With unity comes strength and resilience

In celebration of World Social Work Day, Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne (from left to right) from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, share their story of how they helped a pair of young siblings overcome childhood trauma, and eventually reunite with their father.


Social work may be tough, but it is where you see the most positivity, strength, and resilience in life.

Anna (not her real name) had been providing foster care to a pair of young siblings, who were victims of severe childhood trauma. The children’s father, John (not his real name), who was their only kin at that point in time, was unable to care for them.

Initially, the siblings had trouble getting used to living with Anna in a structured environment. The young siblings, who were only 3 and 4 years old then, could not cope with their emotions and displayed signs of aggression due to the intense trauma that they experienced.

There were times where Anna found it challenging to guide the kids well. That was when foster care officer Jeanne stepped in to provide support for Anna and taught her about the effects of childhood trauma. Together with Jeanne, clinical psychologist Elizabeth helped Anna work through her anxieties and taught the siblings skills to stabilise their emotions.

At the same time, child protection officer Rachel worked with John to stabilise his job and living arrangements. She also worked on strengthening his parenting skills, hoping to eventually reunite John with his children. The team subsequently linked the father with a Family Service Centre to build up his support network, which he lacked.

In the months that followed, Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne worked closely to best support Anna, and put in extra effort and hours to reconnect the children with John more frequently. They also took time to meet the children’s school and student care personnel regularly to help them understand the children’s past traumatic experiences and how to respond to their current behaviours.

Their hard work eventually paid off. John was able to pick up good parenting habits and play the role of a committed caregiver for his children. Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne were pleased to see that the kids were well-fed with John cooking for them on a regular basis. Most importantly, they were glad that the kids were happy and safe.

Soon after the siblings returned to John, the team organised a get-together with the family and Anna’s family. It was a heart-warming gathering, and John acknowledged Anna’s instrumental role in providing a stable, nurturing environment for his children.

“While we were doing different things, we were all on the same page, and could be confident in making decisions with the support from our team. Learning from each other has also helped in the work that we do,” Jeanne said.

Reflecting on the journey of helping the two siblings, Elizabeth said: “We are proud to be able to ‘graduate’ them from MSF’s help. There is nothing is like going home.”

Rachel echoed the sentiment. “Many times, it is the people and the work that keep us going. We are really happy when we see children and families reunite,” she said.

Fostering Innovation In Social Work Practice

An interview with the Director of Social Welfare, Ms Ang Bee Lian on the topic, ‘Fostering Innovation in Social Work Practice’, for World Social Work Day.


q1

Innovation involves looking inward and outward. Inwards, to reflect on our services, interventions, work processes etc. and to rethink about what we do and whether there are any areas of improvement or new ways of doing things. Outwards, to learn from best practices, to build upon the ideas of others both within the sector and beyond, and to tailor them to the relevant contexts.

Sometimes, we may think that innovations should mainly happen in the realm of science and technology and not so much in the social work setting.

We should however think of innovations as part of social work where we can find alternative ideas or solutions to improve the living conditions and well-being of individuals, families and communities.

q2

The perception that innovation is too difficult and irrelevant to the profession might be the main obstacle. Some may even identify innovation as only for the creative or brainy. Innovation is more about having a spirit of curiosity about the issues that we deal with and to explore how else these issues could be addressed. It requires us to be willing to step out of our daily tasks and routines, to relook and analyse with others on how to approach these issues in a different manner. We need to move away from the status quo and ask “what if” questions e.g. what if processes were “packaged” in a different way or what if our assumptions about particular human behaviours were wrong. Having a spirit of curiosity would constantly push us to question and to find the answers or new perspectives on the situations we face.

q3

To promote innovative practices, we need to start with developing a spirit of enquiry and learning. The management would play a key role in fostering such a culture by creating an open and supportive environment where employees can share new ideas and initiatives, build upon current ideas and be receptive to collaborate with various stakeholders. Likewise, the management could listen to their employees and take relevant ideas into consideration.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in evidence-based practice where social workers look at best possible evidence to inform them as to what works. Evidence-based practice also requires a spirit of questioning to find “evidence” on whether the current solutions work and if things should be done in a different manner. It is not about throwing away our current processes and programmes but to look at what works, to keep what works and to try new approaches and ways that offer solutions and positive outcomes to our clients’ issues.

Innovation can start in small ways, but goes a long way in growing professionals who would constantly look for new and better ways of addressing social issues.


Happy World Social Work Day!

Know a social worker? Take some time today to show your appreciation to the social workers in our midst!

