Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing at MSF Committee of Supply 2015
INVESTING IN THE FOUNDATION YEARS OF OUR CHILDREN
1. Madam Chair, let me first thank all the members for the useful suggestions and support for the work of MSF. We would not be able to do all we want to do, without your support.
2. There are three critical social challenges that we have to confront in the coming years. First, social mobility. Second, our evolving family support system. Third, the aging population.
3. Many members of the house have spoken about the issues of social inequality. The way to tackle social inequality, is not just about transferring some help to people at a certain point in time. But more importantly, we must ensure that the next generation has the best chance to move up the social ladder if they work hard, and if they have the talent to do so.
4. The next challenge has to do with the shrinking size of our family. We are having fewer children in the average family. Many are living independently, and many could be working or staying overseas. In a hypercompetitive global system, our family will continue to face many stresses and strains in the coming years. Marriages have also transcended the traditional geographical boundaries.
5. Third, we have an aging population. Financial security and assurance will be key considerations for them. Likewise, how we can integrate them socially will also be another challenge. We have to relook at our social systems and social networks to tackle the three challenges of an aging population, social mobility and our evolving family structure.
6. In 2015, MSF will embark on a two-prong strategy to meet these challenges. First, continue to invest in the foundation years of our children, to provide them with the best opportunities to fulfil their talent, regardless of their starting point in life. Second, we must build a future ready social service sector; and I will elaborate on this in the second part of my speech.
7. On the first thrust - to strengthen our investment in the early years of our children, so as to give everyone the best possible headstart. Members of this house will remember that I always have a mantra of providing quality, accessible and affordable early childhood services for all our families. When talking about affordability, we want to focus our resources on those who have less. We also want to make sure that the broad middle of our population, has access to affordable and quality services to give parents a peace of mind. Let me update on the efforts we are going to embark on, including the challenges involved.
8. First, on quality. We now have 360 SPARK certified pre-schools. We have also introduced a new Commendation category, to recognise strong teaching and learning processes. We hope that this continues to grow and be proliferated across the entire sector. We hear that many parents are now looking out for the SPARK certification. I am heartened by this, since this is a better indication of quality compared to using price, bells and whistles as proxies, as these may not be in the best interest of our children. We are continuing to make progress on SPARK, and push for more centres to come onboard.
9. On the second issue of accessibility, in 2013, we had enough child care places for one in three children. Since 2013, we have added 17,000 child care places across the island. We will meet our target of having 20,000 new child care places by 2017, ahead of our planned schedule; providing places for one in two children for its cohort. We will continue to closely monitor demand and supply as needed, especially in housing estates where there are many more young parents.
10. Besides developing child care centres at void decks, ECDA has also other schemes to help boost supply in the estates. First, allowing developers to apply for bonus gross floor area if they set aside spaces for child care centres. Second, providing grants for child care centres located in workplaces. Third, to help some kindergartens convert their centres into child care centres if usage for the kindergarten is not particularly high. Fourth, to help defray the rental cost for child care centres in high demand areas. On top of these four measures that have been implemented over the last few years, in 2015, ECDA will work with the Anchor Operators or AOPs to develop large centres with capacity of 300 to 500 child care places. These centres will provide an additional 2,400 new places over the next few years and help to alleviate demand for parents living in these young estates. This goes beyond our original target of 20,000 child care places from 2013 to 2017. But as we build new and bigger child care centres, we are trying a new model. I urge members to give us your support and mobilise the community to address the issues that may arise from having bigger centres. There might be issues related to traffic congestion and I seek members’ support to mobilise your respective Grassroots Organisations to help us build and design such centres that meet the needs of young parents amongst us. ECDA will be providing detailed site locations in due course.
11. Let me provide some updates on the affordability issue. The enhanced subsidies have helped to reduce the out of pocket costs for lower and middle income families. 31,000 children have since benefitted from the additional subsidies with the lowest income tier being as low as $3 a month for full day child care services. And 10,000 children have benefitted from KiFAS since January this year. Low income families pay as little as $1 to 2 per month for Kindergarten services.
12. Mr Pritam Singh asked about the fee schedules for those who want to increase their fees. ECDA has strict control over the Anchor Operators. But the best way to check the price and profiteering is not to micromanage because ultimately the centres are still private entities. But the best way, is to make sure we have sufficient quality, affordable options in the market.
