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.

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

Making the world a better place with coffee

For many of us, our day doesn’t start until we have had a cup of coffee.

As such, it is no surprise that a long queue formed when a new coffee cart opened at the MSF building lobby on Tuesday (4 Oct) morning. But do not be distracted by the typical caffeinated concoctions Bettr Barista offers—it is no ordinary coffee establishment.

In 2011, Ms Pamela Chng left her job at the web consultancy firm she’d set up, and co-founded Bettr Barista to train marginalised women and youths-at-risk for the specialty coffee industry. Today, her efforts have resulted in a full-fledged social enterprise that uses coffee as a vehicle to change lives.

“We want our beneficiaries to be work-ready, to get jobs in the F&B sector, to get themselves out of the challenging situations that they are in and become financially independent,” Ms Chng said.

To date, 50 students have graduated from their barista program and she hopes to reach out to more potential students by collaborating with social service organisations.

Besides training the students to be career-ready, Ms Chng and her team seeks to empower them emotionally as well. The trainees, who range from their teens to women in their 50s, come from disadvantaged backgrounds and face many personal obstacles, from having low self-esteem to financial difficulties. As such, the training program is designed to be multi-dimensional, and includes physical training, as well as life and emotional management, on top of the students’ barista training.

Since its inception, Bettr Barista has received many accolades. It was certified by international non-profit organisation B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Bettr Barista is also the first recipient of the Arthur Guinness fund in Singapore, which supports social enterprises that are dedicated to discovering innovative solutions to address social problems.

Also, part of Bettr Barista’s revenue goes to Income Orange Aid, a program that helps ITE and polytechnic students from low-income families to fund their tertiary education. Buying coffee can make a difference in the lives of needy individuals, so why stop at only one cup?

Bettr Barista is located at level 1 of the MSF building and is open from 8.30am-6pm on weekdays, except Thursdays.