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Speech at the Inaugural Singapore Social Work Practice Research Conference 2018

1    A very warm welcome to all our local social service professionals as well as our speakers from around the world.

  • Thank you for coming to share your experiences on practice research in social work from your respective countries.

2     We are pleased to be hosting Singapore's very first Social Work Practice Research Conference, with special thanks to the Mrs Lee Choon Guan Trust Fund in making this possible.

  • Internationally, such practice research conferences have been running since 2008
  • As we move ahead with strengthening social service delivery in Singapore, it is indeed timely for us to be looking more towards practice research locally. This would further enhance our research efforts in the planning and delivery of social services
  • This will also help us to contextualise what we know in the social service sector, deepen and expand our knowledge base, and contribute to the learning process for future generations

3     For many years, Singapore has adopted what is known as the "Many Helping Hands" approach to help the vulnerable population in Singapore.

  • This represents government and community agencies and the community working together, to provide a wide range of services to meet the needs of the vulnerable
  • This approach aspires to create a fair, inclusive and caring society with an emphasis on collective responsibility among individuals, the community and the state. It is also based on the values of mutual help, reciprocity and giving back to society
  • To better help those in need, the government has been looking at how we can enhance the coordination of these many helping hands. As articulated at the Committee of Supply debates earlier this year, my ministry is working to strengthen the delivery, planning and coordination of social assistance and services for families with multiple needs. This will be done through the Social Service Offices, or SSOs, and by supporting community efforts towards better social service outcomes. These are ongoing efforts that will be progressively implemented over the coming years
  • The desired outcomes are threefold:

i     First, to coordinate better at the case level, so as to minimise unintended friction for our clients. We will help them resolve their issues more holistically so as to support them towards self-reliance more quickly. For example, we will make it easier for households who need multiple help schemes and services, by sharing information and assessments across agencies. This will reduce the need for clients to repeat their circumstances, and submit the same documents multiple times.

ii    The second desired outcome is to have a more effective use of resources and manpower. We will improve data-sharing and coordination of efforts at both the service planning and case level. MSF is exploring more integrated service delivery models at our SSOs to bring about greater convenience to clients who need to access different services.

iii    The third outcome is to enable the community to come in to complement the government's work. For example, as part of the SG Cares movement, SSOs will bring together community partners to forge a common picture of local social service needs, and facilitate partnerships to better harness community resources towards those needs.

  • Even as MSF is working through our SSOs to achieve this, the community of social service professionals, including social workers, also has a critical part to play
  • While we hope that these refinements and enhancements will help in service delivery, we want you to be part of this process as well
  • Practice research may not be direct social work practice, but it is an important part of social service delivery as it shapes and informs the programmes and interventions that ultimately reach the clients
  • Today, some of you may not see practice research as directly related to what you do. Nevertheless, if you take a long run perspective, you will realise the importance of practice research - how it would come around and contribute to what we do on the ground, how it will help us to refine the processes on the ground, and to identify outcomes that would help us to refine our processes. That, to me, is critical because when people like yourselves get involved in the whole process of practice research, every stakeholder involved in the process of service delivery will benefit

Importance of Practice Research

4     The concept of practice research is not new to the sector and our social service professionals in Singapore.

  • The poster presentations on display outside is clear evidence of practice research already taking place locally, in sub-sectors ranging from health, mental health to youth and eldercare

5     I am also encouraged to see community efforts taking place to promote practice research within the sector.

  • Just last year, MSF organised a Principal Social Workers' Seminar with a workgroup focusing on strengthening the nexus of research, advocacy, policy and practice. This workgroup was helmed by social service practitioners just like yourselves.
  • Beyond the seminar, they organised themselves into a Research Coalition that aims to promote research in a ground-up manner. They have since produced a Practice Research Newsletter which they hope would increase the awareness of practice research among practitioners.
  • I hope that this example would excite each of you as you see the energy within the sector in this area of work.

