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Speech by Ms Low Yen Ling at MSF Committee of Supply 2015

Introduction

Madam Chair, Please allow me to begin in Mandarin.

各位国会同僚,就如刚才陈振声部长所说的,我们社会及家庭发展部,在过去几年在提升学前教育素质方面,取得了良好的进展,大多数孩童都能够享有可负担得起,又高素质的学前教育。接下来,我们将继续朝向这个大方向,推出更多亲家庭的措施,为有年幼儿童的年轻家庭提供更多的支援。

首先,幼儿培育署将推出一项全新的 “伙伴业者计划”, 政府将向参与这项计划的学前教育机构提供津贴,家长从明年起,就能够以更低廉的学费,让孩子们获得更高素质的学前教育服务。

除此之外,政府也将补贴儿童培育户头,协助抵消学前教育的费用和其他开销。

与此同时 ,我们也将通过专业发展培训计划,分阶段地 协助学前教育工作者,进一步提高专业水平,借此提升学前教育界的整体素质。

孩子是国家未来的主人翁,我们将倾全力为孩子们人生的启蒙阶段,打造稳固的基础,让每一个孩子,都能够有最佳的起跑点,能够有机会发挥最佳的潜能。 

So the mission to enable and empower those with difficulties or disabilities is one that the MSF is deeply committed to. In the next 15 minutes I wish to share how MSF aims to provide those with special needs and disabilities to live full lives, and to participate in community.  As we seek to create an inclusive community for all, it is the family as an institution that gives us the strength and stability to achieve that goal.

MORE SUPPORT FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
 
We are into the third year of the 2012 Enabling Masterplan that aims to build a more inclusive society, where persons with disabilities are integrated and contributing members. We have made steady progress and I will share the milestones of our journey and what's ahead with regards to the EM.

Early Intervention

Earlier, Minister Chan Chun Sing has spoken about investing in the strong foundation of early childhood. This is especially important for children with special needs. Early intervention is crucial to maximise their potential. Let me describe briefly how we are making our early intervention services more accessible and more affordable.

I will first touch on accessibility. Last year, 2,200 children benefitted from the MSF-funded Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children, or EIPIC for short.  That’s almost double the 1,200 children five years ago. We will continue to press on to expand EIPIC, and aim to provide 3,200 places by 2018.

The other programme, the Development Support Programme, or DSP for short, was started in 2012 to help preschoolers with mild development needs. This early intervention service has, to date, assisted 2,000 children in over 300 mainstream preschools. In MSF, we are all very heartened to hear that these children have shown good progress in their development and literacy skills.

Next, we have also made improvement to the affordability of EIPIC. Last October, we increased the universal subsidy for EIPIC from $300 to $500. The eligibility criteria has also been reviewed, and the eligibility for additional subsidies was extended from 50% to 80% of the population. The quantum of support was also raised. Today, the lowest-income family can pay as little as $10 a month for EIPIC services, just to give an example. 

Now about student care - We will also provide more funding to voluntary welfare organizations, or VWOs, to build and run more student care centres for older children with special needs. This will make it easier for their caregivers, especially those from lower income families, to look for jobs and to stay employed. These services will also give caregivers greater peace of mind knowing that their children are in good hands. Details will be shared with VWOs later this year.

Other Enablers

Besides early intervention and education, other key enablers like ease of transport, lifelong learning, employment support, and opportunities for social integration are equally important to persons with disabilities, as what Ms Denise Phua, Ms Chia Yong Yong, and Mr Png Eng Huat have mentioned last evening. 

In the aspect of transport, we have made efforts to reduce the physical and financial barriers so that persons with disabilities can better access opportunities and gain greater mobility in public spaces. Last year, I shared about subsidies for different modes of transport according to the needs of those with disabilities.

Today, I am pleased to report to everyone in the House that more than 10,000 persons with disabilities have since benefited from the Public Transport Concession. In addition, MSF VWO Transport Subsidies have benefitted 3,000 persons with disabilities who take private bus or van services to attend special education schools and services.

