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Speech by Mr Chan Heng Kee at Social Work Supervision Seminar

Speech by Mr Chan Heng Kee at Social Work Supervision Seminar

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to join you for this Social Work Supervision Seminar organized by the Social Work Accreditation and Advisory Board (SWAAB).

In less than 3 months’ time, we will celebrate National Day – our 50th as a nation. SG50 is a good time to reflect on the progress we have made. It is also the right time to rededicate ourselves to the society we seek to build.

Singaporeans have a collective aspiration to build a fairer and more inclusive society. A place where every citizen has hope for a better life; a society with a heart for those with less; and a home which we all belong.

To move in this direction, the government is making significant shifts in social policies – in healthcare, housing, support for the lower income and elderly. We have increased funding to expand and enhance services. We are enacting new legislations to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.

Are these enough? Having been in MSF for 4 years, I have concluded that we will need more than policies, funding and legislations. For children from disadvantaged homes to have a good start; for at-risk families to build resilience, for persons with disabilities to lead dignified lives and for the vulnerable elderly to feel included, many of them will need people with the passion, skills and stamina to journey with them. This is why social service professionals, including social workers, lie at the core of our collective effort to build a fair and inclusive society.

So we will need more of you! And until we master the art of cloning you, we’d have work harder to widen and deepen our pool of social workers. I believe there are at least three areas we need to work harder on.

Talent Pipelines

First, we must widen our talent pipelines. We need to get more people interested in a social work career. NCSS has started outreach efforts to students, including those at junior colleges and even secondary schools. They conduct career talks and scholarship briefings. The objective is to raise awareness and to interest the students in pursuing an education and career in social work.

Through its Social Service Institute (or SSI for short), NCSS is also reaching out to mid-career professionals. You may not know this. Over the last 5 years, more than 150 mid-career professionals became social workers through its Professional Conversion Programme.

To capitalise on the increased interest, we are raising the number of university places in social work. MSF has worked with UniSIM to expand the intakes of their part-time bachelor’s and graduate diploma programmes in social work. Last year, 120 graduated from these two programmes, compared to 90 in 2011.

We are now working closely with UniSIM to launch a new full-time undergraduate programme in social work next year. This will add more than 40+ social work graduates each year to the profession from 2020 onwards.

As we increase the number of social workers, we must ensure that their salaries are competitive against the wider labour market. To guide employers on remuneration of social workers, NCSS has started publishing salary guidelines. MSF and MOH have increased support to VWOs.

Training and Development

Beyond numbers, we need skills. So the second area where we need to invest more resources and attention is training and development. Training programmes at SSI are heavily subsidized through government funding. We have given SSI more resources to step up its training.

VWOs can tap on the VWO-Charities Capability Fund (VCF) to support their staff’ professional development. VCF funds can be used for uses such as scholarships, awards for postgraduate studies, overseas training and clinical supervision. Over the last 5 years for example, more than 40 people had received scholarships to pursue undergraduate and masters studies in social work. We are prepared to increase the numbers.

Starting this year, we will put more structure into training and development opportunities for social workers. MSF and MOH will jointly roll out a National Social Work Competency Framework. This sets out the core competencies required of social workers at different career milestones. It will serve as a useful basis for charting training courses, personal development plans and career progression pathways.

I am told this is the first time the social and health sectors have come together on such a major effort. I heard that the representatives from the two sectors are very proud of it. Rightfully so!

For social workers in Family Service Centres, MSF is implementing a Code of Social Work Practice. A few months ago, I spoke to FSC social workers and management at a seminar on the Code. They told me we are on the right path, and also offered several useful suggestions.

Supervison, Mentoring & Peer-Learning

Learning however does not always have to take place in a formal setting, within a classroom, or taught by an instructor. Less formal learning is just as important, especially when it comes to transmitting tacit knowledge and values.

The third thing we want to do is to nurture a culture of peer-learning, mentoring and effective supervision in the social work fraternity.

About one and a half years ago, I persuaded Ang Bee Lian to return to the Ministry to serve as Director of Social Welfare fulltime. Since then, Bee Lian has been involved in many of the efforts I just mentioned.

Bee Lian is a firm believer in peer-learning, mentoring and effective supervision. In April last year, she worked with SSI to start “Tuning in to the Leaders” – a series where social work students and younger social workers can learn from leaders in social work practice. The feedback to the series has been positive, and the series is now into its 12th session.

SSI is also promoting Communities of Practice (CoP), where social service professionals with common interests come together to share experiences, insight and expertise. They started with a modest two CoPs in 2012. Since then, they have facilitated 19. Of these, 6 have completed their work while 13 are ongoing. Apart from learning from one another, participants in the COPs have produced useful resources for social work practice.

The Critical Role of Supervisors

For social workers, much learning can also take place at the workplace and work situations. This is where good supervision comes in.

In Feb this year, I attended a seminar for Principal Social Workers. I sat through a presentation by a workgroup which articulated the issue quite nicely. They said social workers need good supervision and support for their day-to-day work. They also need it for growth in knowledge and skills, and reflection of their practice. To strengthen social work supervision, the workgroup felt that we need to bring about changes at the following levels. 

At the Professional level: The social work fraternity must stand together to promote social work supervision and to be willing and deliberate in sharing practice wisdom.

At the Organizational level: Employers and management must support and create a culture of supervision, and provide regular time for effective supervision.

And as a Sector: We must regularly assess the state of social work supervision here and undertake efforts to improve it.

I can’t put it better than them.  I think today’s seminar is a very good start to what they have recommended.  We can and must do more.

A Collective Effort

Ladies and Gentlemen - Widening the talent pipeline. Expanding training and development. Nurturing a culture of peer learning and mentoring. And promoting and enabling good supervision. All these require a collective effort – among government, employers and the social worker fraternity. 

MSF and NCSS will give our strong support. We will commit resources. Where useful, we will play more involved roles, such as what MSF is doing for the development of the national social work competency framework and what NCSS is doing through SSI.

I hope that employers and the social work fraternity too will stand behind this effort. Today, I am encouraged to see so many of you here at this seminar. I believe most of you are here because you see the importance of supervision in social work, and you hope that you (as supervisors) and your organisation can do better in this area.

I regard the excellent response as a good example and a promising sign of the sector coming together to move the profession forward. It gives me confidence that we can succeed in building a stronger social work fraternity at the core of a more caring and inclusive Singapore.

Thank you for coming forward. I wish you a fruitful seminar.
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