Becoming a protector

By Shuxuan@MSF

29-year-old Shuxuan is a child protection officer. Coming close to 6 years in the job, Shuxuan pens her thoughts about her challenging, yet immensely meaningful job in the social service sector.


I was sued 2 years ago.

Not because I committed a crime. An aggrieved parent had disagreed with the Child Protective Service’s well-intentioned recommendations for her child to be placed in a children’s home.

So she filed a civil law suit against the officer-in-charge … me.

It was the first time this had happened. Eventually, the parent’s appeals were dismissed by the Court.

Retrospectively, I can say that it was a memorable milestone in my career as a child protection officer. I was able to pull through that difficult period, mainly because of the support from my bosses and colleagues, who assured me that I had done my best for the case.

It’s not an easy job.

To be honest, I had not even heard about the existence of ‘child protection’ in Singapore before I joined MSF in 2010.

I was young (okay, I still am!), and fresh out of school. Although I didn’t expect becoming a Child Protection Officer, I’ve always been passionate about joining the social service sector to help families in need. Perhaps this is what others may term as my “calling’.

But I eventually applied to become a Child Protection Officer with MSF. Because I wanted to make a difference to children who may be abused or neglected. And I firmly believe that children deserve nothing but the best.

This hasn’t always been a smooth journey.

The crisis-oriented nature of the work, the unpredictable working hours and the management of challenging clients made the learning curve steep.

Initially, my family was surprised at how I would sometimes return home near midnight as I had to attend to a crisis, or pick up work-related phone calls after work.

I could not explain much to them in order to maintain confidentiality of the cases, but my family was supportive of me because they saw how passionate I was about the job.

Friends around me grew to appreciate that this was what it meant to be a social worker. I was glad to have their encouragement, and it gave me strength on carry on.

In the course of this job, we celebrate small successes amid the challenging times. A deep sense of achievement comes when I am able to keep children (who were at risk of harm) safe.

Today is MSF Social Workers’ Day! I thank all social workers who run the extra mile for families in need, and their passion to make lives better.

I hope that as we continue our journey as social workers, we will do what we can, with what we have, wherever we are … even when the going gets tough.

Helping Mr Lim

By Shermaine@MSF

Shermaine works at one of MSF’s network of 24 Social Service Offices islandwide. Here, the social-work trained 27-year-old shares her reflections about reaching out to those in need.


When I first met Mr Lim (not his real name), both his legs were amputated. He was also undergoing dialysis.

It was not an easy time for him. Though he grieved about his poor state of health, he was keen to work.

Encouraged by his spirit, I helped him look for employment opportunities. Mr Lim accepted the contacts, but stopped short of agreeing to a follow-up session with me.

I thought that he was probably feeling a bit resistant, and needed time to think through his options. So I gave him some time to consider.

It was a few years before I met Mr Lim again. When we bumped into each other again, I was surprised that he recognised me!

He was now making a living by selling ice-cream, but he had been asked by the Town Council to move his ice cream cart to another location.

Glad to be able to lend a hand, we managed to appeal to the Town Council on Mr Lim’s behalf. By citing his physical constraints (as well as how his customers were familiar with him in the area!), the Town Council was agreeable to our appeal and allowed Mr Lim’s cart to remain at the same spot.

I met Mr Lim again when he approached us at the Social Service Office (SSO) to apply for financial assistance. His health had deteriorated, and he could no longer work as a hawker.

We processed his application, but the journey of helping him gave me much to think about.

It is really painful to see our clients suffer. But for many like Mr Lim, I am astounded by their resilience and spirit to survive.

We are all drawn to social work for many reasons. But I think the most important reason is that it is a calling.

To have the honour of helping people in need, like Mr Lim, is why we do what we do.

This a complex profession, which carries great responsibilities. But it is also dynamic.

To future friends and colleagues: As we fulfil this calling, I hope all of us will remember to take care of ourselves too. We need to have cool-down moments, to prevent burn-out and fatigue.

It’s MSF Social Workers’ Day today, and I am proud to be part of this community. 🙂

Once a Parent, Always a Parent

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My dad and I.

