Every end is a new beginning

As 2016 draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on what has been done to give all children a good start in life, lay deep foundations to build strong homes, and strengthen the support for Singaporeans in need.

Supporting our young ones

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(From visit to a pre-school earlier this month)

We want to help parents in their care-giving responsibilities, achieve the best possible outcomes for our younger generation, and foster a more inclusive environment for them to grow up in.

This year, MSF enhanced key policies and amended several laws, such as the Women’s Charter, where divorcing couples with minor children have to attend the mandatory parenting programme before they can file for divorce.

The Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) has been expanded to 118 Primary and Secondary schools this year. The programme equips parents with skills to promote their children’s psychological, social and emotional competence, and over 80% of parents found it relevant to their parenting needs.

We’ve also launched the Safe and Strong Families (SSF) pilot programme to strengthen family-based care and community support for vulnerable children. Eligible families will receive counselling and coaching.

Making Singapore more accessible for all

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(Checking out some of the enhanced family-friendly features at The Grandstand in August)

As a father with two kids, I know how challenging it is for parents with young kids to plan a family outing out. Families with elderly members or wheelchair-users face struggles as well.

To ensure that families enjoy positive experiences outside of the home, we provided funding to neighbourhood shopping malls to introduce or enhance their family-friendly facilities, such as family rooms and inclusive playgrounds. By this year, most of these malls have implemented their enhancements and received favourable feedback from shoppers. These malls have done a commendable job and shown their commitment and effort to make their premises safer and more convenient for different family needs.

Let’s get ready for the next leap forward

I think that my Ministry, together with our community partners, have taken small but significant steps forward. But this is really just the beginning and we do not intend to rest on our laurels.

Together, I believe we can do it even better in 2017, and make Singapore a better home for all families.

The Greatest Joys in My Life

For many parents like myself, raising our children to adulthood is akin to an emotional rollercoaster ride.

When they are born, we take delight in how sweet and innocent they are. In their formative years, we relish the time spent hearing them say their first word, and watching them take their first step.

We shed tears on their first day of school, miss them throughout the day and count down the hours until we can pick them from school.

Then the trials and tribulations come as they go through their teenage years, when we wonder how our sweet, innocent children evolved into the bundle of anxieties before us. We spend sleepless nights wondering how we can protect them from the evils of the world.

And then comes the emptiness and feelings of loss, when seemingly in the blink of an eye, they are on the cusp of adulthood, ready to leave the nest and live their own lives.

Children really grow up so fast, and I am sure that deep down, every parent wants to be there for his or her children throughout their journey to adulthood.

For many of us, this can be a challenge as we struggle with the demands of work, family and other commitments. Work-life balance becomes increasingly difficult to maintain and it is easy to get caught up in the rat race.

Parenthood certainly has its ups and downs, but my children have been one of the greatest joys in my life. Children are the embodiment of love between a couple, and the start of life together as a family.

I am glad that I was able to share many milestones in my children’s lives and that we have forged a strong bond over the years.

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With my son and daughter when they were younger

My relationship with my children has evolved over the years; from a father figure when they were young to a friend, now that my daughter and son are 20 and 16 years old respectively. Despite my busy schedule as a community leader then, and a Member of Parliament now, I consciously make and take time to be in contact with them, so that we can share our moments together — physically and virtually.

I must say, technology has really helped to complement my efforts in engaging my children. Although my daughter is now overseas continuing her studies, technology has enabled us to remain close and continue our journey in developing our family bond.

Let us dedicate this day to our children and be active and present parents. 😊

For me, I will spend time with my son watching the Causeway Challenge between Singapore and Malaysia at the National Stadium tonight. I hope you will find some time to share the joy of Children’s Day with your child.

To all the children out there, Happy Children’s Day!

Making Singapore a Home for all Families

As a father of two, I know that family outings (especially with young children or an elderly parent) can be a real challenge.

In the past, there weren’t as many shopping malls, and most did not cater to families with young children or elderly parents. Popping out for a quick dinner with kids in tow was no walk in the park! I still remember the days when my wife and I would try to plan every outing in advance to ensure that it would be as fun and stress-free as possible.

Shopping malls are now a common feature in most neighbourhoods. With the government’s requirement to provide family-friendly facilities through the Code of Accessibility, many malls now boast features such as nursing rooms, and ramps and wider corridors for wheelchair-users.

grandstand14From my visit to The Grandstand yesterday, to see its enhanced family-friendly features.