13. Next I want to touch on the CDA top-up. Beyond the new schemes to enhance affordability of our early childhood services, we will also top-up the CDA for all Singaporean children aged zero to six years old in 2015. This will assist families with cost of raising their children, through child care or kindergarten fees, or healthcare-related expenses. Today, 85% of CDA usage goes into either child care or healthcare-related purposes. The top-up of $300 to $600 top-up per child, depending on the annual value of the family home, will be a big help to many parents in the low to middle income group. Parents will receive the top-up by September this year. So that basically is a short update of what we have done for the quality, affordability and accessibility challenges so far.
14. Let me now move on to the next challenge. That is manpower. Members Ang Hin Kee, Dr Intan, Lee Bee Wah, and Janil have all spoken about this issue. Currently we have about 14,000 educarers and teachers in the sector. We will need another 1,500 more by the year 2017. From our analysis, we know that many young teachers who join the sector typically find it most challenging in the first 3 years. Many cited challenges in career progression, pay, professional development, and meeting the high expectations of the public. And I agree with Mr Ang Hin Kee’s point that we need structured training and better career opportunities for our teachers and educarers taking care of our children. And this, we will do more in coming year. We have already introduced more courses and internships to attract more people to join the sector. SMS Indranee has also highlighted that ECDA introduced new Early Childhood Capability Grant to support the operators hosting enhanced internship students. There will also be more opportunities for in-service professionals to continue their work through the Continuing Professional Development or CPD Masteprlan. In past year alone, one in two early childhood educarers have already benefitted from these courses. ECDA is currently working with WDA to jointly develop the EC Singapore Skills Framework to groom our many teachers in the sector. In addition, this year we will appoint the first batch of ECDA Fellows who have been exemplary professionals, to create a fraternity to uplift the quality of the sector, and help mentor young teachers and educarers in the sector. The salaries have been improving for the sector, but I want to see greater progress. The progress has been uneven with the anchor operators leading the way, and the rest following.
15. This year we will also introduce a new Professional Development Programme or PDP for early childhood professionals with at least 3 years of experience, to encourage them to deepen competencies and stay in sector. A structured three-year upgrading programme to equip kindergarten and child care teachers for larger job roles and help them realise their potential. Teachers nominated by their employers, will undergo certifiable training and receive monetary incentives at key programme milestones to recognise their skills, and encourage them to stay in sector. Details will be announced by ECDA subsequently. ECDA will further explore how we can facilitate a system where we can provide more opportunities and time for training. For example, setting up a register like how MOE does it for the relief teachers, so that our teachers can have their time off to go for courses. Once the scheme is in place, I expect employers to do their part to nominate suitable teachers to undergo this training. Once they have completed their training, recognise them with greater responsibilities and greater progression as they move on in the sector. This is a tripartite partnership between the operators, the teachers and ECDA. Operators will need to give our teachers the time and flexibility to attend training and attain deeper competencies in their respective areas. On the other hand, the teachers need to take ownership of their own training and commit to enhancing their skills for the sector for the long term. The Professional Development Programme will be rolled out progressively for 2016. Besides the teachers, we will also roll out a Professional Development Programme for educarers and leaders. ECDA will be working with sector in close consultation in coming months and will release details in later part of this year.
16. To Dr Intan’s question, apart from PDP, ECDA has also many opportunities for teachers to engage in innovative practices through the Innovation Grant and Early Childhood Research Fund.
17. Having dealt with manpower issues, the next and most critical issue that we need to think through further has to do with the industry structure for early childhood sector. We need to ask ourselves, if more demand-side subsidies would lead to inflation of prices, but not lead to an improvement in quality and assurance for families. Is the current structure helping us to moderate cost, pay competitively, and to develop our teachers? I personally think it is good to have a variety of learning models, since children at this young age learn very differently and have very different needs. It is not easy to standardise learning needs and systems. But on the other hand, while we desire to have greater variety in the sector, is having more than 600 different brands of operators a bit too many to create the efficiencies of scale, for us to keep prices competitive and affordable, and to give the best opportunities for our teachers to progress in their career. For example, does it make sense for us to have more than 600 different sets of curriculum, requiring so many teams, and so much time to develop those curriculum. After studying this issue and talking to the operators and teachers in the sector, we have decided to adopt a targeted approach to provide more funding to support child care operators who are committed to three things for us. First, to keep child care fees affordable by stabilising and/or reducing fees. Second, a commitment to raise the quality of early childhood care and education in their centres. Third, to improve career and development opportunities for teachers. So we will invite applicants to join us on the Partner Operator Scheme.
