Realising Women’s Full Potential

It was a robust debate in Parliament last week where many came forward to support and help women achieve their aspirations.

Glad that there are efforts by different ministries to support women. MOE has plans to reach out to back-to-work-moms to ensure they get the appropriate training for their careers. MOH is looking into a range of support initiatives to give caregivers a break. MOM is increasing efforts to raise adoption of flexible work arrangements to encourage more women to return to work.

I spoke about the need to eliminate barriers for women in our workplace and community, as well as making changes at home. For working parents, MSF is increasing the number of child care places, and will add another 10,000 places by early next year. It is important for fathers to play a part and share responsibilities at home too. Whether it is sharing chores or parenting duties. They can be the role models for the next generation that we all need. We have also reviewed policies to help single mums — their children are also now eligible for a Child Development Account.

Our laws have made Singapore a safer place for women, however we cannot take it for granted and should do more. The ongoing review of the issue of marital immunity for rape is timely. I strongly believe that a married woman should not have any less protection against sexual violence than an unmarried woman. We will give an update once the review is completed.

Singapore has come a long way in the progress of women in our society, but we can certainly do more. I hope these efforts give Singaporean women the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.

Read more about my speech here.

Please refer to the Diversity Action Committee’s press release for more information on the target to have 30% of women on boards of SGX-listed companies by 2030.

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!

Onwards to a more inclusive society

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(With “See the True Me” ambassador Wanyi, on my right in green, and her colleagues. Her employer Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa has a committed interested in hiring persons with disabilities.)

Today, we commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The year’s theme, “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want”, refers to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by United Nations Member States in 2015. The goals remind us about ensuring and promoting inclusiveness in the various facets of life from education and lifelong learning to economic growth.

Over the years, we have worked together as a community to provide greater support for persons with disabilities to lead the lives they desire, reach their full potential, and realise their aspirations. This year, we celebrated the indomitable spirits and triumphs of our Paralympians at the Rio Paralympics. We began work on the third Enabling Masterplan, a five-year roadmap that guides us in building an inclusive society for persons with disabilities.  The Ministry of Education also announced that the Compulsory Education Act will be extended to children with special needs from 2019.  2016 also marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights Persons with Disabilities, which Singapore ratified in 2013. Singapore has submitted the Initial Report on the Convention to the UN. We will continue with our efforts in making Singapore an inclusive nation.

Indeed, we can observe this special day with pride. The progress we have made to support persons with disability would not be possible without the many caregivers, voluntary welfare organisations, corporate partners and supportive individuals. Thank you for walking with us on this journey to build a caring and inclusive society.

Cherishing time with our grandparents

Many of us know that Mother’s Day falls on the 2nd Sunday in May and that Father’s Day is on the 3rd Sunday in June. But how many among us know that Grandparents’ Day falls on the last Sunday in November?

Don’t take our parents for granted

When we talk about parenting and strengthening the parent-child bond, we tend to think of parents nurturing young children to adulthood. As parents, our focus is on raising our children, but we often forget that we are children too.

I think many of us take our parents for granted. Even as we try to interact and connect with our children, we must also remember that it’s just as important to maintain our bonds with our parents and to ensure that our children have a strong relationship with their grandparents as well.

Show our love for them

I remember watching this interesting video a few years back.

It showed a few elderly aunties chatting about their children over a meal. The conversation became more heated as they tried to compete to see who had the more successful child.

One of the women had remained silent throughout the conversation. When her friends asked her about her son, she simply said, “He’s a good son”. At this point, her son arrives with his wife and children to pick the elderly lady up for a family holiday, leaving the other ladies to look on with quiet envy.

I think there are a few lessons to be learnt here. Having fame, status and riches may give us and our families a better life, but these often mean little to our closest kin if we do not cherish them or make time for them. It would become our regret one day if our parents were to leave us, and we realised we have not spent as much time with them as we would have wished to.

We are never too old or too young to tell our parents or grandparents that we love them.