I visited one of the seven neighbourhood malls that received an enhanced grant to increase their family-friendly features yesterday. The improved facilities encourage more family outings and made it convenient for families to eat, shop and have fun together.

But a family-friendly environment cannot be achieved just by infrastructure alone.

We need to complement that with a family-friendly mindset and passion to go that extra mile to give customers a positive experience during family outings. It is important that our service professionals have a deeper understanding of different families’ needs. To equip them with the necessary skillsets, MSF will soon roll out training courses for the service industry.

grandstand12Speaking to a concierge who’d received many complimentary letters for his service

Courses for frontline staff include communication skills and dealing with specific situations, such as helping an elderly person with dementia or calming a lost toddler. Courses catering to managerial staff include fostering a customer-centric culture and planning innovative initiatives for families.

I would like to encourage businesses that aim to attract a larger family customer base to attend these courses. I hope that more businesses will join our efforts in building a family-friendly environment and encourage their staff to take up courses to improve their customer service skills.

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We want to celebrate families in Singapore.

Apart from encouraging family time through programmes or events, it is important to ensure that our infrastructure and service standards are in place to make Singapore truly a home for families to interact, bond and connect with each other.

Embracing our Roles in Life

By Parliamentary Secretary Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim

Throughout our lives, we take on many different roles. And the importance we place on each of these roles changes at different stages of our lives.

Sometimes, the beauty of life lies in its cyclical nature. Just last week, I saw 12 couples renew their marriage vows at the Family Life First Carnival and also sat in for a session of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Programme (PREP).

At PREP, I met a lovely young couple – Darren and Clare – who will soon embark on their own journey together as husband and wife. They attended PREP to learn tips on building a marriage based on a strong foundation of love and understanding.

family life first_parl secAnd they said “I Do”…again.

This reminds me of how my wife and I learnt over the years that maintaining a strong marriage and being good parents does not come easy. We need to make a conscious effort to communicate, understand and to encourage each other. To keep our strong commitment to each other and to our children.

When my children were born, I felt like the happiest father alive! At the same time, I felt the pressure – I knew that as a father, I had to be a good role model and inculcate good values in my children. My father must have felt the same too.

Strong marriages lead to strong families. When we have a strong marriage, we will then be better able to create a happier environment for our children to grow in. If we lead by example, our children will learn to develop strong and lasting relationships of their own.

A father’s presence and influence in their children’s lives often mean more to them than they realise.

It is on occasions like Father’s Day that we are reminded of the responsibilities we have in shaping our children into individuals who are responsible, capable, giving and nurturing – who can also teach their children to embrace the various roles in life well.

This Father’s Day, let’s make the personal choice to spend time with our families meaningfully.

To all fathers and grandfathers, Happy Father’s Day!

The Toughest Job in the World

By Parliamentary Secretary Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim

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My late mother with her grandchildren

A mother’s job is to be on call – 24/7.

A mother has to multi-task between running the household, caring for the family, deal with ‘skirmishes’ between siblings…and so much more!

I think being a mother is the toughest job in the world. No previous experience required, but plenty of on-the-job training available. Although tough, the job comes with love, care and concern.

I remember my own late mother became the beacon of light for my family.  She worked very hard in the day, cooking in the early hours of the morning before going to work.   Sometimes, I wondered what kept her going.  It was clearly the love, care and concern that she had for the family.  It was also her sense of responsibility for the family.  My siblings and I are privileged to be part of this journey with her, which in turn shaped our character and lives.

Today, a woman’s role in society has evolved. Many mothers are active in the workforce. The proportion of dual-income married couples has also increased.

Juggling between work and family life is a struggle many mothers face. Previously, women were more likely to cite family-related responsibilities as the main reason for not working. Such choices are often personal, as all families have their unique situations.

We have put in place a number of initiatives to better support parenthood and families. This includes more family-friendly infrastructure and policies such as paternity leave and CDA First Step to help defray childcare costs.

Now, we have the choice to build and maintain strong family ties. I urge all dads out there to get more involved with (not only!) housework but in child care. I’m sure many of you can become as pro as Mom in no time!

This Mother’s Day, let’s take the time to acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifices that the mothers in our life have made. Let’s give our moms and wives all the love they have given us, back to them.

Dads out there, let’s share the load. Let’s start small. I’m sure it will go a long way in truly supporting our wives.

The Key to a Happy Marriage

By Parliamentary Secretary A/P Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim

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I recently met an elderly couple in their 60s.

