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Singapore Government

Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Ministry of Social and Family Development and Ministry of Education, at Committee of Supply 2022

Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Ministry of Social and Family Development and Ministry of Education, at Committee of Supply 2022

Support Families in Building Bonds and Developing Resilient Individuals


Chairperson,

1          Minister Masagos had earlier spoken on the important role that families play in our lives and in society, and on how we will make Singapore a great place for families.

2          Families provide the basic ingredients for us to grow into resilient and caring individuals. When family relationships are strong, they provide a safety net for individuals and a safe harbour to go home to. Families can also empower us to contribute meaningfully to society, and lead happy and fulfilling lives.

3          MSF is committed to providing support to build strong families and strong family relationships. Today, I will elaborate on three key areas of our efforts to do so:

a.         First, we celebrate and support families with varying needs throughout all stages of their life journey.

b.         Second, we will continue to build a fairer and more inclusive society where men and women can realise their career and family aspirations.

c.         Third, we will continue to invest heavily in early childhood development, so every child can have a good start in life.

I.          Celebrating and Supporting Families

4          Chairperson, families have played a central role in supporting us through the ups and downs in the past two years of the pandemic. In the face of COVID-19 measures, we all have found ways to adapt and care for our family members to the best of our abilities.

Year of Celebrating SG Families (YCF)

5          It is thus timely to celebrate and strengthen the important role that families play in our lives, as Mr Murali Pillai, Ms Ng Ling Ling, and Mr Seah Kian Peng have mentioned.

6          Since 2014, about 58,000 parents have benefitted from our evidence-based parenting programmes in MOE primary and secondary schools. In 2021, we started the Families for Life @ Community initiative, or FFLC, in Nee Soon Central and Choa Chu Kang, to bring these programmes into the community so more families can benefit. We will progressively introduce FFLC to more towns from 2022.

7          Building on MSF’s sustained efforts to strengthen families, we will designate 2022 as the Year of Celebrating SG Families, or YCF. During YCF, we will scale up family bonding activities, and continue to offer family enrichment programmes to equip couples and families with skills to cope with common stressors.

8          Families for Life (FFL) will continue to disseminate the “Family and Me” preschool resource packages, to cultivate an appreciation of family from a young age and nurture family values through family songs, activities, and big books. We expanded this to around 50% of preschools last year, and will reach out to remaining preschools by 2025.

Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships (AFAM)

9          YCF will also build on the work of the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships (AFAM for short), which I chair. Mr Gan Thiam Poh had asked for an update. AFAM was set up last year to co-create and implement solutions with key stakeholders and community groups, in six Focal Areas, or FAs. Allow me to share the preliminary direction for each Focal Area:

10         Focal Area 1, otherwise known as FAM Connections, led by FFL, will increase awareness and adoption of resources and evidence-based programmes on marriage and parenting.

FFL will work closely with the Centre for Fathering, Mums for Life, the People’s Association, and many other ground-up groups.

11         We will also work closely with faith communities via Focal Area 6 or Faith and Families, which will organise cross-sharing of experiences and learning points by religious organisations on their efforts to strengthen marriages and family relationships.

12         For the other Focal Areas,

13         Focal Area 2, Support for Young Couples will strengthen the delivery and uptake of marriage preparation and enrichment programmes. We also aim to guide newly-weds in considering fertility health issues.

14         Focal Area 3 or Parenting Together will engage parents to identify key child-raising challenges, especially as young children grow up in the digital age and face mental well-being challenges. We will encourage more parents to take up evidence-based parenting programmes, such as Triple P and Signpost.

15         Alongside Focal Area 3’s work, MSF and MOE will develop resources to empower parents to support their child’s mental health and well-being under the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being. Which I had touched on during MOE’s COS.

16         Even as we celebrate families this year, we recognise that family relationships are a constant work in progress. Mr Melvin Yong asked about how MSF will support stressed families. Focal Area 4, Support for Single Parents, and Focal Area 5, Support for Families with Early Risks, will work closely with partners to deliver and develop initiatives that support families who may face challenges.

17         Mr Louis Ng asked about support for single unwed parents. This is a focus area under Focal Area 4 Support for Single Parents.

a.         The Government provides Singaporean families with broad-based benefits to support their children’s development, regardless of their parents’ marital status. I would like to list out 12 line items which are benefits available to both married and unwed parents. They are: Medisave Grant for Newborns, MediShield Life Coverage, Infant Care Subsidy, Child Care Subsidy, Foreign Domestic Worker Levy concession, education subsidies, healthcare subsidies, Baby Bonus Child Development Account (CDA) (including CDA First Step), Childcare Leave, Unpaid Infant Care Leave, Maternity leave, and Adoption Leave.

b.         Our Marriage and Parenthood incentives aim to promote marriage and encourage parenthood within marriage. This reflects the desired and prevailing societal norm. And these include the Baby Bonus Cash Gift, Working Mother’s Child Relief and Parenthood Tax Rebate. Single parents who need additional social support can approach Social Service Offices and Family Service Centres for assistance.

c.         Through Focal Area 4, Support for Single Parents, we are working with stakeholders and community partners to understand and address pain points that single parents have. We had conducted focus group discussions, and understand that single parents face challenges with childminding, access to employment opportunities, and in some cases, specific cases around housing. On childminding, MSF is partnering a Social Service Agency to pilot a childminding service outside childcare centres’ operating hours. We will share more information on this soon.

