Dr Lee Tung Jean, Deputy Secretary to MSF
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 Good afternoon. The Engaging Hearts and Minds seminar brings together professionals from different sectors - social service practitioners, religious leaders, government officers - to connect, share best practices and seed new ideas. This has been a very precious time for us all, to be able to share and discuss ideas on issues that will make a real difference to vulnerable families. I have been very touched by the passion shown here this morning. It is clear that we are of one mind and heart in wanting to close the last mile to support vulnerable families.
2 As I reflect on the sharing and conversations this morning, some key points stood out for me:
- Minister Masagos spoke about the critical need to for agencies to work closely and strengthen holistic support to multi-stressed families. Only then can we be more coordinated with services that are integrated across agencies to ensure that we fulfil the last mile in supporting individuals and families in need;
- Dr Mathews spoke in-depth, he inspired many people on the lived experiences of multi-stressed families. He emphasised the importance of working together with these families whom we are trying to support, by empowering them to tap on their natural support systems.
- From the religious-cultural angle, Ustaz Irwan shared how certain concepts can encourage families to strive to improve their circumstances, correcting possible misconceptions that they hold.
- We are very fortunate to have Professor Suzaina, Ms Hanna as well as our practitioners from ECDA, Singapore Prison Services and Yayasan Mendaki who share on what they do and how they come and work together.
- They also discussed ways to exercise flexibility, creativity, garner community support and coordinate across services, as they reach out to support vulnerable families.
3 Let me round up the morning's discussions by sharing some of my ministry's experiences.
Working Together to Stop Family Violence
4 I believe that by working together and leveraging on each of our community partner's strengths, we can collectively make a positive impact on families. We had once helped a young lady with an intellectual disability. Let's call her Rina. Because Rina's mother was unable to manage Rina's behaviour, she resorted to corporal punishment in her efforts to discipline Rina. Rina's mother frequently hit Rina and confined her. Her mother also exhibited self-harming behaviours due to prolonged stress from being Rina's primary caregiver. It is not only about the person who is affected, but also the caregiver and those closer to them.
5 To keep Rina safe, my Ministry's Adult Protective Service worked with many community agencies to customise a safety plan for both Rina and her family. We facilitated Rina's admission into a shelter, and enrolled her for vocational training to keep her meaningfully engaged. For Rina's mother, we partnered the Family Service Centre to provide her with emotional and mental support. We also referred her to healthcare providers for mental health and medical follow-ups. We also worked with the Social Service Office and MUIS to provide Rina's family with financial support. Recognising the multiple needs of the family, many agencies came together to provide all-rounded support for the family, where they needed it most.
6 Families such as Rina's often face complex and multi-faceted multiple challenges. It is in instances like these that it is crucial for agencies to work in tandem to address the multiple needs of such families. My colleagues shared with me that even as various agencies attended to this case with very specific roles, what was most critical during the process was the agreement on priorities and the constant consultation with one another.
7 Beyond social work professionals, the broader community - family, neighbours, friends, religious leaders - all play a part. Family violence remains a scourge in our society, with almost 3,000 people filing for protection orders each year.
8 Some of you may have read my article in Berita Harian last year, when I shared about how we should not turn a blind eye to other people's problems - especially when we suspect that family violence is happening. My Ministry's "Break the Silence | Against Family Violence" campaign aims to send out this message. It encourages bystanders - these can be neighbours, friends, family or even strangers - to realise that family violence is not a private matter. All of us have a part to play to prevent, detect, interrupt - in a safe manner- or report possible violence. I am glad to see the support given by our community partners to enhance awareness to eradicate violence and abuse in families. We can all play a part in encouraging victims to seek support.
9 I am heartened to know that MUIS and the mosques have trained 135 befrienders to date, to recognise signs and symptoms of family violence, and actively raise awareness of family violence through their community outreach efforts. I am also glad to share that MUIS has also echoed an upstream message of respect in the family, through Friday sermons at our mosques. The sermons help debunk myths of family violence and urge the community to protect the vulnerable in our midst.
10 Through the collective efforts of our organisations and the broader community, we extend our network of individuals who can be our 'eyes and ears' on the ground, broadening support to families affected by violence.
Drawing on the strengths of multi-stressed individuals and families
11 Dr Matthews spoke about drawing on the strengths of the family and the support systems within the community, and how to encourage and empower them to achieve meaningful goals. Another individual whom we support, let's call her Siti, is a mother of two. Her story shows how low-income families can overcome their challenges and break out of a cycle of intergenerational poverty.
12 Before seeking help from the Social Service Office (or SSO) and Family Service Centre (or FSC), Siti had trouble making ends meet as she was unemployed. Her housing situation was also unstable, as she was also shuttling between staying at her friend's place and a backpacker hostel because of family problems. The SSO supported Siti by providing her with financial and employment assistance, while the FSC worked alongside Siti to provide counselling support for her family issues. Today, I'm glad to learn that Siti's situation has improved - she has found stable employment and housing, and resolved her family issues.
13 I would like to highlight three points from this story:
- Firstly, even as the Government and the community provided support to help Siti address her immediate challenges, what was crucial was that Siti was willing and determined to improve her situation. It was key to leverage on this strength.
- Secondly, as a community, it is important to ensure that women like Siti, who aspire to provide better lives for their families, are well-supported. This can only happen when agencies take on a collaborative approach.
- Thirdly, having a stable income not only ensures that their family needs are met. Being in formal employment also enables women like Siti to continue gaining new knowledge and skills. This in turn, gives them confidence to build their own identity beyond their roles as mothers and wives.
14 To conclude, I would like to thank everyone again for your continued dedication and contributions within your respective roles. Let us reflect on how we can apply what we have learned today in our work. I hope that the friendships formed today will lead to deeper collaborations among agencies.
15 Only then, can we pave the way for greater success for the Muslim community. As a Malay proverb says, "Bulat air kerana pembetung, bulat manusia kerana muafakat" which means, "The roundness of water is due to its container, and the success of human beings is when we work together". Let's work together to strengthen our families and communities. Thank you.