MSF Budget 2017

How are we working towards building a more caring Singapore?

Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and Parliamentary Secretary Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim share about some of MSF’s latest Budget announcements in this video.

For more details, visit MSF’s Budget Page.

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

On Political Correctness and Privilege

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Written by NUS student Sarah-Kei Lauw, who attended a dialogue session with Minister Tan Chuan-Jin last month. This article was first published on Treehouse by Tembusu College, National University of Singapore.


Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about this says that Mr. Tan Chuan-Jin is too politically correct, and I don’t think they mean it in a good way. My response has and always will be, “Do you really expect anything else?”

Why do we invite ministers to speak to us? What exactly do we expect? They’re going to say the right things. They’re going to toe the party line. They might throw in some personal opinions (Mr. Tan said he’d personally support a move towards shared maternity/paternity leave instead of distinguishing the two, though he doesn’t know if/when we’ll see that happen). But by and large they are not going to say anything politically incorrect.

I figure that at such dialogues we should expect much political correctness, and this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can learn about or confirm what we already know about our government and their take on certain issues. We can allow ourselves to be persuaded to agree with them. Or we can ask questions to press them on certain issues, reflect on them, and perhaps be inspired to explore further outside of the dialogue. Ministers may respond with “standard” answers, saying what they’re supposed to as members and representatives of the Singapore government. But at least this whole process helps them stay in touch with us students (and the public), to get a sense of what we care about.

At the dialogue with Mr. Tan two weeks ago, he was definitely politically correct. But I felt that he was sensitive, reasonable, and he answered most of our questions pretty directly. His casual and friendly demeanour didn’t hurt either.

How Bad Is Singapore Really?

I’d be hard pressed to name one Singaporean friend who, if asked their opinions on Singapore, would first respond with a positive comment (it’s usually the foreigners who sing praises of our country and migrate here). There is so much information whether in school, online or in the newspapers, about problems in our society. Indeed, articles like this very one are more likely to criticise some policy or advocate for a marginalised community that the government appears to be neglecting. So from the start, I’m letting you know – I’m not going to do that.

Instead I’d prefer to balance the negativity that I feel surrounds us quite pervasively (especially in Singapore) in the form of a natural human tendency to complain. It’s more efficient to focus on the negatives in the hopes of resolving them, as opposed to expending our energy thinking about Good Things that have already been realised. Somehow it’s more satisfying to gossip about the terrible things others do instead of praising them. Painful events tend to leave deeper imprints on our hearts and minds. In whatever way, shape or form, it’s human nature to take Good Things for granted.

Mr. Tan and I seem to agree on this. He mentioned that many Singaporeans don’t realise how “Not Normal” Singapore is, in that we are a safe country, we are economically stable, we have made a name for ourselves in the world despite our geographical insignificance. We all have “pet topics”, as Mr. Tan called them. Foreign workers, unemployment, CPF, LGBT rights, racial discrimination, single mothers… The list goes on. Each of us may be especially concerned about particular issues close to our hearts, and there is nothing wrong with this. But Mr. Tan appealed to us to also look at the bigger picture instead of just a part of it, and to appreciate the successes of our little island home. For example, in response to a question about exploited foreign workers, Mr. Tan pointed out that those who don’t receive help from the Ministry of Manpower are precisely the ones who go to NGOs, and whom we hear about. Bad news is often amplified, whether through the media or as a natural consequence of how news travels. An awareness of this helps us form better-informed opinions.

One of the very first things Mr. Tan said at the dialogue was that as a minister, he has a very practical focus. He’s not about doctrinal beliefs or terms, he cares about what’s pragmatic in the real world –– and here we are triggered by the word “pragmatic”, because we’ve heard it a million times in Social Studies and Econs, right? But I think this very pragmatism has gotten us to where we are today, to this state of stability.

A question was asked about whether Singapore had forsaken “well-being” for economic development. This very effectively highlights the conflict between idealism and pragmatism. Mr. Tan’s response was that healthy economic development ensures our well-being. In the past, we had a “very small pie” to work with, and at different stages of our development we have different priorities. In the beginning it was our economy, and now we are a developed country, the richest in the region. Perhaps we don’t have much “heritage” — kampongs are a mere memory and precious few colonial buildings remain. Our schools are still too exam-focused, in that old spirit of educating our citizens as efficiently as possible. Our people are still “kiasu”, wary of strangers, pushing forward even when no one is going to cut their queue. We have problems, however big or small, but our leaders did what they had to to build Singapore to where she is today. Whatever decisions are made at any point in time, we will have issues as every country does. It’s how our world works — we’re always making trade-offs, as any decision that benefits one group of people may unintentionally disadvantage another.