Simple words or gestures, like having dinner with them twice a week or bringing them out for a family holiday, show them that we care for them. Let’s make an effort to spend time with them.

By putting our values into action, we can also be good role models and show the younger generation how we can show love, care and respect to the elderly and keep them involved in our lives.

Thank you, Grandpas and Grandmas!

There is a Chinese saying, “家有一老,如有一宝”, meaning “an elder is just like a treasure in the family”. Grandparents play an important role in supporting the family and nurturing the young through the sharing of valuable life lessons and values.

On this special day, I would like to thank all Grandpas and Grandmas out there for their contributions to society and to their families. As you enter the golden years, I hope you take the opportunity to slow down and enjoy life. Don’t forget to find that balance between having your own lives and spending time to connect with your family.

Happy Grandparents’ Day!

Celebrate our Children Often

I am sure that many sighs of relief and cries of joy were heard at the end of this week’s PSLE. Congrats to all our P6 students (and their parents!) who have worked so hard this past year!

To many 12-year-olds, PSLE is a time in their lives when even the most caring of parents suddenly turn into fire-breathing dragons! But of course, parents want their children to study hard and do well.

Sometimes, this may cause us to give our children too much pressure. In our eagerness to mould our children, it is easy to forget that they are not our “Mini Me”s. They are unique individuals with their own strengths and passions. Our aspirations for our children should not come at the expense of their own ambitions and happiness.

What our children really need is to feel that we are proud of them for who they are, not what they have achieved. They need us to take an interest in them as individuals, and to connect with them at their level.

For my children, whether it’s the school exams, sports or other activities they take part in, I’d often talk to them about the process, and not just focus on the outcome. I’d ask them questions such as: “How did you think it went?” “What went well?” “What didn’t go so well?” “How do you feel about it?” “How do you think you can deal with the disappointment?” “What would you have done differently?” “What did you learn from it?”

Apart from helping them to reflect and grow, it’s an opportunity to know your children better. It’s also an affirmation of how we value their thoughts and feelings, who they are and not just what they have achieved.

This Children’s Day, let’s make it a day where we affirm our children. Affirmation does not mean that we praise them for everything under the sun. Let’s focus on their effort, rather than the result. It could be a simple acknowledgement for remembering to do their chores, or picking up their toys without being told.

Children’s Day is a day where we should celebrate our children for who they are, and the joy that they bring to our lives. It’s a day to do something our children find fun, together as a family. Most importantly, make that conscious effort to affirm our children often, not just on Children’s Day!

Family United. Strength Unlimited.

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

14051770_1196607300382043_8473696740470892432_n-1Spent an enjoyable afternoon cooking for these lovely ladies!
From the launch of Hour Glass Kitchen at Pacific Activity Centre last month.
We will see much more of the silver population by 2030.

We wrapped up the public consultation on the draft Vulnerable Adults Bill last month. The proposed new Bill will enable the State to intervene in high risk cases, conduct assessments and ensure the protection and safety of these vulnerable adults.

By 2030, there will be over 900,000 Singapore residents 65 and above. Our parents, uncles, aunts, friends – they are aging. As these family members and friends (including those with disabilities) become more frail, they may be especially vulnerable to undesirable situations of abuse, neglect and self-neglect.

I’m very glad that so many of you have written in to show support for the Bill, and even offered suggestions on how we can improve on certain aspects of the Bill.

The provisions in the Bill enhance protection for our vulnerable family members. I’m sure you have read the Aesop’s Fable “The Bundle of Sticks” before. It’s the familiar story about how you can’t break sticks in a bundle, but you can break them easily when they are singled out.

This fable teaches an important lesson about strength in unity. And by applying that to the context of our family, we understand that close-knit families are stronger together.

Our families see us at our best and worst, through our joys and sorrow. They share with us their successes and happiness, and are always our first line of support whenever we need help.

And by extension, there can be a transformative effect when we all play a part to care for one another. With strong families and strong communities, we can help each better, and earlier.

Do read our press release and summary report on the Vulnerable Adults Bill public consultation at www.reach.gov.sg/vaa2016.