18. What must they do? Three things. First, they must reduce current fees and promise to keep future fee increases affordable. They must maintain a fee cap of $800 for full day child care services. This means a sizeable reduction of $100 for centres at median fee of about $900 today. Second, we are looking for operators to raise quality, including attaining SPARK accreditation as soon as possible. Third, they must agree to develop their teachers professionally, and benchmark teacher’s salary according to ECDA’s advice. We have already seen the benefits and these economies of scale enjoyed by the current five Anchor Operators. Many of the mid-sized operators can benefit from economies of scale. I would encourage smaller operators to come together to take on the challenge and enjoy the benefits of economies of scale. Too fragmented an industry doesn’t allow us to develop our teachers well, doesn’t allow us to enjoy economies of scale to keep fees affordable, and it doesn’t help us raise quality that we desire.
19. The selection of the POP scheme will be a competitive process. We will choose the most competitive bids based on the fees they propose, their track record, and grants required from government. The lower the fees, and more substantial the reduction in fees the better. The longer the track record the better. And the lower the grant required to achieve all this, the better. Applications will start with immediate effect.
20. Dr Janil Puthucheary asked about the provision of mother tongue in the pre-school sector. This is one area where I think we can try to organise ourselves better and attain economies of scale. Anchor Operators with enough scale in the same locality are already doing this. There is much scope to encourage the independent, small-size and mid-size centres to similarly come together, to provide the mother tongue services as a cluster in a particular locality. I have seen this in Pasir Ris Town when I last visited one of the Anchor Operators. They may not provide mother tongue in every centre but can provide the service across different centres by pooling resources.
21. Last but not least, to raise the overall sector quality, we will have a new Early Childhood Development Centres Act. Some of the key features are to harmonise regulation of child care centres and kindergartens. Kindergartens registered under the Education Act today will be licensed under the new Act, similar to child care centres. The Act will also require the registration of all early childhood professionals; and ECDA’s regulatory powers will also be enhanced to uphold higher standards required for the sector. Both parents and operators will stand to benefit from this harmonised legislation. Parents will have greater assurance of ECDA’s higher standards on kindergartens and child care centres. Operators will similarly benefit from having clearer and more consistent requirement regardless of the type of early childhood services they provide. ECDA will continue to work with the sector on the specific changes, and we aim to introduce the new Act in the second half of this year.
22. Madam Chair, may I have your permission to say a few words in Malay.
23. Puan, tahun-tahun awal dalam kehidupan kanak-kanak sangat penting bagi membina asas yang kukuh.
24. Pemerintah komited terhadap memastikan setiap kanak-kanak akan mendapat permulaan yang baik dengan meningkatkan kualiti serta akses kepada penjagaan dan pendidikan awal kanak-kanak, tidak kira keadaan kewangan keluarga.
25. Prioriti kami juga ialah untuk memastikan yuran pra-sekolah yang dikenakan berpatutan, terutama sekali bagi penjagaan kanak-kanak. Lantas, ibu bapa yang bekerja dapat memanfaatkan khidmat penjagaan bagi anak-anak mereka.
26. Dengan subsidi tambahan yang sedia ada, keluarga yang berpendapatan rendah membayar hanya tiga dolar sahaja sebulan untuk khidmat penjagaan kanak-kanak sepenuh hari. Dengan bantuan tambahan KiFAS pula, keluarga membayar hanya satu atau dua dolar sebulan buat yuran tadika.
27. Untuk melengkapi Skim Pengendali Utama atau AOP, ECDA akan memperkenalkan Skim Pengendali Rakan Kongsi yang baru. Para pengendali yang dilantik akan menerima dana Pemerintah untuk mengurangkan yuran dan memastikan ianya berpatutan. Mereka juga perlu meningkatkan kualiti khidmat mereka dan menunjukkan komitmen bagi pembangunan profesional guru-guru mereka.
