Strengthening Support For Families, Women And The Young
1 Minister Masagos shared MSF’s plans to strengthen our social compact, including strong families as our first line of support.
2 It is on these points that I would like to elaborate today:
a. First, our families are the foundation of society. We must support them to the best of our ability, across their differing needs.
b. Second, our women are key members of our families and society. We will support them so they have real choices, so that they do not have to choose between family and their careers, and can achieve their full potential.
c. Third, our children are our future. We will provide them with a good start in life, so that they may grow up to be resilient members of our society and form strong families of their own.
I. BUILDING STRONG AND RESILIENT FAMILIES
3 Chairman, to build strong, resilient families, we have in place a continuum of family services to support families with varying needs.
Help all families build strong relationships
4 First, for soon-to-wed and married couples, we support them in building strong foundations in marriage and parenthood.
a. Minister Indranee announced the increase in the co-matching cap in the Child Development Account for the benefit for the second child. We will also introduce Government-paid Paternity Benefit and Adoption Benefit Schemes later this year.
b. We will grow the Families for Life movement, to strengthen family ties and bonds.
c. And we will promote evidence-based programmes for marriage preparation and parenting.
Coming in early to help early-risk families
5 Second, Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye and Mr Seah Kian Peng will be happy to know that we will help families who show early signs of stress.
6 In 2019, MSF piloted two Strengthening Families Programme @ Family Service Centres otherwise known as SFP@FSC, with Care Corner Singapore and Fei Yue Community Services. SFP@FSC will bring together programmes and support services for marriage and divorce.
a. We will start a family counselling service, including for families with early signs of stress, so we can mend relationship fissures early.
b. Some marriages need more support, such as those who marry before 21 years of age, or transnational couples. Tailored marriage preparation and support programmes will help lay a strong foundation for marriage.
c. We will step up support for families undergoing divorce. Four existing Divorce Support Specialist Agencies, or DSSAs, will be folded into the SFP@FSC. Services will be more accessible as families may approach any of the 10 SFP@FSCs, whereas the DSSAs may not be located as conveniently.
7 The SFP@FSC will adopt an integrated, regional and multi-disciplinary approach to family service provision.
a. Bringing early-risk family services under SFP@FSC allows better oversight of family services and greater integration of support for families with multiple needs.
b. The SFP@FSC will be organised according to the 10 SSO regions. Upstream preventive measures for all families, and downstream interventions for early-risk families and those with complex needs will be accessible in the same location.
c. To address multi-faceted and complex family issues, the SFP@FSC will bring together a multi-disciplinary team of professionals skilled in family counselling, financial counselling and psychology.
8 We expect to scale up to five SFP@FSCs, with three more social service agencies working with MSF by the last quarter of this year; and the remaining five will be rolled out within the next two years.
Providing more assistance to families who have more complex needs
9 On family violence, Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim asked what can be done to create a community of support. MOS A/P Mohammad Faishal and I co-chair the Taskforce on Family Violence, which has studied the landscape and possible causes of family violence, so that we can intervene effectively.
a. We have conducted focus group discussions and we are reviewing feedback from partners and Members of the House. The Taskforce is developing recommendations to break cycles of abuse and offending, under four broad thrusts:
i. Increasing awareness, and strengthening societal attitudes against violence;
ii. Making it easier for victims and the community to report violence, and to get immediate help;
iii. Strengthening protection for victims to reduce their risk of being harmed again; and
iv. Increasing the burden of accountability placed on perpetrators and strengthening their rehabilitation.
b. More details will be shared later.
II. SUPPORTING AND CELEBRATING OUR WOMEN
10 I will next share how we will continue to support our women. Our women’s contributions are integral to the Singapore Story and we must celebrate and support their continued progress. Ahead of Monday, I would like to wish everyone, both men and women, Happy International Women’s Day in advance.
11 Mr Seah Kian Peng asked about the profile of participants and issues raised at the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development.
12 So far, we have conducted 37 Conversations and engaged over 1,800 individuals including youths, working mothers, homemakers, and women leaders. Men make up almost a quarter of our participants. And I know that more will come.
13 Participants raised concerns ranging from challenges faced by working mothers to violence against women. During my Budget speech last week, I mentioned that participants from our Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development raised concerns on the approach for punishment for hurt and sexual offences.
14 I am heartened to hear Minister for Home Affairs and Law present the Ministerial Statement on the review of the Sentencing Framework for Sexual and Hurt Offences in Parliament today. It is a strong step to further safeguard the protection and safety of our women and girls.
15 Participants at the conversations also raised the need for mindset shifts, and suggested establishing support networks in workplaces and the community.
16 Increasing representation of women in corporate leadership was also raised. We agree with Ms Mariam Jaafar that we need more women leaders, for diversity in skillsets, experiences, and perspectives, which leads to better decisions.
a. The Council for Board Diversity encourages diversity in organisations, and identifies and grooms potential board-ready women.
17 We will continue to gather and study feedback provided, and submit a White Paper to Parliament in the second half of 2021.
III. GIVING EVERY CHILD A GOOD START
Ensuring every child has access to affordable and quality preschools
18 Next, I would like to talk about how we ensure that every child has access to affordable and quality preschools.
19 Chairman, it is paramount that every child is provided with a good start.
20 For families with young children, we have stepped up efforts to enhance the accessibility, affordability, and quality of preschools.
