Professor Alan Hayes, Director, Australian Institute of Family Studies
Professor Daniel Shek, Chair Professor of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Members of the Expert Panel on Building Capability for FamilyMatters!
A very good morning, ladies and gentlemen
On behalf of the Ministry of Social and Family Development, thank you for being here at this inaugural Family Life Education Conference. I am very happy to see among us today, thought leaders and experts in Family Life Education, key volunteers and participants among us, all filled with passion to see families grow and thrive. Each and every one of you in the room plays an important role in strengthening the core of Singapore – our families, our nation’s heartbeat.
Family is Important in Our Life
Like many fellow Singaporeans today, I come from a small family. My parents ran a small business that tailors shirts. When I was a child, I remember my parents had to work very hard just to keep the business going and to make ends meet. In fact, they worked 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. But no matter how busy they were, they would always set aside pockets of time for my brother and I. They also made it a point to teach us their values, not just in words, not just nagging at us but they try to do so in action, leading by example. Now that I am a mother of two young boys, six and eight years old, I appreciate even more what my parents have done for us in those days. I am very grateful for the stable, nurturing and loving environment my parents have provided us. In fact, stable, nurturing and loving environments are indeed the key ingredients for healthy, happy families. And we all know, healthy families make a healthy nation.
Our Vision: Singapore – Our Home for Family
So families are the heart of our nation. They are the lifeblood of our country’s growth and future. Families matter to Singaporeans, and we will make every effort to have families thrive. We want to make Singapore a place where families are cherished. A home families can call their own, and a place where family aspirations, dreams and hopes are shared and also celebrated as a vital part of society.
We all know, families today live in a rapidly changing environment, due to the stresses brought about by modern lifestyles, be it globalization and technology advancement. In fact, modern lifestyles, smaller families and aging population, as well as higher professional and personal expectations have an impact on our own families. Given all these factors, we need to ensure that the family remains our anchor and the family values that we all hold dear remain intact. To this end, collectively, we must empower family members to face these changes, foster a pro-family environment, and celebrate the importance of families.
As a Family Life Educator, you play a growing role, in fact a more and more important role in strengthening families in Singapore. With your expertise, you empower families with the knowledge, skills and values to navigate the transitions and different life stages. Family Life Education can prevent family stresses from developing into damaging family crises. Be it marriage preparation or parenting programmes, or courses on dealing with different stressful situations, families and individuals need to be supported in various stages of their lives.
And I am glad to know that many parents have found parenting programmes useful. For example, we did a survey of those who attended the Singapore Parenting Congress last year. And it revealed that 97% of them agreed that the Congress had improved their relationship and communication with their children.
And among those who benefitted from such programmes, is recently-engaged couple Darren Huang, 27 and Denise Ho 28. Darren and Denise shared with us that they learnt to strengthen their relationship at a marriage preparation course. While they did not have any disagreements at the workshops, during the workshop and after that, they discovered that through a very deliberate conversation about expectations, both of them had different expectations on some issues. For example, Denise wanted a 4-room flat while Darren shared actually, he is very happy to start off first with a 3-room. Just discussing about their first home, the couple was pleasantly surprised that they had made assumptions about something as important as their matrimonial home.
To make Singapore a home where families can grow and thrive, we must also foster a pro-family environment that supports our family aspirations.This includes maternity leave for mothers, paternity leave for fathers, accessible and affordable quality childcare choices, family-friendly work life practices and even family-friendly shopping malls to cater to the needs of the families – where we do our retail therapy.
However, efforts to strengthen families need to go beyond policies, legislations and services. We also need to nurture a pro-family mindset.
In order to nurture a pro-family mindset, collectively we need to encourage families to set aside pockets of time to celebrate family moments. It is not just celebrating milestones like weddings or the birth of a child but all of us in the room know that family rituals can also bring our families together. It can be as simple as Sunday brunch together as a family or even setting aside time to date your spouse. Even if you just celebrated your 10th wedding anniversary, it is always good to have a regular timetable to continue with the dating ritual. As a nation, we can certainly do more to collectively affirm and celebrate the importance of family. And to this end, the National Family Celebrations organised by the National Family Council in June every year provides opportunities for families to come together, have fun and bond over various types of activities. Let us all make spending family moments a national past time.
Strengthening the capability of the Family Life EducationSector
Over the past decade, the government in Singapore has invested in Family Life Education to help Singaporeans enhance the quality of our family life. We will continue to deepen this commitment by setting aside $3 million over the next 3 years under the FamilyMatters! Funding to build up the Family Life Education sector in 3 areas:
· First, we will develop foundation courses in Family Life Education.
· Second, we will offer funding to non-profit organisations for training, research and content
· And third, we will provide more training in evidence-based preventive programmes for families.
Develop foundation courses in Family Life Education
Let me briefly share more about the foundation course. I know that many of you here actively volunteer in schools, in your communities to empower other families. Amongst us is Ms Christine Sim, chair of Parent Support Group at Loyang Primary School. I understand that she has grown an active community of parent volunteers from 10 to 30 within 3 years.
To better empower volunteers such as Christine and her team, we have developed a foundation course to equip them with the core skills and knowledge to help facilitate Family Life Education workshops. The 45-hour course, subsidised by my Ministry, will provide an overview of Family Life Education theories and methodology, as well as impart soft skills that will enable participants to connect with their target audience. It is developed under the guidance of an expert panel, comprising overseas and local experts in Family Life Education. On behalf of MSF, I will like to thank this expert panel. Thank you very much.
I am also happy to share that the foundation course will commence in January 2014, and is now open for registration. Over the next 3 years we expect up to 150 volunteers will be trained in the foundation course to help co-facilitate Family Life Education programmes in schools and the community.
Funding for training, research and content development
Our not-for-profit organisations have always been doing good work in Family Life Education. Today I am also happy to announce that our Family Matters! funding schemes will be expanded to support not-for-profit organisations in the development and production of Family Life Education content, resources and materials. These organisations now, with immediate effect, can get up to 80% co-funding from my Ministry, if their projects promote the understanding of Family Life Education in Singapore.
More training in evidence-based preventive programmes for families
Last but not least, we like to recognise the role of research in family life programmes and how evidence-based programmes in Family Life Education can bring benefits to our families. So we will provide the Family Life Education sector with more opportunities for training in this area. In fact these evidence-based programmes have proven to be effective in producing positive outcomes. In fact, at this Conference later, you will be introduced to ‘Signposts’, an evidence-based parenting programme that aims to build better behaviour in our children.
Finally I will like to share what a global leader once said, and I quote, “as a family grows, so does the nation and so does the whole world in which we live”. So I urge all of us here to take time out for our own families and our passion and wellbeing in our families start from within, from each and everyone of us. And spread to those around us. On this note, I wish everyone of you the fulfillment of a happy healthy family. And I also wish what you learn today can and will be applied fruitfully, for our families, nation, a better Singapore and a better world tomorrow.
Thank you and have an enjoyable and fruitful conference.