the CDC assesses his needs and provides assistance; and finally to when he graduates from the scheme. Let me share some of these ideas.
54. A client’s first impression at the CDC sets the tone for the rest of the encounter there. We will explore how we can make the service environment less intimidating, more welcoming. A couple of CDCs will look into redesigning their premises.
55. Beyond first impressions, we will improve the way we assess and address our clients’ needs. CDCs recognise that every individual or family is unique. Hence, some of them are trying out a differentiated process of assessing a client’s needs, or a needy family’s needs. If someone’s needs are straightforward, and can be addressed in a shorter time, the CDC officers will do so.
56. For others who have more complex needs, officers will spend more time with them to diagnose the root cause of the issues. They may have to coordinate help with partners such as the FSCs.
57. Today, Sir, about one in ten of all ComCare Transitions applications were rejected due to a lack of supporting documents, withdrawal of application or because they could not meet some of the eligibility criteria. This was a point mentioned by Mr Seah Kian Peng yesterday. And I would like to assure him that CDC officers do not blindly turn away applicants just because they do not submit sufficient information. CDC officers often go out of their way to ensure that help is delivered to the needy. They make phone calls, they conduct home-visits and they rally the help of the grassroots leaders to trace the needy applicants.
58. Beyond assessment, Sir, we will customise the amount and type of assistance we provide, based on each client’s needs and circumstances. We are also prepared to exercise flexibility for families. Being closer to the ground and with a clearer understanding of a needy family’s situation, CDCs can and do exercise flexibility for cases when necessary, based on the guidelines provided by my Ministry.
59. Finally, Sir, we will engage our needy families who have successfully graduated from social assistance. We will connect them to the community. We also hope to showcase their success as an inspiration to the others.
60. If the experiments are successful, we will progressively roll them out to the other touchpoints.
61. Sir, families facing complex issues need more than financial assistance to get them back on their feet. CDCs need to work closely with FSCs to provide more integrated help. CDCs can provide short-term financial assistance. Social workers and other professionals in the FSCs can work with the family to resolve family conflicts and address other issues.
62. To foster better working arrangements between CDCs and FSCs, we have organised FSCs by district, supervised by a cluster manager at the National Council of Social Service. The cluster manager is the key contact point for the respective CDCs. They will be familiar with the ground issues and concerns. My Ministry will also study how to better facilitate sharing of information between the agencies.
63. We will work with FSCs to strengthen their capabilities. We hear Mr Faisal Manap’s concerns on the workload of FSC staff. MCYS and NCSS senior management visit and hold regular dialogues with the FSCs, and we hear their concerns. We keep constantly in touch with them. Last month, we announced a series of initiatives to help FSCs build capability.These were co-developed with representatives from the FSCs. They are our partners, not subcontractors.
64. As part of the initiatives announced, social workers will see their average caseload reduced by 20 per cent. They can devote more time to helping vulnerable families with more complex needs. As there will always be a mix of simple and complex cases, we should not be overly fixated by this ratio. Neither should we merely track the volume of cases. Since 2009, we have started with outcome indicators.
65. Sir, what is more important for us to ensure is that collectively, within the FSC system, there is capacity to tackle a range of issues. And within each FSC, there are resources and capability to help families with different problems.
66. Sir, we expect a growing need for FSC services. Cases are becoming more complex. I am pleased to announce that we will introduce a new Master Social Worker Scheme. Through this scheme, NCSS will appoint a group of experienced social workers to advance social worker practice in the FSCs. These Master Social Workers can help elevate standards of practice. They can guide their colleagues, who will in turn, develop more confidence and skills to help vulnerable individuals and families get back on their feet. We intend to start this scheme this year, and about 6 to 7 master social workers will be recruited this year.
67. Finally, we will ensure that the CDCs are adequately equipped to provide prompt and proper assistance to those who walk through the doors. I am pleased to announce that we will provide CDCs with an additional $5 million per year to augment their manpower. This will help them cope better with the expected increase in case complexity.
68. Increasing manpower, Sir, is but a start. Social assistance officers at the CDCs will need to have the right skills and knowledge to manage clients’ needs. My Ministry will invest more resources in the training and development of our social assistance officers. Just as we have done so for social workers; we will chart a professional development path for them.