28. Saya ingin menggalakkan lebih ramai keluarga merebut peluang untuk memanfaatkan pelaburan Pemerintah untuk pra-sekolah yang baru dipertingkatkan ini, agar anak-anak mereka mendapat permulaan yang baik dalam kehidupan.
29. Walau sebaik mana pun dasar-dasar dan skim-skim ini, masih ada golongan yang mungkin tidak tahu tentangnya, seperti Encik Zainal katakan kelmarin. Lantas, kami perlukan kerjasama masyarakat untuk membantu golongan yang memerlukan, dengan meningkatkan kesedaran mereka tentang skim-skim ini.
30. Masyarakat harus mendekati kanak-kanak dan keluarga keluarga ini dan menggalakkan mereka untuk menghadiri pra-sekolah. Mereka boleh memanfaatkan pelbagai subsidi yang sedia ada. Bagi yang memerlukan bantuan tambahan, mereka boleh mendekati Pejabat Khidmat Sosial atau Pusat Khidmat Keluarga.
31. Kami percaya, dengan ini, serta kerjasama dan sokongan masyarakat, keluarga-keluarga ini dapat menjana masa depan yang lebih cerah dan penuh harapan.
32. Let me round up this segment by thanking everyone for your suggestions to make further improvements to the early childhood sector. We are committed to ensure that we give our children the best opportunities and fulfil their potential. But ECDA can’t do this alone, and raise the quality, affordability and accessibility of the entire sector by ourselves. We need everyone’s help, as Dr Intan and ER Lee Bee Wah had said, we as parents can do our part. We can recognise and respect the contributions of our early childhood professionals, to provide a good foundation for our children. We can give them the respect, and in turn, teach our children the sense of respect that we give to our teachers. We need the help of operators, to play a part and work hand-in-hand to uplift the quality of this sector, and make sure our teachers will be paid competitively. My commitment to all the operators is that the government will help you raise the quality and scale of your operations, as you put the children at the forefront of all that you do. And we will also need teachers to take ownership of their own development. If we can all chip in, I am quite sure we will have an even better early childhood sector in years to come.
33. Let me now invite my Parl Sec, Ms Low Yen Ling, to update on persons with special needs and our family support and services.
BUILDING A FUTURE-READY SOCIAL SERVICE SECTOR
1. Madam Chair, let me now touch on the second thrust of MSF’s work, and that is to build a future-ready social service. I will touch on this at five levels - future-ready services, systems, organisations, legislations and professional development.
2. We have talked about the evolving challenges to the family structure and also our ageing demographics. For services, we cannot just scale up what we do today. We need to think of new models to provide those services given our finite manpower resources. I will use two examples to illustrate this: one, on EIPIC, and two, on adult disability.
3. For EIPIC, our early intervention for children with special needs, the diagnosis rate has been going up. Part of it has been due to a greater awareness of the services provided. We have earlier diagnosis and we have more seeking services. This is a good sign because the earlier we can help our children with special needs, the better their chances of leading a fulfilling life, just like any other normal Singaporean. The benefits of early intervention are clear. However, our professional manpower is still lacking, and we cannot just replicate and scale up the current model.
4. We have discussed this in the Enabling Masterplan Implementation Committee, and the committee members have given us many good ideas on how we can improve on the continuum of services given to these children. We need a common assessment tool to track the progress of all the children under the scheme so that we can give them targeted help. We need the family and the pre-school teachers to be more involved, and this is why in the second half of this year, we will be developing a new model to provide services for the entire early intervention sector.
5. This new model will involve a common assessment tool, a common tracking tool, a better system to allow those with milder needs to be supported by the up-skilled Learning Support Educators, thereby dedicating the professionals to help those with moderate to high needs. This will better utilise the finite manpower resources that we have, to provide the best services available for our children in the EIPIC programme. We will need to upgrade the skills of our Learning Support Educators. We will need to change the way we make our assessment and track those progress. And we will need to deepen the competencies of the professionals and at the same time, widen the pool.
