In the course of my work at MSF, I often come across the good work of Family Service Centres. I also have the opportunity to meet FSC staff, managers and board members who are committed to helping needy and vulnerable families. It is a privilege for me to be with you this morning at this event.
Transforming the Social Service Sector
In his last two National Day Rally speeches, the Prime Minister spoke about how Singapore is at a turning point in our development. He explained why we need to make a strategic shift in our social policies - towards the government and the community doing more to support individuals and families in Singapore.
The social service sector is at the forefront of this shift. At MSF’s Social Sector Partners Conference in May this year, the Minister for Social and Family Development shared his vision on how the social service sector can gear up for the challenge. He outlined three things:
- First, doing more - Provide greater support for Singaporeans.
- Second, doing better - More effective services and deeper competencies.
- And finally, doing better together – Delivering help in a more coordinated and seamless fashion.
FSCs Central to This Transformation
Family Service Centres are central to this transformation. To put it in another way - If FSCs are not part of the transformation, there will be no transformation of the social service sector!
Why? The reasons are simple.
I don’t need to convince you of the FSC’s importance in serving low-income and vulnerable families, and in helping them work towards stability, resilience and independence. I am reminded of this often when I review cases which the ministry comes across or letters from MPs.
Neither do I need to elaborate on how the FSCs contribute to the work of other social agencies by helping to address root social issues in families. My SSO colleagues often speak about the importance of them having a close working relationship with FSCs.
The scale of our FSC sector has also grown in line with societal needs. Let me share with you some figures that provide a glimpse of the landscape today.
- Today, we have 43 FSCs, or an average of 2 in each housing estate. We are still adding more.
- Collectively, FSCs employ about 850 staff, of which about 400 are social workers. This makes FSCs the largest employer of social workers in Singapore – larger than MSF or restructured hospitals!
- Each year, FSCs serve over 30,000 families and individuals. 70% are low income and vulnerable.MSF funding for FSCs this year will come in at around $35 mil. If we include the support from ComChest and the Tote Bd Social Service Fund, the figure will be close to $68 mil.
With FSCs being such a major service provider in the social service sector, you all are a critical part of the sector’s transformation.
The Journey Has Begun
All of us here want more effective and impactful outcomes for our beneficiaries. They should be at the centre of what we do.
What then do we need to work on to bring about better outcomes for them? Which direction should we move? Quietly but surely, the sector and the ministry have come together to respond to these questions.
Over the last couple of years, various platforms have been set-up to look into specific areas of improvement. They include the Committee of Practice Standards, various workgroups on Code of Social Work Practice, workgroups for the Social Service Net, just to name a few. Much consultation, brainstorming and discussion have also taken place. Not just among FSCs, but also between FSCs and various government agencies.
But because so much is happening, it is sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees. This is where a gathering like this is useful -> to come together, take stock, discuss and arrive at the same picture. With clarity comes confidence to proceed with concrete actions.
We are today on the cusp of a transformation that span 3 main areas:
Let me elaborate on each of them.
Some of you had shared with me how over the years, FSCs have had to step in to provide services in the community because no one else stepped up. This is how some FSCs ended up running multiple additional programmes on top of your core work. A few even run tuition, student care and child care centres!
FSCs that took on such additional services often feel stretched. There is a common saying - “If you try to be everything to everyone, you won’t be anything to anyone.” As the needs of vulnerable families become more complex, it will be harder to run both core work and additional services well.
The social service sector has grown and we now have more alternatives, from those running children’s programmes to those offering elderly services. FSCs can tap on these alternatives, rather than run additional services yourselves. Existing community support programmes can also be folded into group and community work.
I know it is sometimes difficult to say “no” to requests to run additional programmes. MSF can play a role here. I have asked my colleagues to help you gate keep where necessary. In other words, to help say ‘no’ to external requests for programmes that are not aligned with the core. FSCs can then focus on its core service of helping the vulnerable through case work, group work and community work.
With sharper focus, you can also provide more effective services to families who may face the effects of difficult issues such as divorce, gambling addiction and mental illness. You can also devote more attention to deepening expertise to help those with more complex needs. These include families with child management or family violence issues, and those transiting from statutory interventions.
The second element where we can do better is Service.
Vulnerable families need more accessible and coordinated help that are responsive to their needs. Families also expect some basic consistency in client experience across different FSCs.