When I was younger, my dad regularly brought me jogging around the estate. I still remember the one-mile route we took. I also remember cycling with him to the edge of Ghim Moh when it was still a construction site. I can still recall catching guppies in Orchard Road, when the large drains behind Orchard Shopping Center was still exposed.

I remember my mom bringing me along her school outings to the zoo and especially to the drama competitions at the Singapore National Theatre. I also remember attending home economics classes much to the amusement of the older sisters in the school.

Now, I’m a parent too – to two lovely kids. Well, not quite kids anymore…teenagers. As I look back at my childhood and compare it to my own experiences, I realise that our children don’t need us to be super heroes.

They just need us to be present. To be there with them in the everyday ordinary things that we all do. And through our actions, assure them that we love and cherish them.

What is Co-Parenting About?

Recently I spoke in parliament about the changes we made to the Women’s Charter. The main intent of our changes was to highlight to parents the importance of putting our children’s interest at heart.

And in cases of divorce, this would mean learning to co-parent our children. We must remember that even though divorced, we very much remain parents to our children.

My officers told me this story they encountered in the course of their work. A divorced couple thought co-parenting just meant that both parents could see their son and have access to him. That’s all. They did not see the need to talk to each other, nor agree on how to bring up their son. The mother was a busy career woman, and a firm disciplinarian. The father (because he only saw the son on weekends) was not strict at all, allowing him to do whatever he liked.

However, the father seldom gave his son a weekly allowance – even though he was supposed to. Why? Because he felt that his ex-wife was more successful than him. So she should chip in more, right?

But you guessed it – his ex-wife refused to give in.

So their teenage son felt that no one really cared for him, and was confused by their inconsistencies in setting boundaries. He started hanging out in malls. When asked about this by his mother, he argued that his father allowed him to do so. As he did not get a regular allowance from his father, he would steal from his mother’s wallet.

The son got into trouble one weekend – he and his friends were caught shoplifting at the mall.

The father realised that things could not go on this way. He tried talking to his ex-wife, something which he had not done since the divorce. It was not easy, but since then the couple have put their differences aside to co-parent their son.

The father now sets boundaries like his ex-wife, and gives his son his allowance regularly. And they each try to spend more time bonding with their son, who is now happier and more grounded.

Make Our Children Our Priority

The above story is not an unusual example. True, it is not easy for divorced couples. But I encourage fathers, and mothers, to work with their ex-spouses to co-parent. Children need both their parents. Perhaps even more so as they struggle with the stresses of a divorce.

We all remember the impact of our parents on us. We cannot underestimate how parents are key influencers in a child’s life. Their presence (or absence) has a profound impact on a child’s development.

The changes I announced to the Women’s Charter are also part of our efforts to strengthen social support systems, infrastructure and services to protect women and support families, especially when marriages break down.

But the legislative changes are but one part of the equation.

The other part? Our roles as parents. Make our children a priority.

And be there for them. Sometimes, it may be the children who are resistant to spending time with us. Be patient.

Providing them with a listening ear will help them feel accepted, help them heal, and learn to trust again.

Ultimately, it is every parent’s duty to protect the interest of our own children. Making time to be with our children, giving them the space to grieve and come to terms with the way things will be after a divorce, will certainly provide them with a sense of security.

Because after all, we will always be mums and dads to our children.

Leap of Love

While 29th February may seem like a normal day to some, it’s a special day four-years-in-the-making for others whose birthdays or anniversaries fall on this date.

We dropped by the Registry of Marriages Singapore to meet with some newlyweds who decided to tie the knot yesterday.

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Forward-thinking Alvan actually had it all planned out four years ago, when he asked Elizabeth to be his girlfriend on 29 February 2012.

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Meanwhile, Justin and Serene won’t be forgetting their anniversary date!

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Zaw Min Htet likes February. So do we!

But with their special date happening once every four years, how will these newly-weds celebrate their wedding anniversaries?

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Alvan thinks the girls will get a better deal, because they can celebrate their anniversaries twice – on 28 February and 1 March. Lucky you, Elizabeth!

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Meanwhile, it’s nothing different from the Olympic Games to Dzou Chang.

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Sakthi and Shivya plan to celebrate next leap year.

It was great to share in your joy yesterday. We wish these newly-weds a happy marriage!