21 Two key moves were recently made.
a. Since Jan 2020, the household income ceiling for means-tested preschool subsidies has increased to $12,000 a month, from $7,500 for childcare and infant care, and $6,00 for KiFAS. Subsidy amounts also increased across all eligible tiers. Around 78,000 children now benefit from means-tested subsidies, up from around 48,000 in 2019.
b. We enhanced the Partner Operator Scheme, POP, from Jan 2021. In the new term, we lowered fee caps for POP centres from $800 to $760 for full-day childcare per month. We also increased the number of POP centres by 30%.
c. With the latest subsidies and fee caps, a Singaporean child enrolled in full-day childcare for 5 years with an Anchor Operator would benefit from about $50,000 in Government funding. Low- and middle-income families can additionally receive up to $28,000 in means-tested subsidies.
22 Ms Ng Ling Ling and Mr Louis Chua asked about accessibility and quality of preschool places.
a. This is an important point that affects young families. I know this too well. Many MPs have raised this issue. Back in 2019, together with my colleagues Cheng Lihui, Rahayu Mahzam and Cheryl Chan, we pushed for more accessible and affordable quality pre-school places, especially in new towns and many young children.
b. The Government promised in 2019 that 80% of preschoolers would have a place in government-supported pre-schools by around 2025.
c. We have significantly increased the number of full-day preschool places, from about 120,000 in 2015 to around 190,000 today – an increase of over 50%.
d. We are thus on track to grow the total number of full-day preschool places to 200,000 by 2023, and achieve the Government’s promise by around 2025.
23 We have increased the number of early childhood educators from 18,000 in 2018 to over 22,000 last year. We support the professional development of our educators. One such effort is enhancing the capabilities of educators teaching Mother Tongue Languages.
a. ECDA partnered the National Institute of Early Childhood Development, or NIEC, in 2019 to introduce Certificate courses for Malay and Tamil language teaching.
b. A course for Chinese language teaching will be introduced later this year.
Providing children from low-income families with a better start in life
24 Ms Joan Pereira asked how we will support lower-income families with young children. In 2021, we plan to expand KidSTART, to Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Panjang, and Bukit Batok, on top of the regions already announced1.
25 The community plays an important role. Under the Growing Together with KidSTART initiative, we forged new corporate partnerships with SP Group and The LEGO Group, and deepened existing partnerships with Prudential Singapore and Etonhouse Community Fund. We will tap on individual and corporate volunteers to build stronger, long-lasting relationships with KidSTART families.
26 Mr Don Wee asked about childcare services for shift workers.
a. Childcare centres can operate beyond standard operating hours. Currently, over 40 childcare centres operate beyond 7pm on weekdays. This meets the needs of most parents. Others may arrange for caregivers such as relatives to help out.
b. As part of the Community Link pilot, we sought feedback from some 650 families and community partners, including on caregiving arrangements. We are studying the possibility of piloting night-time childcare at a ComLink site.
Enhancing support for children with developmental needs in preschools
27 For children with developmental needs, it is paramount to identify needs early and provide the necessary support. Our children are precious and we must create environments where they can thrive, and they can feel included and accepted.
28 We therefore set up the Inclusive Preschool Workgroup, or IPWG, which Minister Masagos spoke about. Through the IPWG, which I co-chair, the Government has worked with partners across the health, education and social sectors to study how we can better support children with developmental needs.
29 Ms Ng Ling Ling asked about efforts to strengthen inclusion in preschools. The workgroup will release its report in Apr. Ahead of this, let me broadly share the upcoming initiatives.
30 The workgroup has a tiered support framework, depending on the level of early intervention support required.
a. In Tier 1, we will work towards every preschool appointing an “Inclusion Coordinator”, or ICO, amongst existing staff, beginning in the second half of 2023. The exact timing will be announced later.
i. The introduction of ICOs will set a baseline for the sector’s support for children with developmental needs and signal that every preschool has a role to play in strengthening inclusion.
ii. ICOs will work with early childhood educators to flag children with potential developmental needs for further assessment.
iii. They will connect teachers and parents to early intervention support or resources, such as our Development Support-Learning Support programme (DS-LS).
iv. ECDA will work with preschools to support appointed staff with appropriate training. ICOs alone are not the silver bullet and we urge all preschool leaders and educators to partner ICOs in their preschools in this inclusion journey.
b. In Tier 2, we will expand the DS-LS programme and the Development Support Plus (DS-Plus) programme to more preschools, to support children requiring low levels of early intervention support.
i. In 2020, the DS-LS programme covered about 600 preschools which enrol over 40% of resident preschoolers aged 5 to 6. We plan to expand outreach of the DS-LS programme to more preschools, covering 60% of preschoolers by 2025, and covering 80% at steady-state.
c. In Tier 3, we will pilot a new Inclusive Support Programme, or I-n-S-P, at a few sites with selected providers to integrate planning and provision of both early childhood and early intervention services at preschools for children aged 3 to 6, who require medium levels of early intervention support.
i. Under the InSP, preschools will be resourced with full-time early intervention professionals who will work with early childhood educators.
ii. This will reduce the logistical strain faced by caregivers, of shuttling between preschools and early intervention centres, and provide more integrated support.
d. The IPWG recognises there are children who require higher levels of early intervention support, and who remain best served in a separate specialised early intervention setting.
i. ECDA will follow up on IPWG’s recommendation to study integration opportunities for these children in Tier 4.
e. ECDA will also strengthen the capabilities of the early childhood and early intervention professionals, in our efforts to make preschools more inclusive.
31 Ultimately, strengthening inclusion in our preschools will benefit both children with developmental needs, and typically developing children, with enhanced teacher training, and development of stronger social skills from a young age.
32 Chairman, in Mandarin, please.
1 In October 2020, we announced that KidSTART will expand to Ang Mo Kio, Sembawang and Yishun in 2021. KidSTART currently benefits families in Kreta Ayer, Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong, Boon Lay, Geylang Serai, Woodlands and Bedok.