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!

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.

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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!

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“If we can help, we will”

14125204_xxlBy Li Li@MSF

As an officer in the Office of the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (CMP), Li Li conducts conciliation during which she tries to persuade the children to maintain their parents. She also assists the elderly and their family, by referring them to other social or voluntary agencies for support and/or assistance.


 Li Li has lost count of the number of times she has been scolded by the adult children of the elderly she is tasked to help.

As she attempts to persuade these children to support their parents, the common response she gets is: “You’re just an outsider. If you’re the welfare ministry, provide the money then.”

The elderly, who approach her at her Lengkok Bahru office or who are referred to her by MPs, Family Service Centres and Social Service Offices (SSOs), are often those who are unable to support themselves. Hence, they have to struggle to get maintenance from their children.

After interviewing them, Li Li contacts the children to hear their side of the story and possibly, persuade them to support their parents. This step though is often the hardest part of the process – and her job.

In the course of trying to even speak with the children, she has had them bang the table, threaten her, and slam the door in her face when she tried to visit them at home.

“Before joining, I thought it was nice to offer help to people,” Li Li says. “But here, it’s a bit different. You try to intervene, you get scolded kaypoh[1].”

And even when she gains access into these families’ lives, she often finds herself thrown in the middle of a mind-boggling moral dilemma.

She recalls the time when a woman approached her for help after her husband became paralysed and could not work.  The case turned out to be more complicated, however, when she found that the woman was the second wife of the man. The children from his first marriage were unwilling to maintain him because they were angry with him for remarrying.

To add to that, his stepchildren – the woman’s children from her previous marriage – saw no obligation in supporting a stepfather who had not raised them up. Who then, was to be made to support their father?

Then there are the thorny cases she has seen more than once – children who refuse to support their parents because they had been abused by them when they were young. Should she still make the children pay?

Topping it all off are the misconceptions people have of her job and her role.

The elderly think she can help them get their children to support them beyond their basic needs – such as a parent who came to her wanting his child to give him money for airfare – while the children think she sides with the elderly and that she is just here to force them to pay.

Yet, despite the rough times and misconceptions, Li Li continues to strive on, contented with the compelling sense of achievement that she is able to break ground.

As an officer constantly on the ground, Li Li occasionally takes on other responsibilities, such as referring parents and children with their consent to other social or voluntary agencies for other support and/or assistance.

“If we can help, we try to help,” she says.

More than that, it is the satisfaction she gets from watching families reconcile and reconnect, as well as helping the elderly get their maintenance, that keep her on the job.

She recalls the case of an absent father who was remorseful of his past and volunteered at a senior activity centre to make amends. Believing their father was sincere in his efforts to change, his children eventually agreed to maintain him. And to Li Li, witnessing such grace and forgiveness, can sometimes be all that she needs.

[1] Kaypoh: A Singlish term, that can be used to describe a person/an action as nosy or a busybody.

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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.

MSF Addendum to The President’s Address

By Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

At the opening of the 13th Parliament on 15 January 2016, President Tony Tan Keng Yam outlined the key priorities of the Government over the next few years. Even as we address the many challenges ahead, we need to also remind ourselves of the kind of society we are and the kind of people we aspire to be.

We are a dynamic and diverse nation. This can be a big strength so long as we remain united and anchored on shared values. Building a caring society and a more engaged community will help us achieve that.

When we begin to care for others, we begin to look beyond ourselves as individuals. Collectively, we all play a part in strengthening our social safety nets and ensure continued social mobility, so that no Singaporean is left behind.

My hope and vision for Singapore, is that it will become an even more inclusive society, and a great place for our people, whether young or old, whether able or differently abled.

Strong families and resilient individuals are the basic building blocks of our nation. This is why over the next few years, my MSF colleagues and I will do more in anticipating and responding to changes in societal trends, demographics and family structures.

You can read the full version of the MSF Addendum below, and we will share more details of our plans with you very soon.

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Ministry of Social and Family Development

Addendum to The President’s Address

Introduction

1.             The social needs of our citizens and families are becoming more complex as the demographics, economics and family structures in Singapore change. Our social policies and services must evolve so that we can continue to nurture resilient individuals and strong families. Our societal culture must also evolve so that we can become a more inclusive and caring society where no Singaporean is left behind.