This year, we will further strengthen our support by widening the transport options. MSF has partnered the National Council of Social Service, or NCSS for short, to award grants to three transport operators to provide dedicated transport services for persons with disabilities to access community-based services.  So we hope this will all help develop the right expertise and achieve better efficiencies in meeting the unique transport needs of persons with disabilities. 

We hope that these initiatives will enable persons with disabilities and their caregivers to lead their daily lives with a difference as they tap onto the continuum of available transport options. 

Another key enabler we have focused on is in training and employment. We share Ms Denise Phua’s view that lifelong learning can empower persons with disabilities to pursue their aspirations. MOE has developed a framework for vocational education in Special Education schools to prepare students for employment and independent living. We can certainly do more in this area and extend support beyond the school. MOE, MSF and SG Enable are working together on a School-to-Work Transition Programme to offer customised training pathways and work options for Special Education school students with potential for work.

Persons with disabilities will also be eligible for the upcoming SkillsFuture initiatives. For example, they can take courses in communication, IT, or culinary training. Like other Singaporeans, they can access continuing education and training opportunities in our institutes of higher learning. The Special Educational Needs Support Offices in these institutes stand ready to support them.

MSF is also expanding the training options and employment support for persons with disabilities. In 2014, about 140 persons with disabilities underwent work preparation and job-related training organised by SG Enable. Most of these courses as you can imagine were customised to each of their different disability needs. 

Annabelle, a young Special Education graduate with an intellectual disability, approached SG Enable last August for help to get a job. Very quickly, SG Enable connected her with a job coach who helped her explore the various and available options and get the needed training. She landed an interview and secured a job with Pizza Hut. Annabelle started off by clearing tables and cleaning. Today about 6 months later, she serves and attends to customer requests. Pizza Hut today is training her to take orders. As we all know, taking orders is the most complex job for any F&B Crew Member. Her colleagues and supervisors praise her for her punctuality, her work attitude and her eagerness to learn. Annabelle is thrilled with her job. She’s also very happy to be able to learn and to earn an income. At MSF and also at SG Enable, we share her joy and wish her all the best. She is an excellent example of how targeted training, customised training, for persons with disabilities can expand their employment options and also facilitate integration in the community. 

Employers play a critical role in the opportunities we hope to create for persons with disabilities. Ms Chia Yong Yong asked last night about funding to help employers identify relevant job adjustments for employees with disabilities. A year ago, we enhanced the Open Door Programme to support a wider range of services, including consultancies, for employers to bring more persons with disabilities into the workforce and raise their work potential. Employers can tap on grants to redesign job processes, to redesign and reshape work environments, to train supervisors and co-workers to manage and work with colleagues with disabilities.

In this financial year, SG Enable and its VWO partners placed about 300 persons with disabilities with jobs. Under the Open Door Programme, close to 100 employers pledged to hire persons with disabilities. We aim to increase these numbers beyond 100.

Besides the private sector, we are also happy to share that public sector employers too are hiring or providing internships for persons with disabilities, including for professional and also management positions. SG Enable is working closely with a number of them to develop more such opportunities.

Last year, in 2014, a total of more than 5,900 employers received the Special Employment Credit for jobs created for 7,500 persons with disabilities. We are grateful and thankful to these far-sighted employers who have partnered us on this journey, and we would like more of such big-hearted employers to come forward, to step forward and play an enriching role in creating an inclusive Singapore.

Adult Care

Now let us turn quickly to the issue of adult care. Parents of adults with disabilities do worry about the care of their children. We understand their concerns and are committed to pledge more resources.

This year, we will add another 140 places to Day Activity Centres, bringing the total number to almost 1,200. We will also build a new Adult Disability Home for persons with physical and also multiple disabilities by 2018.

To better support persons with autism (ASD) and their caregivers, we will open a new Day Activity Centre for adults with autism in 2015, as well as an Adult Disability Home in 2018.