69. Sir, the slide on the screen summarises my Ministry’s plans to raise the quality of service delivery to low income families. At the end of the day, we hope to narrow the cracks so that more who are needy will receive help. We want to render assistance – comprehensive, integrated assistance, with compassion, that can help a client in his or her journey out of poverty.
(IV) Safeguarding Children’s Interests
70. Finally, Sir, l would like to touch on our efforts to better protect the vulnerable children in our midst – points raised by both Mr Patrick Tay and Dr Intan Azura.
71. Children, Sir, are our hopes and future. It is our duty to ensure the well-being of each child, in particular those who are in need of care and protection. Providing a positive and supportive environment for our children to grow, to blossom and to maximise their potential is also the best strategy for social mobility.
72. Last month, I announced major initiatives to improve the outcomes and care of children residing in the Voluntary Children’s Homes. These include building small group homes, raising care standards through training and providing specialised services. We will closely monitor and assess the effectiveness of these initiatives, even as we continue to enhance efforts to protect our vulnerable children.
73. I also want to assure Mr Patrick Tay that we have sufficient places in our facilities to provide shelter to protect our women and children who are victims of violence. In fact, this month another new crisis shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence will be opened. Our efforts to help abused children cannot be done alone. We need an involved and caring community that act as our eyes and ears on the ground and report victims of abuse.
74. Besides those residing at the homes, there are other children from low-income or at-risk families in the community who need special attention. Dr Lily Neo has asked what we will do to provide more comprehensive support to our vulnerable children.
75. We have strengthened the early intervention and preventive focus for the Family Service Centres, to enable them to work more effectively with these families. Let me briefly touch on this.
a. First, we enhanced the FSC training framework. We prioritised child-centric case management modules. All senior social workers will have to attend these modules. We held the first run of training in January this year. We will conduct more runs this year.
b. Second, we strengthened the referral protocols between childcare centres and FSCs for early referral of young children and families in need of help. Case workers from FSCs can recommend higher child care and student care subsidies for these children, even as they continue to work with their families to address their needs.
c. Finally, Sir, we are partnering the Health Promotion Board to enhance access to health promotion and preventive health services among children from low-income families.
76. With this in place, a typical low-income family can receive comprehensive counselling support through the FSCs.
77. Sir, some low-income children come from single parent households. Mr Janil Puthucheary asked about the maternity leave benefits for single mothers. The 16 weeks of Maternity Leave provided under the Child Development Co-savings Act is given to married working women to encourage parenthood within the context of marriage. Single parents who are divorced or widowed are also eligible if the child was born within marriage.
78. Although they are not eligible for maternity leave under the CDCA, Sir, an unwed single mother who works is entitled to 12 weeks of paid Maternity Leave under the Employment Act, with the first 8 weeks of her first 2 confinements paid for by the employer. The 12 weeks provides time for her to breastfeed and spend time and bond with her newborn.
79. Mr Patrick Tay, Ms Ellen Lee and Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about support for divorced parents and the impact of divorce on children. I agree, Sir, with them that children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of a broken marriage. We must protect the welfare of children during and after their parents’ divorce.
80. For this reason, we require divorcing couples with a young child to undergo counselling and mediation as part of their divorce proceedings. This is the same at the Syariah Court.
81. Furthermore, part of the matrimonial assets can also now be transferred to the Child Development Account to ensure sufficient savings for the children. We have also amended the Women’s Charter to strengthen enforcement of maintenance orders, so that the children’s upkeep is not compromised.
82. Divorced parents who require assistance can apply for ComCare assistance. They can also approach the FSCs and various VWOs for help. Two centres, HELP and PPIS As-Salaam FSC are dedicated to supporting single parents, whether divorced, unwed or widowed. They provide specialised counselling, support and other programmes to promote the well-being of single-parent families.
83. If divorced parents are no longer amicable, the Court may issue supervised access orders. For the majority of cases, Sir, up to 80%, it takes about two weeks after a Court Order is made for the first supervised access session to take place. More complicated cases might take a longer time. And as you know, with family relationships – sometimes when they break, a great deal of complexities and problems do develop, particularly when parents decide to fight over their children.
