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OPENING ADDRESS BY MR DESMOND LEE, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT, AT ASIAN FAMILY CONFERENCE 2019, ON 13 NOVEMBER 2019, MANDARIN ORCHARD HOTEL, SINGAPORE

Distinguished Guests and Partners, 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

1. Good morning. I am glad to see that we are joined by friends from the non-profit organisations and our social service agencies; I see many familiar faces this morning. We have got family life educators with us, researchers, school teachers and educators and public officers. This is a very good mix of people from different backgrounds and perspectives all looking at the issue of family and parenting. I’d like to thank you for joining us at our biennial Asian Family Conference. And to our friends from overseas, our speakers, guests and delegates, a very warm welcome to Singapore.

2. We are here to discuss the trends, policies and best practices that affect the family. And so our theme for this year is “Parenting for Stronger Families: Challenges and Opportunities”.

Acknowledging Our Partners’ Efforts

3. Many of you here today are our key partners who work to promote and deliver evidence based parent education programmes. As Family Life Educators, you play an integral role in directly engaging couples and families in marriage and parenting programmes. As educators in schools, you play a key role in raising awareness and encouraging sign ups for programmes such as Triple P, or the Positive Parenting Programme, and Signposts. With your support, the number of schools that offer such programmes has grown from just 20 in 2014, to 295 schools today. As a result, close to 20,000 parents have experienced positive change and developed stronger relationships with their children. This would not have been possible without everyone’s support, hard work and commitment. And I’d like to say a very big thank you to all of you who have contributed all these years. 

Encouraging All Parents to Attend Parent Education Programmes, which Have Been Proven to Be Effective

4. We have had a good start but we want to and we must do more. We must remove the inertia and de-bunk the myth that such programmes are for those whose children have challenging behaviour, or who have poorer relationships with their children. Indeed, this is not so. We have done evaluations of Triple P and Signposts in Singapore. The results show that all parents benefit. They gain confidence in their parenting, feel happier, and become less stressed. And happy, confident parents raise happier, more confident children. 

5. Mr Matthew Sanders, the founder of Triple P, will share more on the programme in his keynote presentation later. Later this afternoon, my colleague, Ms Vivienne Ng, who is our Chief Psychologist in MSF, will also share more on the effectiveness of Triple P and Signposts in our local context.

6. I strongly encourage all of us here to reach out to parents, and ask them to participate in these programmes. They are a good, proven way to pick up necessary parenting skills.

Parenting Support Providers – A New Regional Approach 

7. We have also reviewed the structure and delivery of such programmes, with a view of improving their impact and delivery. I am glad to announce that we have moved to a new regional Parenting Support Provider model, where the appointed social service agency will be the one-stop service provider for their region. 

8. Some of our guests from abroad may be wondering why we are talking about regions when they only see this dot on the map, but actually when you blow up the map of Singapore, you will see that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has, since our early days, planned a city around towns. These are planning towns and based on planning parameters, they contain housing, social services, schools, healthcare services, sports amenities and of course healthcare and social infrastructure, all weaved into these planning parameters. In that regard, having social services including upstream family support services and parenting support based on a regional model, having it as a one-stop allows both convenience for families, easy walking distance, accessibility, intuitiveness, but also allows the social service agencies to provide a whole continuum of related services, rather than have them in silos and segmented, run by different people, and making parents travel to different points around the island.

9.    They will work with our schools within their regions to deliver evidence-based parenting programmes. In fact, we started shifting towards this model in July, and have now appointed all 10 of our Parenting Support Providers, covering the whole of Singapore. Over time, we will be expanding the scope of these programmes to address a wider spectrum of needs. We will also continue to source for more evidence-based programmes, and study their effectiveness with local family life educators.

10. Why did we move to a regional model? I offer you three practical reasons on why we have done so, and a fourth reason that it is strategic.  

11. Firstly, we believe that this regional approach will allow more people to access and benefit from the programmes. Each regional provider can focus its outreach efforts, and build stronger, sustainable relationships with our schools and parents. They will become the “go-to” centres within the community.