6     Practice research is important as it builds up our knowledge and theories not just from academic research but from actual practice.

  • While research serves to shed light on the processes and outcomes of practice, practice conversely serves to challenge research, its problem definition and assumptions.
  • I am, myself, a strong believer of practice research and ground up initiatives and inputs. Often, as I do my work on the ground, I also collect data, which I then take back to the office to challenge my staff and colleagues with. This is a process that helps us refine our policies. When you do that at every stage of the policy making process and delivery, it will enable processes to be refined and to evolve until we achieve the best option for people, even if the ideal or perfect option may not be there. We are all imperfect but we must do the best for our people.
  • This is done through the involvement of various stakeholders such as service providers, service users, caregivers, employers, and the neighbourhood, in the entire research process.
  • Practice and research mutually sharpen each other's perspectives and in the process, bring about richer and deeper understanding of the social issues under study and their impact on clients.
  • It is therefore crucial that we continue to build up our own pool of practice research locally so that the design of our services take into account our local context and culture, and there is continual learning from practice and about practice.
  • I remember vividly when we were reviewing MediShield Life when I was with the Ministry of Health. I gave a lot of inputs which I got from my residents then, because we wanted to refine our healthcare policies. Likewise in the social service sector, our policies must meet the needs of residents. When we see what our residents and clients face on the ground, we gain valuable input vis-à-vis what we see from the policymaking process. With practice research, you are able to publish and share with the government your observations about the processes in policy making and what is being done with clients in practice, so that everyone involved in the process will ultimately be able to benefit.

7     An example of a good practice research project that has been done in the local context is a research study on women's experiences of living with gynaecological cancer. This project was conducted by Medical Social Workers from KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

  • As part of their practice research efforts, they conducted interviews with a group of women diagnosed with gynaecological cancers and analysed case records.
  • The findings from the research helped to refine their practice guidelines to better address psychosocial needs and challenges raised by women with gynaecological cancers.
  • This is an example of how practitioners have a significant part in uncovering clients' needs and how clients can be impacted by practice research.

8     In the pursuit of practice research, I want to emphasise the importance of working collaboratively within the social work fraternity.

  • This conference is a good opportunity for you as practitioners to collaborate across agencies, to share best practices and to see how to advance practice research efforts within the sector.
  • Collaboration can help to define the scope of research that will be done. I want to encourage you to consult each other and to think more deeply about which issues or areas warrant practice research and how best to allocate resources to it. This is especially important in our increasingly fast-paced environment today, where cases and social issues are also more complex. Practice research should actively respond to the changing needs that the clients face.
  • I hope that each agency would consider how you work with other agencies to pursue this important piece of work. I would encourage agencies who work with similar population clienteles to collaborate for practice research. This can deepen findings and prevent duplication of resources and research pieces.
  • Agencies can also consider allocating resources such as manpower, time and budget for practice research in areas such as service delivery and development.

Conclusion

9     Today's conference will be a good opportunity to clarify the what, why and how of practice research.

  • The presence of so many social service practitioners and students here today shows the eagerness to grow in this area of work.
  • I hope that all of you will be better equipped to embark on the journey of practice research after this conference.
  • And beyond what we do today, practice research will enable us to benefit the different stakeholders in the area of social service delivery.
  • For the researchers, I think this presents an opportunity to collaborate with practitioners to bring your research to life, to bring context to your research in Singapore, and to share what we have here in Singapore with the international research community. This will help create a wealth of knowledge within the social service sector. Most importantly, this will benefit our clients, the very people who look forward to benefitting from your services. With better social service delivery, I believe this will enable our people to lead better lives.
  • I would sincerely like to thank Keith and your family for providing that strong support and stimulus for us to go the additional mile in our pursuit to make lives better for everyone.
  • I wish you all a fruitful time of exchange and learning. Thank you.
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Published On Tue, Jun 5, 2018
Last Reviewed On Tue, Jun 5, 2018

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