2.             The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will focus on:

i.      strengthening marriages and families;

ii.     providing a good start for our young;

iii.    extending a helping hand for the vulnerable;

iv.    fostering a caring community.

Strong Marriages and Families

3.             The family must remain the basic building block of our society. The Ministry is committed to making Singapore a great place for families. We will work with Government agencies, businesses and employers, as well as community organisations to create a conducive environment for Singaporeans to start families and raise children, enjoy family life and experience meaningful family ties.

4.             We will provide greater support for couples to prepare for and strengthen their marriages, and offer evidence-based parenting programmes in our schools and community. These will include marriage preparation and support programmes for young couples and Singaporeans marrying foreigners.

5.              MSF will also strengthen support for vulnerable families so that they can overcome their challenges and become more stable and resilient. We will look into new ways of engaging such families early, and work with social service agencies to assess their needs holistically to provide more coordinated and effective assistance.

A Good Start for Our Young

6.             Children are our hope and future. The Ministry will strive towards giving all our young children a good start in life. We will extend greater attention and support to those from disadvantaged or vulnerable backgrounds so that they too can realise their potential.

7.             The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will continue to expand childcare capacity, particularly in housing estates with more young children. There will be one childcare place for every two children by 2017. ECDA will provide parents with more good quality and affordable childcare options through its Anchor Operator and Partner Operator schemes. It will also continue to enhance the quality of preschool education and the professional development of early childhood educators.

8.             To help vulnerable children from low income or disadvantaged families, we will work with other Government agencies and community organisations to identify them and support their developmental needs during their early years. We will also introduce initiatives to help these families improve their home environments for the children’s learning and development, as well as support the children at pre-schools.

9.             For children who need protection or care outside of their own homes, we will broaden the care options available to them. This will include working with Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and volunteers to increase the number of foster families who can offer a nurturing environment for these children to grow up in.  To better help youths-at-risk, we will strengthen both government and community systems, programmes and capabilities in prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation.

A Helping Hand for the Vulnerable

10.             Those with less and those in need will receive an extra helping hand to overcome their difficulties and improve their lives. We will continue to strengthen our social safety net, review legislations and policies, and improve services to keep in step with emerging needs.

11.             We have completed the network of 24 Social Service Offices (SSOs) across Singapore as well as the first phase of the Social Service Net (SSNet) – an integrated information sharing and case management system that will link MSF with other Government and VWO help agencies. Building on their reach on the ground, SSOs will further improve the coordination in planning and delivery of social services for residents within each HDB town. We will also expand SSNet to cover more help agencies. Together, these efforts will ensure that Singaporeans with complex social support needs receive more holistic and integrated help.

12.            For persons with disabilities, we will develop the next Enabling Masterplan to build a more inclusive society where they can lead more meaningful lives and become integral members of society. Through assistance in early intervention, education, training and employment, we will help them maximise their potential at different stages of their lives. We will also render greater support for caregivers. We will work with employers, businesses, community organisations and volunteers to raise public understanding and acceptance of persons with disabilities within our communities.

13.            To safeguard the interests of the growing number of elderly in Singapore, the Government will review legislations, policies and services to better protect those who are subject to abuse, neglect or self-neglect. We will also look into strengthening support for vulnerable adults in residential care through streamlining regulatory and care standards for residential homes.

A Caring Community

14.             The future of caring in Singapore is one where Singaporeans come together to look out for and support one another, especially those amongst us who need a helping hand. Government agencies, VWOs, corporates, community organisations, social service professionals and the wider public all play a part. Through what we do and how we do it, the Ministry hopes to nurture a culture and spirit of giving in Singapore.

15.             Professionals including early childhood educators, learning support specialists, social workers, counsellors, therapists, psychologists and care workers lie at the forefront of the social service sector. Through ECDA and the Social Service Institute (SSI), we will groom a larger pool of committed and skilled social service professionals and leaders.  We will also expand opportunities for them to develop their capabilities and build fulfilling careers.

16.             VWOs play a critical role in mobilising volunteers and donors to complement the work of social service professionals and effort by the Government. The National Council of Social Service (NCSS) will work with VWOs to improve their organisational capability and management of volunteers so as to involve more Singaporean individuals and groups in enriching volunteering experiences. The Community Chest will extend its reach by tapping on new platforms and partnerships to raise funds and rally public support to meet social needs.


 

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