6. Ms Denise Phua and Dr Lily Neo also talked about the issue of adult disability. Indeed, we also need to rethink the model to provide such services including day care services and how we can mobilise the community to help adults with disabilities. Our challenge is how to provide those services for the people who completed their SPED schools and are above 18 years old. It is a long journey as we will need to provide them with home care, community care and if possible, open opportunities for them in the job market.
7. We will adopt a three-prong strategy to up our services for adult disability. First, for those who can find jobs, we should do our best to work with employers to redesign the workplace, to allow them the best opportunities to be integrated into the core Singapore workforce. We have to work on partnerships with employers to redesign the work processes and get the employers on board. Second, for those who cannot go onto employment, we have to see how we can revamp the care model for them at the community level. This will allow us to better make use of the finite resources. Finally, for those who need very specialised home-based services, we have to look, beyond the current model that is dependent on foreign domestic help, which is highly labour intensive. We will be tapping on the ideas of the Enabling Masterplan Implementation Committee, to see whether the models that we have going forward will be future-ready for the new demands that are emerging.
8. Let me talk about building future-ready systems. I will share a story. Many of you will have probably noticed that I have not used the phrase ‘Many Helping Hands’. That was because when I first came on board, some of you told me that the phrase ‘Many Helping Hands’ was a ‘bad’ word. It was as if the government had washed its hands or did not want to do anything.
9. I have another version for the ‘Many Helping Hands’ approach. I want the ‘Many Helping Hands’ to be like the ‘Thousand Arms Bodhisattva’ or the ‘千手观音’. We can have many hands but we must have a body and a central nervous system to coordinate the helping hands. Like the ‘千手观音’, we must also be close to the ground and to be able to listen and discern the needs of the people. Over the last few years, we have worked quietly behind the scene to put in place these systems. While we have many outreach points and many helping hands, we must put in place a nervous system and a body that can continue to provide that help as needed.
10. This is the reason we have set up the SSO network; so that services can be closer to the ground; so that the needs of the ground can be heard more immediately. Going forward, the SSOs will also act as a nerve system to help coordinate case management, especially for very complex cases. They are already doing this in many of the towns that SSOs have been set up. The SSOs will coordinate the work between the different VWOs and the back-end support by the different Ministries and the different agencies; so that for someone or some families who need the help, only need to access one point of contact.
11. Over these few years, we have also aligned the boundaries of all the Family Service Centres and the Senior Cluster Networks. With aligned boundaries, we can provide more localised and integrated services at the town level so avoid that our ‘Many Helping Hands’ approach is not seen as uncoordinated. In fact, I am always inspired by the image of the ‘Thousand Arms Bodhisattva’ who is compassionate, who reaches the ground, and who hear the cries of help. We may never reach there but we must strive that all the hands, are all coordinated, all working closely together, all with their ears on the grounds to meet the needs of our fellow Singaporeans.
12. This is also the reason why we are improving our system with the Social Service Net, which we will roll out in the second half of this year. We have one vision: “One Client, One Record; One Sector, One System.” Once the system is rolled out, first to the SSOs and the FSCs, then subsequently to the VWOs, we will have an integrated case management system across the entire social service sector. There will be no need for clients to repeat their stories and there will be no need for us to search for files, to see the kinds of social interventions that have been done and given previously to our clients. With that, we save manpower and we can deploy the time savings to better interface with families in need.
13. But I must also urge patience. It will take us some time to transit into the new system. We will need time to download and upload all the records onto the new system. So we will do this progressively. But in time to come, I am confident we will reach our vision of “One Client, One Record; One Sector, One System.”
14. Beyond the level of future-ready services and future-ready systems, let me talk about the third issue of future-ready organisations. Ms Denise Phua and Ms Chia Yong Yong had also talked about this. We expect no less from all the VWOs in terms of corporate governance. We want to professionalise our front-end services and systematise our back-end functions, ensure business continuity from leadership to operations and manage risks just like any well run organisation.
15. In order for us to do that, we will invest $6 million per year under a Corporate Development Funding Scheme (CDFS) to target VWOs that can scale up, to help support their back-end functions so that we can level up the corporate governance in all the VWOs, especially those who utilise time, talent and treasures from the public. We will set high benchmarks to inspire confidence in the sector. Only when we are good stewards of the resources given to us, will we engender more resources to be entrusted upon us. To support this growth, each eligible VWO will be given $150,000 to $300,000 per year to help them hire experienced corporate professionals in areas such as IT, HR and Finance. This will help them professionalise such services.