Mr. Tan also spoke about Singapore’s approach to welfare. Loosely transcribed, he said, “We want to create inter-locking, tightly woven nets so that people don’t fall through the gaps. If weaved too tightly however, it could become a solid plate which can be damaging. At the same time we want to create some bounce so people can bounce back from that net. But ultimately we don’t want anyone to fall through.” It’s easy to pick at the gaps through which some fall and to admonish the government for them. But supporting needy citizens without encouraging over-dependence is a difficult balance to strike. We certainly haven’t achieved it perfectly (if a perfect balance is possible at all) but I don’t think we’re too far off. At the very least, this seems to me to be a logical model to aspire towards.

Checking My Privilege

I mentioned earlier that I’d like to balance the complaining spirit of many Singaporeans, and I strive to do this in everyday life. I try to encourage my friends to be thankful, even when it’s hard to be. For example, my friends complained extensively when we had to pay adult fares for public transport after JC. In response, I pointed out that public transport in London or New York is even more expensive.

But that makes no difference to the Singaporean who simply can’t afford to pay for public transport.

I started out wanting to get my friends to “see the bright side”, but I realised that in doing so, I can come off as dismissive of very real issues and problems that Singaporeans face (however few or many they may be). I realised I needed to strike a better balance — to be positive and counter negativity without sounding too uncaring and dismissive. It should’ve been obvious, but I see that it’s very easy for me to advocate balance and positivity because I am privileged in almost every possible way.

It hit me when Mr. Tan spoke about employment — our 3.1% unemployment rate is “virtually full employment” in his words. But to the unemployed father of three, that’s 100% unemployment. I have a stable family and two working parents who have never been unemployed unless by choice. I couldn’t possibly understand. Yes, unemployment rates are very low in Singapore, but more can be done as with every other issue. While we are happy for the 96.9% who are employed and appreciate what the government may have done to create their jobs, we do not dismiss the 3.1% who struggle.

Polity Head Tan Yang Long opened the session by saying that he hoped Polity would encourage Tembusians to reflect on their privilege. It seems they have succeeded, at least for me.

The Power of Your Privilege

Now my personal encouragement to you is this. Whatever your pet topic(s) are, care deeply, champion those causes, be passionate. But see how those issues fit into the broader fabric of Singaporean society. Be cognizant of our overall state, of the many other citizens who are doing well, whom the government is helping and supporting. Find your own balance. In doing so, reflect on your own privilege, how that may influence you and how you can work around it.

In addition, we must all do our own parts — and not just through official programmes and organised charity work. Mr. Tan mentioned speaking to residents about people they’d seen lying on the street or walking around aimlessly, only to discover that they hadn’t even spoken to them. There are plenty more who may see problems without reporting anything at all. We can’t expect the government to be omnipresent, to identify and help every single struggling citizen. We talk a lot and complain a lot, yet we have more agency than we realise, so much power to help even in small ways. Let’s use it.

Chinese New Year – Looking out for each other

Chinese New Year is a particularly hectic, but meaningful period for me. It gives me an opportunity to meet up with my residents during our visits to the shops and town centers, and in some of the festive activities organised.

Having been around the community nearly 6 years now, it is a joy to catch up with familiar faces. The young ones are growing up fast and some have gotten too big to carry! With the passing of time, many are also getting older. Some have passed on to a better place, while some have become more frail. A few ‘regulars’ at our Meet-The-People sessions haven’t been very regular for some time, and I sometimes wonder how they are. But when I saw them on my rounds recently, they were looking better than ever before! It had taken awhile for some, but the help extended by so many have made a difference.

So do remember to look out for those around us even as we visit our families and friends. For those who are alone and without much social contact, do pop by and say hello and see how they are. Some of us can help via the VWOs, while some can reach out to our community and to those living near us.

It may not seem much, but it can make a difference. Last Chinese New Year, we read of volunteers who have been organising a community reunion dinner to celebrate with elderly residents who lived alone in their neighbourhood. This is just one of many examples that I am sure we will see again this year. We also read that charities are receiving more donations last year compared to previous years. These developments are heartwarming and encouraging.

Let us continue to foster this sense of caring and giving. With each step and effort, we strengthen family and community. In so doing, we are all forging a closer-knit and a more inclusive society.

May you and your family have good health and happiness in the year of the Rooster! 恭喜发财, 万事如意, 合家欢乐!

Family is where the heart is

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(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

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(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!