One important initiative to enhance service delivery is the integration of backend data and sharing of essential beneficiary information across providers. We are developing the Social Service Net (SSNet) for this purpose. When completed, SSNet will enable caseworkers to have a more complete picture and a more-coordinated help plan. Families with multiple needs will not have to repeat the same information to different service providers or caseworkers, thus enabling more timely assistance with greater ease. The SSNet will also enable you to exchange information with professionals in other social service agencies. There will of course be safeguards on data confidentiality and sharing.
To improve service delivery, we must be prepared to experiment. At Taman Jurong for example, MSF is looking into having a provider offer family services at the SSO. Another concept we could consider is the integration of services for vulnerable families and elderly staying at the rental blocks through the co-location of FSC and SAC. Will these deliver better services? Well … if we do not try, we will never know! I hope some of you will game enough to try along with us. Please also share your other ideas with us.
The third area where all of us want to do better is Professionalism.
The key to more effective and impactful FSC services lies not just in clearer focus and better service delivery systems. It takes passionate people with skills to help those in need. I know that many FSC staff aspire to deepen their professional knowledge and competencies. This is why practice standards, professional development and good HR practices are important.
We are now working very hard together on the Code of Social Work Practice standards for FSCs. With the Code, and its accompanying training and guides, FSCs can speak the same language and use common assessment tools in evaluating the circumstances and needs of a family. The Code will also help guide intervention. It will be relevant to all FSC practitioners involved in the delivery of social work practice. I would like to thank the Master Social Workers like Yean Wun and Puay Wun for helping us to develop and operationalise the Code. I also thank the Committee of Practice Standards for providing valuable inputs and leadership to the various implementation workgroups.
Besides the Code, we also hope to work with you to strengthen the development of all FSC practitioners (including social workers, counsellors, psychologists, social work associates). This requires all of us to invest more in providing opportunities for professional growth. What is needed goes beyond funding. It also requires progressive HR practices at each Centre, including strong support for professional practice, and attention and priority for training and supervision.
The journey which we are embarking on towards better focus, service and professionalism is challenging. Sometimes, it may even be painful.
Yet, turning back or moving too slowly is not an option. If we turn back, we would have failed the families who need better support from us. If we slow down, we would have failed ourselves and one another.
MSF will journey with you. You have my commitment that we will work alongside you in charting direction, planning, securing resources and providing support.
We will continue to consult, engage and take into account your inputs. We remain open to adjusting the plans as long as they do not compromise core goals. In rolling out the SSNet and Code of Practice for example, we engaged many of you. FSC reps are also involved in the workgroups. Your constructive inputs helped us to make useful refinements to the plans.
Where feasible, we will implement initiatives in phases. For example, there are 3 waves of rollout for the Code of Practice. In wave 1, we have AMK FSC (Punggol), Kampong Kapor FSC, Marine Parade FSC and Whispering Hearts FSC. Likewise, a selected few FSCs – THK FSC@Tanjong Pagar, AWWA FSC and Kampong Kapor FSC - were involved in working out referral protocols that will be built into the SSNet. We thank these early adopters who helped smoothened the path for the rest.
MSF will also invest effort and resources in helping you prepare for the upcoming change. Many change management workshops have been organised to bring us along the journey. Those who attended these workshops have found them useful. A change network comprising change sponsors and change ambassadors has also been formed at each FSC.
Each Has a Role
Each one of us here today also has an important role to play in this journey.
For FSC Practitioners, I hope you will take advantage of the renewed focus at the centres, and make use of the enhanced systems, professional standards and training to provide more effective interventions to beneficiaries.
To Supervisors, you serve as role models in guiding your colleagues, helping them adopt and integrate the Code of Practice as part of their every day work, and creating a culture of peer learning and sharing of good practices.
For Executive Directors and Centre Heads, I hope you can build up the organisation along the direction which we are aspiring towards. Support your team and help build their competencies, and allocate the right resources to deliver core services.
To our Chairmen and Board Members, the management and staff will need your backing, especially in focussing the centre, and instituting good HR practices to support staff development & retention.
For this journey to be successful, each of us will have to play our role.
Colleagues and friends, Family Service Centres are central to the transformation of social service sector to meet the changing needs of Singaporeans.
Quietly but surely, the FSC journey towards better focus, service and professionalism has begun.
It will be a challenging journey, but there must be no turning back or slowing down. We must persevere.
I have met many FSC professionals and managers who are committed and proud to serve vulnerable families, no matter how difficult it may be. I have come to admire your passion, persistence and selflessness in putting beneficiaries at the centre of what you do.
Because of you, I am optimistic. If we journey together, this will be a successful and meaningful voyage.
I hope to have you with us on this journey. Thank you