16. In parallel, NCSS will look into shared services to support other VWOs. NCSS has already rolled out the Compensation and Benefits consultancy in June 2013 to help VWOs on remuneration matters. NCSS has also piloted small consultancy projects in five capability areas - financial processes, community engagement, client empowerment, utilisation of space and services and process delivery - and they have appointed consultants to help 12 VWOs. We will evaluate the success of these schemes before we roll out more.
17. The Care & Share Movement will be extended for another year to help us build the capability and capacity of the social service sector. With the 1:1 matching, we will have up to $1billion to build and deepen the competencies of social service professionals and have our infrastructure ready for tomorrow.
18. Ms Penny Low has also spoken about the third organisational framework of being future-ready and that is the role played by social enterprises. We thank Ms Penny Low and Mr Seah Kian Peng for championing this cause all these years. Over the years, we have had various measures to help many of the budding social enterprises and I applaud all these founders because they have now decided to come together to provide a one-stop centre, called the ‘Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise’, to be set up by the second quarter of this year to help our budding social enterprises to do good and to do well.
19. This one-stop centre will bring together all the partners, from the previous Social Enterprise Association, Tote Board, NCSS and even staff from MSF. They have laid the foundation and we will build on this foundation to further the cause of the social enterprises. The new Centre will be situated at the JTC Launchpad@one-north and will be a single touch-point to help sector-wide development. It will provide a wider range of financing options to meet the evolving needs of social enterprises across different stages of growth and it will help to link up with other mentors and other successful enterprises to help make sure that our social enterprises get the best chance to succeed commercially.
20. Let me now touch on the fourth area of being future-ready – and that is legislation.
21. We have all spoken about the increasing number of elderly amongst us. The rate of elderly abuse has been stable over the last few years. But because the numbers of elderly are growing, we must eventually expect that there will be more such cases in time to come. And this is where we have to get our legislation ready – not because we are in a crisis today, but because we want to build the capacity, the capability, the language – the common language, the common referral protocol, before the problems even emerge in Singapore.
22. This year, we will enact the Vulnerable Adults Act to better protect our vulnerable adults, as mentioned by Dr Lily Neo. There will be a three-pronged approach to this Act. First, to better support the families, to better support the community, and as a last resort, for the government to come in as required.
23. The family plays an important role and a critical role. They provide emotional support, financial support, and caregiving support. Where families are unable or unwilling to care and if there is abuse or neglect, or if the vulnerable adult neglects himself or herself and is unable to care for himself or herself, then the community comes in.
24. For the community, we need to build the common screening and assessment tools, and common training programmes for the community to help us pick out those instances where the vulnerable adult may be abused. We have started this programme to equip many community partners with the detection and intervention services. We will continue to push on.
25. Social workers have highlighted to us that there is a legislative gap today, as we are not allowed to intervene. For example, we came across a case of a Madam Tan – an eighty plus year-old lady. She is an invalid, bedridden; she is taken care of by her primary caregiver – by her son – who has been abusive, and who has been depriving her of her medicine, and sometimes food. The son did not allow the social workers or the community partners to access her, to give her help. In today’s situation, it takes a lot of moral suasion, a lot of hard work by all the social workers and community partners to reach out to this elderly lady. With the law in place, as a last resort, we will have the authority to go in and intervene before harm befalls on the elderly lady.
26. Under the Vulnerable Adults Act to be enacted by the end of this year, we will also cover adults who are incapable of protecting themselves from harm arising from abuse, neglect, or self-neglect. We will have the powers to conduct social investigations, enter homes and possibly relocate vulnerable adults to places of safety, if necessary. We will enable the application to court for intervention orders to help those in need. Family members can also apply to court for some of these orders. And MSF will build the capability to perform these statutory functions under the Vulnerable Adults Act; but most importantly, we hope most of these cases can be resolved amicably without using the Act as a last resort. We must also respect the individual’s right to self-determination; and this Act must not replace other Acts. In fact, this Act will complement the Mental Capacity Act, which we will also update and amend in the later part of this year.