18         To support upstream efforts to prevent family violence, Focal Area 5 will develop initiatives to raise awareness and share information on the building of safe, respectful, healthy relationships.

19         Focal Area 5 will complement our broader efforts to tackle family violence. There has been a steady increase in the number of enquiries and new cases on family violence received by Family Violence Specialist Centres and the Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection Specialist Centre in recent years.

a.         For instance, there were 2,906 enquiries in financial year 2018, of which 891 new cases were taken up. In financial year 2020, there were 4,574 enquiries, of which 1,103 new cases were taken up.

20         The Government has accepted, in principle, all 16 recommendations from the Taskforce on Family Violence, which Mr Melvin Yong had asked about. Various agencies, including MSF, will work with our partners to implement them over the next few years. For instance, as recommended by the Taskforce, the MSF refreshed the Break the Silence public education campaign in November 2021 to increase awareness of the different types of abuse, including non-physical forms of abuse, and to encourage survivors and bystanders to seek help.

21         Also in line with the Taskforce's recommendations, we are enhancing our approach to better rehabilitate perpetrators of family violence. This includes amending the Women’s Charter to enable mandatory assessment and treatment orders to be made for perpetrators with mental health conditions that contributed to risk of family violence.

a.         While the primary responsibility for complying with rehabilitative court orders lies with the perpetrator, we recognise the importance of strengthening rehabilitative approaches to encourage perpetrators to complete their rehabilitation.

b.         To provide more intensive and specialised support and rehabilitation for perpetrators, we will also deploy forensic-trained psychologists to community-based family violence specialists agencies by the end of this year.

c.      Not all perpetrators require alternative accommodation – perpetrators assessed to have low risk of recurrent violent behaviours may receive intervention while living in their family home. Others may prefer staying with other family members or friends. To enhance the safety of survivors, we will implement a more structured referral system for social service professionals, so perpetrators may be provided shelter, if they require accommodation. We will study the feasibility of a mandatory structured residential programme for the rehabilitation of high-risk perpetrators.

II.          Building a Fairer, More Inclusive Society

22         Chairperson, women have always been key pillars of our families and society. While Singaporean women have made considerable progress in the past decades, many still bear a disproportionate amount of family and caregiving responsibilities, and may face glass ceilings due to gender stereotypes. Hence, our work to strengthen families must include efforts to support our women.

White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development

23         Mr Seah Kian Peng asked about the initiatives in the White Paper, which sets out concrete action plans to collectively realise our vision of a fairer and more inclusive society. We have been rolling out some of these plans over the past year.

24         For example,

a.         To protect women against violence and harms, we revised the sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences, with increased penalties for some offences. We also released the report by the Taskforce on Family Violence.

b.         To address gender stereotypes through education, we refreshed the Character and Citizenship Education curriculum to help our students understand the equity of familial roles, and gender stereotypes about careers.

c.         Across all domains, we will consider changes to legislation and policies. But policies must be complemented with whole-of-society action and shifts in mindsets and behaviours.

d.         More policies and initiatives will be announced when the White Paper is presented to Parliament.

III.          Giving Every Child a Good Start in Life

25         Chairperson, the Government is committed to supporting Singaporean families in their journey to raise their children. I will next be speaking on MSF’s initiatives to give every child a good start in life, regardless of their family background.

26         We have been steadily building up preschool places. The number of full-day preschool places has more than doubled in the past decade – from 90,000 places in 2012 to around 200,000 as of end-2021. We will develop about 10,000 more full-day places by 2023 to meet the growing demand for preschool.

a.         Ms Joan Pereira will be happy to know that these new preschool places are concentrated in areas with more young families. For example, in the two newer estates of Sengkang and Punggol, the number of infant and childcare places has increased by nearly 60% in the past 5 years.

27         By around 2025, 8 in 10 pre-schoolers can have a place in our government-supported preschools. We will further lower fee caps at government-supported preschools in the coming years, so working families pay around primary school fees plus after-school student care fees for full day childcare in the medium term.

28         We agree with Mr Melvin Yong that the quality of early childhood education is critical to child development. Hence, we will continue to drive quality improvements in the sector, even as we make preschools more accessible and affordable.

29         Today, I'll be sharing our plans to further raise the quality of early childhood professionals and programmes, to complement parental guidance at home.