12. Secondly, by offering a range of services, each regional provider can help parents more flexibly, and in a more complete manner, with more customised forms of support for each family. Those who sign up for Triple P or Signposts in schools can access complementary services through the same agency. For example, if they want to speak to a counsellor or receive follow-up after that programme finishes. Not to mention the fact that there is a relationship already built up as a result of one programme, and that relationship allows us to lever over to complementary services.

13. Thirdly, the regional providers would be better able to develop their capabilities in this area. Social workers and counsellors in these agencies will gradually encounter a broader range of cases and families, as they deliver parenting support services. That valuable body of experience will enhance their knowledge and skills, as they transit to other services in the family continuum. 

14. Finally, the regional service model is a part of a broader social sector strategy. Over the past year, I have shared our plans – namely, for the public, private, and people sectors to work much more closely together, in a more coordinated fashion, to help vulnerable individuals and families.

15. Those who have been watching the social sector closely, especially over the last few years, will be able to discern this and name some examples of this new approach.

16. For one, the SG Cares Community Network sessions. These local community network sessions are a key annual meeting for organisations in the social, health and community space in each of these towns. They comprise organisations from the non-profit sector, the social sector, the healthcare sector, government agencies, local enterprises, religious organisations and secular organisations all within the town, all within access to each other and all within convenient distance from the people living there. We bring them all together every year to connect with each other, and to build relationships and partnerships. In fact, it is sensible to do so because as they talk to each other, they realise that they are serving the same families, same individuals, and same children. And by working together, they see the family holistically, not individually or not just looking at the symptoms that afflict certain individuals. In fact, we had one whole round of town meetings last week. Yesterday, we started our first and second sessions and we start to see a lot more warmth, relationship-building, a lot of ground-up coordination and partnering happening on the ground in each and every one of these towns. So that’s the local community networks that we are bringing together so that the triangle of social, health and community organisations integrate much more closely than before.

17. Another example is KidSTART, which enables children from low-income families to have a better start in life, even before they are born. With various partners, including the hospital, Social Service Office, and Family Service Centre, we identify expectant mothers and young children who can benefit. We support these families with home visitations, playgroups, and enhanced support to pre-schools. Parents receive the tools and support to improve their parent-child interactions, and the child’s development has seen a positive impact.

18. We also have the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce, in short, UPLIFT. While KidSTART focuses on the pre-school years, just before birth to six, UPLIFT helps less advantaged school-going children from the time they enter primary school. This is a continuum from KidSTART. Many issues arise from the complex family circumstances, where support will sometimes need to go beyond the school setting. So if you think that just working with the child in school will do, actually it is not sufficient. We need to work with the parents and community to ensure that when the child goes home from school, they have a nurturing, caring, loving family or some semblance of structure, support and care when they go home.Both the school and the community play critical roles, and we must continue to ensure firm ‘handshakes’ on outreach and case management to avoid gaps, cases and families who are trying to live their lives from falling through the cracks.

19. In our move towards these ten regional parenting support providers, we have sought to replicate the essential features of our social sector strategy, which is to provide more integrated, upstream, proactive, and comprehensive support. We do that downstream for casework, and we need to do that a lot more upstream for preventive work, capacity building, and family support.

Conclusion

20. That familiar African proverb goes “It takes a village to raise a child”. We must ask -- What kind of village do we want to see? 
All of us have a role. Families, of course, are the lead characters here – parents and their children ultimately steer the quality of their interactions and their ability to overcome setbacks together. But schools, family life educators, and Parenting Support Providers are important too. You encourage parents and children, especially those who are facing difficulties to build resilience and help them settle some of the challenges within the family. 

21. I wish you an insightful learning experience today. I’d like to thank among us, our speakers, who have flown in to Singapore to share with us their deep learning.

22. I hope all of us here have the opportunity to take away valuable learning points from our experienced speakers to implement in our social service agencies, community groups, schools, and organisations. I look forward to a more vibrant and connected ecosystem of support for parents and our families. 

23. Thank you.​

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Published On Wed, Nov 13, 2019
Last Reviewed On Wed, Nov 13, 2019

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