27. For the Mental Capacity Act, we will first want to encourage and empower more individuals to plan ahead before they lose their mental capacity. We have since simplified the LPA Form 1 in July 2014. It has led to more than thirty percent increase in the number of applications. It has served the vast majority of the people well. As part of our regular process of updating our legislations, we will continue to take in feedback from all sectors. In fact, in this regular process, some of the suggestions which Sylvia Lim suggested, will be taken into consideration. But whatever we do, we must make sure that we continue to have a rigorous system that can cater to the needs of the vast majority to enable them to act – to facilitate them to act. But on the other hand, the system must be robust enough and have a risk management matrix that can catch the outliers and to flag out those outliers for us to take a deeper look at them. Between this, we must continue to find the correct balance as we have an increasing number of LPAs being done up to take care of our future elderly.
28. Secondly, we want the Mental Capacity Act to also support families who are taking care of mentally incapacitated individuals who did not or could not make an LPA. Today, families need to go to court to get an order. It can be a laborious and expensive process. We will work with the court to simplify the process and improve the accessibility and also to reduce the cost to make it easier for families.
29. Finally, for mentally incapacitated persons who do not have family to be their decision-makers, we will form a group of public-spirited persons. They will apply to the court to act as deputies for mentally incapacitated adults with modest assets but no family support. They will be known as Panel Deputies. So far, we have 16 of them who are lawyers, accountants and social workers.
30. We will put all these legislations them in place by the end of this year.
31. On the fifth prong, let me talk about the heart of our social service delivery, and that is our social service professionals. They are the heartbeat of all that we do. In order for us to have a good social service, we must make sure that we have a strong service professional core. They must have meaningful career prospects, good professional development opportunities and have the recognition given to them by society. We will be rolling out several initiatives to further these.
32. In terms of salary norms, we will be reviewing the salary norms for social service professionals this year. Following our review in 2012, the MSF-funded VWOs have made progress to better remunerate their social service professionals. For example, shortly after our adjustment in 2012, the median salary increment for employees of these VWOs was 8%. In 2013, the median increment was 4.5%, slightly higher than the national average. Between 2012-2013, the percentage of employees paid within NCSS’s recommended range has also increased from under 80% to more than 86%. We are seeing signs of improvement but I still want to push further.
33. This year, we will once again revise salaries for social service professionals, for them to be closer to market benchmarks. MSF will increase VWO programme funding by $16 million in 2015, starting from 1 April. $12 million out of this $16 million will go into supporting VWOs in raising salaries of their social service professionals. The rest will go towards helping VWOs cover their operational expenditure. Adjustments to programme funding in subsequent years will also take into account market wage movements, among other factors for the salaries of our social service professionals. So for the social service professionals in the sector, they can see a salary adjustment from 3% to 19% depending on their level of professional competency and also depending on the sector which they are in. For example, a junior therapist will get about a 9% increase with this new funding arrangement.
34. Beyond salary remuneration, we will also strengthen professional development opportunities for social work professionals. The Social Service Institute will be providing more training courses for our social service professional to undertake bigger roles for those who are going on the leadership and for the rest who are on the specialist track to deepen their competencies in order for them to be future-ready. MSF and MOH will be rolling out the National Social Work Competency Framework for social workers this year. It will map out all the core competencies of all the social workers at different career milestones across the community and health sector. MSF and the family services sector will also develop a Code of Social Work Practice that will be implemented across the Family Service Centres, so that there is a common language and common professional standards when it comes to protocol. This will fit in nicely with the work we are doing in SSNet, where we have the vision of having “One Client, One Record; One Sector, One System.”
35. For this year, we will also be rolling out a new Social Service Fellowship programme to better recognise our accomplished social service professionals. This will recognize the top echelon of social service professionals. They will inspire younger professionals to aspire towards the apex of their professions. This will apply to social service professionals such as social workers, therapists, EIPIC teachers, psychologists and counsellors. This Fellowship will not only recognise their higher level of competency and contributions to the sector, it will also tap on their expertise of the Fellows to do work at the sector level to help us improve the sector as a whole. They will supervise and mentor younger professionals and partner MSF to develop the Continuing Professional Development frameworks. We expect to appoint about 50 fellows by 2017.