84. On access orders, Sir, that are not honoured, these violations are a contempt of court. We view them seriously. We will work closely with the Family Court and voluntary welfare organisations to fine-tune how we handle access order cases. This includes reviewing capacity of VWOs handling supervised access.
85. I would also like to assure Mr Alex Yam that we have various programmes in place to support at-risk youth.
86. We will progressively roll out the Youth GO! Programme. We piloted this in the Northeast district in February. We think it has worked well. Under this programme, we reach out to youth by going down to common youth hangouts. And we will do so even during the wee hours of the morning. Maybe we will enlist Mr Alex Yam’s help as well to go down in the wee hours of the morning. He will be able to reach out to them even better. And many other members of this house as well.
87. We are also developing a Youth Information System. It will enable information sharing between our partners and us. We can then better target our outreach efforts. My Ministry will share more details on this in due course.
88. We will continue, Sir, to put in our best efforts to help youth offenders turn around their lives. Mrs Lina Chiam has asked what we do for them.
89. We have a comprehensive range of programmes in our homes. These include educational, vocational and character development modules. We want to ensure that they pick up important skills that will benefit them after they leave us.
90. But what we do in our homes is not enough. Their parents, their friends, and what they do when they return to society are just as important. This is why we introduced programmes to strengthen the relationship between the youth and their parents. And we also assign each youth a mentor, and help them to find jobs.
91. Sir, while we will do our best to ensure that the social safety net can provide help to the low-income, the elderly and the children, the government’s efforts alone will not be sufficient. We will need the involvement of the community. I cannot emphasise this enough. They can help to identify the gaps in the system so that together, we can help to plug it.
92. Let me share with you, one such heartening community initiative, which is an “ABCD” – the asset-based community development approach which Mr Lawrence Lien I know is very fond of, and has cited a number of times in his speeches, and which is very popular in the US. Actually, there are many examples of ABCDs in Singapore within our social service sector, except I don’t think they put a very sophisticated label, ABCD, to the initiatives that they do. ABCD is essentially a ground-up ownership of an initiative to reach out to the needy; the people who need help.
93. The example I would like to cite to you is the Community Network, or COMNET for short, which was initiated by the social service workers from the Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre. The social workers observed that despite being served by multiple service providers, the living conditions of vulnerable elderly could be better. They got together to develop programmes to complement existing services, and to surface cases which we had all missed. Their efforts synergised with ours for a far more integrated approach in reaching out to the needy.
94. For example, COMNET realised that the Seniors Activity Centres did not cover certain clusters of rental flats in Ang Mo Kio, and launched their own socio-recreational activities in “Pasar Malam” style in lieu. When COMNET identified vulnerable elderly who remained at risk despite basic befriending services, they developed an in-depth home visit and monitoring system known as COMNET Befriending Service, for another layer of engagement.
95. I had the privilege of visiting COMNET two days ago, and experienced firsthand the good work that they do. The photos on the screen are a testament to the positive experience they bring to the elderly.
96. So here, Sir, is an example of the many helping hands which has worked, coordinated well. It is also an example of the ABCD approach in trying to reach out to the needy or the elderly. So we have the CDC, the FSC, the RC all working together in order to reach out to the elderly they feel have not been adequately serviced, notwithstanding the many services we have in place.
97. I applaud the social workers from COMNET for going the extra mile and working hand in hand with us. I also like the approach taken by the FSC here because they were not just sitting in the office, but they were willing to go into the community, look out for partners – the RCs and grassroots organisations – and work with them to deliver the services. I hope that more in the community will come forward to partner us in building an inclusive society.
98. Finally, Sir, Franklin Roosevelt once said that the test of progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
99. Even as Singapore restructures our economy and advances, we will not forget the vulnerable members in our society. We know they need help. And we will provide assistance to them. We will provide Hope. More importantly, when they approach us for assistance, we will receive them and assess their needs, with Heart. In this way, Sir, they will truly feel that Singapore is their Home.