Having been married for over 40 years, they shared with me the magic formula behind their long-lasting marriage – “Give and take”, “Forgive and forget” and “Share your problems and housework”.

Indeed, their words remind me of the ‘beauty of imperfection’ in a marriage. Marriage is between two people who are imperfect, and yet can be perfect together.

When we recognize the imperfection of being a human, it is then that we can learn to give and take and be accepting of each other’s shortcomings.

I have realized that marriage is not only about filling a gap. Recognising the imperfection of your spouse comes along with an appreciation for each other and loving for each other.

And, it is key to be kind to each other. Being kind to each other opens up many doors of love in a relationship.

It is important for us to see this imperfection in a positive light, and how it leads to many more good things in our marriage.

How can We Strengthen our Marriages?

Many couples I know say that they are too tied down by work or their children to think about strengthening their marriage.

But investing in your marriage can be as simple as spending time with your spouse as part of your regular routine.

I know of a friend who often remarked to me how loving his parents are. He said, “Even after 30 years of marriage, they would still make it a point to spend me-time together.

They would hold hands and go for a walk in the park after dinner every day. My dad would wait at the MRT station to walk my mum home after work. My mum would help out in the kitchen when it’s my dad’s turn to cook dinner for the family.”

Daily simple gestures like these show our love and care for our spouse, and go a long way in helping us keep our marriage strong.

Importance of marriage preparation programmes

My officers at the Registry of Marriages (ROM) shared this heartwarming love story with me.

There was this young couple in their early twenties who fell in and out of love several times due to vast differences in their personality, family and educational backgrounds.

Despite the odds, they made the decision to get married.

They were well aware that it was unhealthy and unsustainable to blindly compromise on issues to keep the relationship going.

They signed up for PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Programme) and have since learnt how to better communicate with each other, better appreciate each other and to resolve conflict in a peaceable manner.

This love story tells us that conflict is inevitable in all marriages, even if we do not like to admit it.

It is not a question of avoiding it, but of how we work together to resolve it. Conflict doesn’t need to lead to negative outcomes.

A happy, lasting marriage does not happen by chance.

I would like to encourage more couples to take pro-active steps like this young couple mentioned earlier, to strengthen their marriages.

It is through working together to resolve conflict that we can learn to accept, adjust and grow as a couple.

Why Care?

By Parliamentary Secretary A/P Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim

It’s been a long day. You alight from the MRT, relieved to tap out at the gantry because you’re inching closer to home. Easing into a slow walk, you make a mental checklist of what you need to do tomorrow.

The sounds of traffic quieten down as you reach the void deck. You begin your climb up to the 2nd storey where a hot shower and bed awaits.

Someone new catches your eye.

A rugged elderly man, slightly hunched, shuffling towards a corner near the staircase landing. He kicks off his shoes.

Should you take a closer look?

The corner is meticulously prepared. A straw mat marks his narrow territory. Some bulky plastic bags form a small fort at the foot of the mat. The man’s hair has not met the familiarity of a comb for some time. He prepares to lie down, perhaps to quietly spend the night.

Seems like he has settled here recently. But why is he alone? Are his family members looking out for him?

You hesitate. But shouldn’t you do something? At least ask him what is going on?

What do you do?

Take a photo and spread awareness about this? But what about the elderly man’s privacy?

Approach him? What if he brushes you off or scolds you for being kaypoh?

You hesitate again, weighing the choices.

So, why should you care?


Caring for others and helping them is not always as easy as it sounds. In fact, it is entirely possible to be unappreciated for it. And we must be prepared for this.

As you have seen in the video and story above, it can be quite unglamorous work. And sometimes, people may not even want your help.

In October this year, we held the MSF Volunteer Awards and honoured 169 volunteers ranging from foster parents to probation officers.

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76-year-old Mdm Thiravingadam has been a foster parent to 42 children over 40 years!

At such ceremonies, we thank and appreciate volunteers for their tireless dedication. But a lot goes on behind the scenes for them. A lot that we do not know about.

Just like the story above, volunteers may also have started off with some doubts. Or question how they can go about helping.

I think the larger question is not whether we should be helping. That is pretty clear to us.

It’s how we should be caring and helping. There are many ways to address the how, but it requires collective support. For those in need, we should create opportunities for them to get back on their own two feet.

But it is not enough to snap a photo or upload a video, and leave it at that. We are stronger in spirit and richer in our humanity when we can extend a hand in our own way. And for help organisations and Government agencies to complement this with further assistance.

So, my next question is – how will you care?


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