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

IMG_9734

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.

Supporting those at their most vulnerable

Nancy is currently the Director of Professional Practice Development at MSF’s Office of the Director of Social Welfare. In her time at MSF, Nancy has covered areas of work from policy development to programme implementation for youth-at-risk and youth offenders.

This year, Nancy was awarded the Outstanding Social Worker Award 2016. The Outstanding Social Worker Award is the highest award in the social work profession, presented annually by the President of the Republic of Singapore to recognise the outstanding contributions by dedicated social workers to the social service sector in Singapore.


Reboot, redesign and reform.

For Nancy, these are some key words that come to mind when describing her work. This has led Nancy to advocate for a greater use of technology and innovation to improve areas of work in MSF.

During her time as Chief Probation Officer, Nancy introduced a voice biometric system for time restriction checks of probationers. This system made a marked reduction of physical time restriction checks by the Volunteer Probation Officers.

Supporting those at their most vulnerable

In all her years of service, one incident has clearly stood out in Nancy’s mind. She was then a social work student at the National University of Singapore.

During her field placement, Nancy was faced with a situation where a man was about to jump off the window of his flat.

However, when his 8 year old son was brought into the room by the police officers, the man stepped off from the ledge of the window.

After the scare, Nancy recalled comforting the boy – who was shaking very badly. This episode left such an impact on Nancy that she continues to remember it till this day. 

“Social workers witness the most intimate moments of people’s lives, and I regard that as a privilege,” said Nancy.

Guiding the next generation of social workers

Today, Nancy serves as a senior lecturer to social work students at UniSIM. The degree course at UniSIM is one of two full-time social work programmes in Singapore.

In her current role as Director of Professional Practice Development at MSF, she aims to improve the sector to become efficient and effective, as well as to help the sector be ready for the future.

“Social workers need to go beyond practice to navigate between policy, skills and knowledge to be all-rounders,” added Nancy.

 

 

A look behind the scenes

By Lisa @ MSF

Lisa is a final-year student from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang Technological University. She recently completed a seven-month professional internship at the Ministry’s Communications and International Relations Division, and spent a fruitful time as part of the close-knit media engagement team. Lisa was involved in curating many of the stories featured on the MSF Conversations blog.


Sometimes the biggest lessons are learnt in the smallest moments. These are the lessons that hit you when you least expect them, but they are often the ones that leave the most lasting impressions.

Working on this series of behind-the-scenes stories of our MSF colleagues at work was one of the projects I took on as an intern at the Communications and International Relations Division (CIRD). I did not realise it then, but it would come to be one of the assignments that taught me the most.

I remember the very first interview we did, at the start of the year.

We headed down to the Child Protective Service to meet with one of our Child Protection Officers. She shared with me about the struggles she faced in protecting children and the hostility she encountered in the course of her work.

Yet when I asked how she coped with the emotional challenges, she only responded quietly of the rewarding moments where she is able to make a difference. This was her fuel and motivation to help her through the difficult times.

As the weeks went by and I spoke to many people working in this Ministry, I began to realise that they all had one thing in common – this innate strength and ability to see the best in others, despite having to bear the brunt of their clients’ frustrations at times.

Beyond that, there seemed to be a lesson to learn each time.

“I tell myself that nothing (the families) say or do is personal, that they are simply frustrated with their circumstances,” said a senior social worker.

“I tried for a long time to get them to open up to me. And each time, I always made sure to be honest and sincere – and act more like a confidante rather than a position of ‘authority’,” said a child protection officer, who recalled the moment when a family he was working with began placing their trust in him.

And from a particularly thought-provoking conversation with a forensic psychologist on choosing to work with rehabilitating ex-offenders:

“If we do not help them, who will?”

Their words rang in my head.

For a period of time since then, I started thinking about these “moments” that they spoke of. Just how strongly and closely must they have resonated with each person working in this Ministry? For them to choose this line of work.

I began to ask myself these questions too.

At MSF, I was assigned a mentor who guided me through my internship the past 7 months. He taught me about different aspects of communications work. But more importantly, he became a friend.

I remember this one time when I told him some part of me still felt lost about what I wanted to do in the future.

And he told me this: “No one quite knows where the future will take them, but the important thing is to keep an open mind while doing the things that you believe in.”

Almost a year ago, I asked myself what I wanted most out of an internship. Then, I had decided that I wanted to be somewhere that could provide me with exposure to communications, while being able to give back to the community.

Now, I find myself asking what I want most out of a job.

During my time at MSF, I wrote, I researched, I filmed, I photographed, I designed. I was involved in a range of projects, including a chance at conceptualising and driving social media campaigns of my own. I prepared for and facilitated public events. I met with people ranging from CEOs, celebrities, volunteers – and at the very heart of it all, the people of MSF.

lisa2
Including Minister Tan!

I learnt a lot about what it takes to be in the field of communications, had the opportunity to understand the range and depth of social issues, as well as how government measures are set in place to address them.

But I think the most important lessons learnt went far deeper than that.

While any good internship could teach you practical skills, I think it takes a very different one to teach you values that can guide you in life in the long run.

That, I learned in MSF.

lisa3