Beyond expanding capacity, we will also review more fundamentally, the adult care landscape for persons with disabilities. In MSF, we recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, so we hope to have a wider range of care options in future, to meet different needs based on the type of disabilities, based on the severity, and also based on the different levels of family support.

We are therefore piloting several new service ideas. One example is the Drop-In Disability Programme that serves higher functioning individuals by helping them remain meaningfully engaged with the community. It is located in Senior Activity Centres, which Mr Png Eng Huat had suggested. Another pilot is the Home-Based Care Services that offer home help for those unable to tap on centre-based services.  We will scale these various programmmes up if the pilots are successful. 

We would like to reassure caregivers that we will certainly continue to look into ways of increasing the capacity as well as the range of adult care services. We will also look into the needs of caregivers, as Ms Denise Phua passionately spoke about last evening.  Last year, SG Enable worked with the Tote Board to launch the Tote Board - Enabling Lives Initiative.  $23 million has been set aside over 5 years to support innovation projects for the disability sector in 3 cross-cutting areas, one of which is Caregiver Support.  So we hope that the fund will help develop and test-bed new and innovative ideas on caregiver support.

Public Support and Public Education

We are not doing this alone and we cannot do this alone. Together with our passionate VWOs, committed employers and the community, we can uplift the lives of those with disabilities and their families. To realise the shared vision of the Enabling Masterplan, we need the active participation of all Singaporeans.

And this is why I totally agree with Ms Chia Yong Yong on the importance of public education. To this end, NCSS will be leading an effort to educate the public on disability issues and build empathy about the challenges that persons with disabilities face. Together, we can encourage community action to build an inclusive society.  NCSS is working out an outreach plan with different stakeholders. To this end, I hope Ms Chia, Ms Denise Phua, Mr Png and various members of the House will support this national effort.

SUPPORTING FAMILIES THROUGH A COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH

As we reach out to help one another, we are reminded that at the heart of our society is the family.

The family as an institution is fundamental to Singapore.  This explains why Government efforts to strengthen, to promote, to protect family cut across various ministries and policy areas, such as housing policies for young marrying couples, and the Pioneer Generation Package to help middle-class families better care for elderly parents.

The MSF is committed to supporting families as they build their lives together. Besides investing in pre-schools, which Minister Chan spoke about earlier, we will enhance support for marriages and parenting.

Support for Marriage

Couples starting a new family together can now attend a new lunch-time marriage preparation talk that’s being offered at the ROM - Registry of Marriages. This talk will share tips on how couples can communicate and better manage each other’s expectations. Those of us in this house who are married, we know this is very important - managing expectations. This talk was launched about 3 months ago and it has already reached out to 400 participants.  And we polled them, and more than 80% said that they have found it useful. I encourage couples to make it part of their marriage preparation plans to attend the ROM talk together before they register

Couples who are interested to learn more about marriage preparation can also sign up for a full marriage preparation programme called PREP, or in full it means the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Programme. This programme will be offered as a workshop by MSF-appointed agencies from May this year.

Support for Parenting

As a mother of 2 young boys, 10 and 7 years old, I can fully understand that parenting is not always easy! To support parents, we piloted two parenting programmes last year, namely the “Positive Parenting Programme” or Triple P, and “Signposts”. These two programmes identify the emotional and behavioural concerns of children, then refer the parents to appropriate support services to address and support their parenting needs.

Madam Chua is one parent who has benefited from Triple P. She shared with us her experience. Her teenage son used to keep his feelings to himself, and he would get very angry whenever his mother scolded him or chided him or nagged at him. Madam Chua was referred to Triple P and through the whole course, she learnt how to better communicate with her son. Now, when he does something that she feels is not right, she will manage her own temperament, she will exercise her patience to reason with him, rationalize with him, instead of raising her voice. As a result, her teenage son has become more open in his communications with her.

Like Madam Chua, over 1,100 parents from 20 primary schools and secondary schools have completed the two programmes. We will add another 30 new schools to the pilot in 2015, and complete a detailed evaluation study next year. This will help us refine the programmes before rolling them out nation-wide.