36. We will also be expanding our Therapy Hub to have a third Therapy Hub and will be investing $7 million over the next three years to expand the two existing Therapy Hubs at SPD and Thye Hwa Kwan Moral Charities and also to fund a third Therapy Hub. This will allow us to pool the services provided by a finite professional pool of therapists in the sector. They will also allow our professionals a better career path because they now can devote maximum time to their professional area of work. We target to increase the MSF-funded therapists at the Hubs to 125 by 2017.
37. We will also be setting up a new Community Psychology Hub to help VWOs deliver quality psychological services in the social service sector. VWOs will be able to tap on hub for qualified psychologists to provide needed services. We will invest $8million to fund the Hub from 2015 to 2017. It will be located in SGEnable and will start deploying psychologists to the sector from the second half of 2015. The Hub will first focus on disability services, especially EIPIC. As we scale up, we will cater to other areas of emerging need such as family services and elderly services.
38. Mdm Chair, there has been much talk over the last two weeks about us shifting left, shifting right, increasing funding for social support and so on and so forth. The government is committed to providing all support necessary for Singaporeans and their families. We have never been shy to spend money. It is not about being hard-hearted or soft-hearted. But we have a duty to ensure that whatever we spend on gets the greatest impact on the beneficiaries that we want to serve.
39. Our benchmark for success in the social service sector, and perhaps in the larger Singapore system, is not and cannot be framed in any philosophical or monetary terms. I have never judged MSF’s success based on the amount of money that we spend, the number of SSOs that we have built, or even the number of people that we are currently helping on our various schemes. These are not my measures of success.
40. I think that as a system, our measures of success should be the following four. Our first measure of success is not how many people are being helped now. Instead, we should measure ourselves by the number of people in the entire system that are able to stand independently and do not need help from society. This is because if we divide the whole society into three parts – those who need help, those in the middle, and those who can provide help – the more that we are able to expand the centre, the broad middle, to take care of themselves and to take care of their families, the more successful we are. Once we have expanded the centre to as big as we can, we can then focus our attention and bandwidth to get those who are most able in society to help those who are least able. Therefore, our measure of success is not how much we transfer from those most able to those least able, though that might be a matrix. The biggest success for our Singapore story is that we can expand the broad middle, so that the broad middle can take care of themselves, and we get less people requiring assistance at the national level.
41. Our second measure of success is to ensure that whatever we spend on will do the maximum good for all the people that we want to serve. I will be the last one to go to the Ministry of Finance to ask for more resources if I do not think that I can do justice to the resources that the Ministry of Finance can give me. On the other hand, I will never be shy to go to the Ministry of Finance to ask for more resources when there is a pressing need and when we can do justice to the resources entrusted upon us. And I think that the Care and Share movement is a good testimony of the faith that the Ministry of Finance has given MSF. They have given us $250 million in addition to the $250 million last year, because they can see the good work being done. When we are good stewards of the resources entrusted upon us, I trust that the Ministry of Finance will open their hearts and their wallets to support all the good work in this sector.
42. The third measure of success is not just about helping those people in need. It is also about our ability to mobilise the community to come together as one to take care of our fellow Singaporeans in need.
43. But finally, our greatest measure of success is not how many people that are still on our schemes. It is how many of our people who have gone through our schemes are able to stand independently once again. And perhaps, to reach out to help others who are more in need. That will be our greatest measure of success – the people who have gone through the system and are independent once more, rather than have more and more people in the system.
44. So, members, I thank you for your support for the work of MSF. Let’s walk this journey together, not just to celebrate SG50 this year, but to celebrate SG100 in time to come. Inequality, social stresses and strains will not define us. On the other hand, what makes us stand out as Singaporeans and Singapore is our commitment to social mobility, helping all according to needs, and being good stewards of the resources, time, talent and treasures entrusted upon us. What makes us stand out, what will define us, is how we anticipate our challenges, put in place services, systems, organisations, legislations and professionals to be ready for tomorrow’s challenges. If we can do all this together, then I think we will be proud of ourselves as Singaporeans not just at SG50, but also towards SG100.
45. Thank you very much.