Speaker of Parliament, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin,
Mrs June Tham-Toh Syn Yuen,
Professor Ho Lai Yun,
Mayor Denise Phua,
Co-chairs of the Early Intervention Conference,
Fellow EIPIC partners and colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning. I am delighted to be here this morning with all of you at this Early Intervention Conference. I understand that today’s conference is an inaugural event for our early intervention sector.
This conference was first mooted by SPD, is jointly organised by all 10 organisations that provide the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC), and is supported by the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
It is incredibly encouraging to see the partnership and commitment by professionals across the sector, coming together to inspire and engage leaders and practitioners to make tomorrow better for children with developmental needs.
This conference is the fruit of labour of everyone here who saw the need to come together to build sector capability. It represents
your passion for the sector, and the children
your efforts towards continued learning, and
your commitment to consolidate and build on best practices and knowledge from both local and international experts.
We appreciate your continued partnership across the sector, and it is encouraging that our 10 partners in the EIPIC sector are actively in the drivers’ seat to build a better tomorrow. Indeed, we have come a long way in the area of early intervention for children with moderate to severe developmental delays.
Before 2003, we did not have a national EIPIC programme. The voluntary sector came in to provide a range of early intervention programmes. But access to Government funding and service delivery was uneven across them.
To help defray costs and standardize the support provided to children and their families, MSF, or MCDS as it was then called, established EIPIC funding support in 2003.
EIPIC is now the main programme that supports families of children with moderate-to-severe developmental needs.
In Singapore, we must strive to develop each child to his or her fullest potential and for children at risk of developmental delays, early intervention is key to maximising their potential. So we need to continue studying our system and identifying gaps in our provision of early intervention services that should be addressed. The Lien Foundation recently released a report on the early intervention sector, which contains suggestions by early intervention professionals on further ways to improve the sector. We welcome these ideas and other feedback, and will study the report in greater detail. In the meantime, let me share some thoughts that we have about EIPIC.
First, our current EIPIC service model provides for similar standards of delivery, but does not provide for differentiated delivery of services for children with higher or lower-than-average developmental needs. Yet, we understand that the needs of children vary widely. Some of them may respond better to intervention provided in the mainstream preschool setting, while others may require more intensive and individual intervention at the beginning.
We think there is scope to calibrate our EIPIC service delivery to better cater to the varying needs of our children.
We are therefore piloting the development of a continuum of services, with varying intensities of interventions to meet the different needs of our children, as well as flexibility to vary intervention as needed over time.
For example, a child may not be able to follow instructions and may need more support from his teachers at the onset. However, over time, he progresses and then needs to gain other skills, such as interacting with other children, caregivers and adults. The early intervention service we provide needs to adapt to his or her changing needs. MSF is working with three EIPIC centres to pilot the changes, and already, early results look promising.
Second, we recognise that more can be done to support children with special needs within the mainstream preschool setting. We are also exploring an intervention model in which children who have made sufficient progress in EIPIC, can proceed to then receive early intervention support or better early intervention support within their mainstream preschool.
Third, there is a need for greater standardisation in the way children are identified for EI programmes and to track their progress. The different EI services and our hospitals currently use various child outcome measures to determine entry into certain programmes, and sometimes this can pose a challenge. In this regard, MSF is looking to work with the sector to develop a standard measure for children’s progress in early intervention, and guidelines for EIPIC service delivery. This will help us to achieve greater consistency in service provision across the early intervention sector.
MSF will consult the sector very closely on our plans over the course of this year. We recognise, value and appreciate the strength of the sector which is one where many ideas are being brought in. We want to resist creating a cookie cutter system, where everyone has formed one single standard. This is a field, which continues to benefit and is informed by studies, methodologies and pedagogies from within and from abroad. We want to look at these from an evidence-based lens, and we want to study how these different methods can be used to strengthen the landscape and to benefit children with different kinds of needs. We want to look at standardisation of measurements but we also do not want to stultify creativity and the exploration of evidence-based methods. This is a balance we want to strike, and requires close partnership to achieve.
Fourth, we need to do more to strengthen the support provided to the parents of children with developmental delays, who can often experience high stress levels, particularly when the child is young.
We are in the process of strengthening the eco-system of support for them, as well as other caregivers of persons with disabilities. For instance, SG Enable intends to set up a caregivers’ space at our Enabling Village by the end of this year. It will be a multi-purpose space, serving as a meeting place for peer support group activities, caregiver training and engagement by VWOs and community partners. We hope that more parents and caregivers can benefit from the experience and wisdom of others who have walked the caregiving journey.
To give children a good start in life, ECDA has introduced KidSTART. This is a pilot programme that provides low-income families with knowledge and skills as well as additional support for their child’s development, from birth onwards. Families can benefit from parenting support, monitoring of the child’s developmental progress, and referrals to early intervention programmes where needed.
Currently, many EIPIC VWOs and the hospitals provide caregiver support, especially at critical transition points like the transition from EIPIC to primary school.
I urge all of us who are involved in the sector to consider if there are ways in which we can collectively do better to strengthen parent and caregiver support, from the point at which the children are referred to our early intervention services, and until they are successfully transited into mainstream primary school. We want to ensure that parents and caregivers have greater peace of mind and a sense of support, as they journey with their child all through life.
Fifth, we firmly believe it is important to strengthen the capability of our practitioners and share best practices across the early intervention sector, in line with the strategic direction of the Enabling Masterplan 3.
This conference is an example of a ground-up initiative along these lines. I am encouraged to know that the workshop topics incorporate the key early intervention principles, which are as follows:
strengths-based and family-centred intervention;
natural and inclusive environments;
developmentally sound intervention;
active and functional child engagement; and
coordinated and systematic support for working with children with developmental needs.
MSF will work closely with you, our community partners, to strengthen the eco-system of support for children with developmental needs and their families, including bolstering the capabilities of our Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs). As we press on towards a more caring and inclusive society, the Government, our employers, VWOs and the wider community will have to come together to play our part in helping every child maximise his or her developmental potential.
I would also like to take this opportunity to honour and thank our early intervention practitioners, some of whom are here with us today. Thank you for your relentless efforts to better care and to achieve better outcomes for our young and these efforts will impact the young lives entrusted to you.
Your unwavering commitment and dedication for these children and their families have made a tremendous difference in their early intervention journey, and contributed to where the EIPIC sector is today and the direction in which it is headed.
I wish all of you every success as you continue to lay strong foundations for children with developmental needs to realise their fullest potential early on in life.
You have chosen the theme “Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Reality” for today’s conference. This is not too different from the theme of the Singapore Budget 2018, which is “Together, A Better Future”.
We are all here today because we believe we have a part to play to enable a better future for our children, and their families, through early intervention. We need to continue our efforts to build a stronger and more collaborative network of practitioners, sharpen our skills and build our knowledge to help our children reach beyond what we are achieving today. I am confident that this inaugural Early Intervention Conference will be the start of many more collaborations and breakthroughs to come.
Once again, my appreciation to everyone who have made this conference possible, especially the 10 partners whose ceaseless efforts have made this possible. I wish you all a fruitful time of networking and learning from each other.