Yesterday evening, Mr Seah Kian Peng and Ms Lee Li Lian and earlier, Dr Lily Neo, spoke about support for single parents. Minister Grace Fu has already explained the Government’s approach on this issue earlier this week. We understand some single parents face financial challenges. Like other vulnerable families who need help, they have access to a range of social support from the Government and VWOs, for example, the ComCare assistance, higher infant and also child care subsidies as well as student care assistance.

The Ministry also extends help to expectant mothers, single or otherwise, who need support. Earlier, Mrs Lina Chiam’s suggestion on “baby drop centres” like what she has mentioned, has been brought up previously. And we have studied other countries’ experience. Other countries with baby drops have reported mixed experiences, such as the downside of encouraging baby abandonment.

We have chosen instead to focus our resources and attention to ensure that there are support services for expectant mothers who may be facing distress, and to protect the safety of both mother and baby. For example, we have hotlines, counselling and residential services for expectant women to carry their pregnancy to full-term.

Support for Children Affected by Divorce

Children are often caught in between parents whenever a painful divorce takes place. It can be a very traumatic experience for the child.

So to manage the negative impact on children from divorce, we have appointed four new Divorce Support Specialist Agencies and they will run a Mandatory Parenting Session for divorcing parents with young children.  So with these sessions, the parents will have to attend the session so long as they cannot agree to all matters of the divorce. The session will cover issues including the impact of divorce and parental conflicts on children, as well as financial and housing implications, all of which we know may affect the child’s well-being.

As for the children, we are also working with the agencies to introduce a new programme to help affected children learn coping strategies when they get caught between their parents’ conflicts. 

Support for Vulnerable Families

Yesterday evening, Mr Alex Yam spoke about couples who wish to have a third child after joining the Home Ownership Plus Education (HOPE) programme but are worried that they would lose various forms of financial support under the scheme.

Let me give some background. HOPE is a voluntary scheme for young, low income couples who choose to keep their families small, so they can focus their limited resources on upgrading themselves as well as the lives of their children. Couples are aware of the benefits as well as the conditions before they join the programme.

More than 3,200 families have been placed on the HOPE scheme since its introduction in 2004 and about 40% have seen an increase in their household income, and the employment rate of the mothers has doubled from 30% to 60%. Sometimes, a helping hand is needed to navigate very complex issues. This is why we have HOPE Mentoring Agencies to provide case management support to coordinate different forms of assistance.

HOPE couples who decide to have a third child can withdraw from the scheme at any time. They can also tap on other financial assistance schemes for lower income families after they exit HOPE. For example, they will continue to be eligible for additional preschool and student care subsidies, as well as other forms of social assistance, depending on their needs. They are also eligible for the Baby Bonus scheme.

And with regard to Mr Faisal Manap’s suggestion to publish a report on the state of social protection, our Government agencies regularly publish information on the progress of efforts to improve well-being of vulnerable groups. We will collect and share more useful data over time with social service partners and researchers.

In summary, MSF’s holistic range of initiatives and programmes meet the needs of families at different life stages. From couples starting out on married life together, to having their first child – their second child, their third child – to bringing them up – all are important milestones. And MSF pledges to l support families throughout their journey, because families form the basis of our strong and cohesive society.

CONCLUSION

In Mandarin please.

家,是我们社会的基石。家,不仅仅是我们每天回归的避风港,更是我们生活的核心。家也是我们全民一心、共同努力的根源。通过各个政府部门和法定机构的种种措施,政府肯定了对家庭的重视,并将继续致力于为家庭提供更好的保障与协助。

我们今天对家庭所做出的承诺和努力,将塑造我们下一代的价值观和家庭观念。因此,我们每一个人也必须珍惜自己的家庭,拨出时间和精力,多陪伴身边的家人,建立和谐温暖的家,向弱势群体伸出援手,加强我们新加坡这个大家庭的凝聚力。让我们一起齐心合力,共同打造一个更温馨,更美满的家园。

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Published On Fri, Mar 13, 2015
Last Reviewed On Thu, Jun 16, 2016

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