Raising the quality of early childhood professionals

30         We have increased the number of early childhood educators from 18,000 in 2018 to over 23,000 last year.

31         To better support the professional development of early childhood educators and leaders, we will provide clearer guidance on career and training pathways. While early childhood professionals have long been undertaking training, efforts have been uneven across the sector.

a.         Early childhood educators and leaders are crucial to driving the quality of education and care of our children. Today, it is my pleasure to announce the introduction of a Leadership Development Framework, or LDF, to the sector. The LDF will guide educators to strengthen competencies in curriculum, pedagogy, as well as strategic and administrative leadership.

b.         We will also enhance the Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Leadership as a milestone course to better develop these competencies in our educators before they are appointed as centre leaders.

32         We will also do more to raise the quality of teaching and encourage the sharing of good teaching practices across the sector.

a.         I am pleased to share that we are developing a new Quality Teaching Tool. While many preschools already have quality teaching practices, this tool will set a common standard across the sector, and guide educators on the use of effective pedagogical practices, identified based on empirical research and ground practice.

b.         We will also launch the Early Childhood Learning Communities, starting April this year. These learning communities will foster peer sharing of pedagogical knowledge and practices among senior educators and curriculum specialists, focusing on domain areas crucial to child development, including Social and Emotional Development, and Language and Literacy.

c.         Members of these Learning Communities will be nurtured to become future curriculum and pedagogical leaders, and to lead Communities of Practice to benefit some 300 early childhood educators within the next 2 years.

Raising the quality of preschool programmes

33         To ensure programme quality in preschools, the Government has also developed national curriculum frameworks to guide the development of their programmes and curriculum.

a.         ECDA will review the Early Years Development Framework for children aged 3 and below, to include areas such as the learning of Mother Tongue languages. The revised framework will also provide more detailed guidance to support educators in creating learning experiences to develop important knowledge and skills, like socio-emotional skills, in children. The refreshed framework will be ready by end-2023.

Supporting children with additional needs

34         We recognise that some families face additional challenges and need additional support in developing their children's potential.

35         The Government is committed to strengthening support for children from low-income families, so we narrow the gap starting from their early years. In tandem with KidSTART’s nationwide scale-up, we will deepen partnerships with corporate and community partners through the Growing Together with KidSTART initiative.

a.         Ms Joan Pereira will be happy to hear that since the initiative began in 2019, we have received over $4 million in cash donations and sponsorships.

b.         Over 1,000 volunteers have stepped forward since 2016 to provide support to KidSTART families, including encouraging eligible families to join KidSTART, and helping to pack and deliver essential items to families.

c.         I sincerely thank all our partners and volunteers for their contributions.

36         The Government is also committed to ensuring the adequate provision of early intervention, or EI, services for children with developmental needs.

a.         To meet increased demand for subsidised EI services, ECDA will expand the number of places under the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children, otherwise known as EIPIC, through the construction of two new EI centres. ECDA will also increase the number of providers under the Enhanced Pilot for Private Intervention Providers, or PPIP, programme from 10 to 16. 

Closing

37         Chairperson, in Mandarin.

38          这场新冠疫情影响了无数个家庭,却也凸显了家庭在支持我们度过人生起伏时,所发挥的核心作用。因此,将2022年定为“欢庆新加坡家庭年”,以此来赞美新加坡家庭的美好,支持新加坡家庭,是非常合时的。

39         去年,我们成立了加强婚姻及家庭关系行动联盟 (AFAM),与社会各方的参与者和社团合作,共同制定和实施强化婚姻和家庭的方案。这包括应对育儿、婚姻等方面的问题,以更好地维护家庭关系。

40         为了尽早向育有幼儿的父母提供支持,社会及家庭发展部通过凝聚家庭理事会的社区推广计划,推出更多的婚姻和育儿活动,让这些家庭更便于参与。

41         我们也将继续努力,应对家庭暴力问题,并将在未来几年落实家庭暴力工作小组的各项建议。

a.         例如,我们将修订《妇女宪章》,更好地保护受家暴影响的人士,以及通过各种方式改造施暴者。

42          在学前教育方面,我们将进一步提升幼儿教育工作者的技能,以及幼教课程的素质。

a.         我们将支持幼教工作者提升专业技能,并开发一套学前教育优质教学评量表,提升教学素质。我们也将检讨婴幼儿培育框架,以协助教育工作者为孩子创造更丰富的学习体验。

43         为了给来自较低收入家庭的孩子提供更多援助,我们也将从明年起,逐步在全国推广KidSTART。我们将通过计划,为家长和看护者提供知识和技能,支持孩子的身心健康和发展。

44         Chairperson, in closing, it takes a whole-of-society effort to make Singapore a great place for families. MSF is committed to journeying with families through all seasons of life, providing nurturing learning environments for their children, and paving the way to a fairer and more inclusive society. We will continue to work closely with our partners to do so, and invite all Singaporeans to join us in the Year of Celebrating SG Families.

45         Thank you.

 

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