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Singapore Government

Speech By Mr Desmond Lee, Minister-In-Charge Of Social Services Integration For Ministry of Social And Family Development At Committee Of Supply 2022

Speech By Mr Desmond Lee, Minister-In-Charge Of Social Services Integration For Ministry of Social And Family Development At Committee Of Supply 2022

Transforming Social Service Delivery To Uplift Families In Need


Chairman,

1          Minister Masagos spoke about families as an important anchor of our society.

2          We want all our families to succeed. Over the years, we have put in place many programmes and schemes to enable our families to do well, in areas such as housing, healthcare, education, employment, skills, social support and more. And provided additional help for those who have less.

a.          But some families face an array of challenges that may prevent them from seizing the opportunities in front of them.

b.          Debt and financial difficulties, health problems, job instability, children struggling in school, family conflict, mindset barriers, housing insecurity, mental health issues, and more.

c.          These are often complex, deep-seated and interlocking, unlike the kinds of difficulties that most families face from time to time, and they cannot be resolved by one government agency or community partner, or social worker on its own.

3          Ms Ng Ling Ling asked how MSF will better support such families. Mr Leon Perera also made a few suggestions.

4          Policies, programmes and partnerships are important. But paradigms and processes are crucial too –

a.          The way our eco-system works together and integrates together to deliver social services matters.

b.          As Minister Masagos said, we are making a fundamental shift in our paradigm.

5          We want -

a.          to be proactive in our outreach,

b.          put the family at the centre,

c.          tap on their strengths and that of the community around them,

d.          organise our collective resources around them,

e.          and try to go as far upstream as we can

so that we provide holistic support that addresses their various needs.

f.          This is a deep shift in how we deliver social services –from a programme- or agency-centric approach, towards a family-centred one.

g.          The transformation will take time, and we have already started work a few years ago:

i.         improving inter-agency processes and officers’ capabilities,

ii.        building systems and enabling platforms,

iii.       and importantly, strengthening and building relationships of trust within local networks on the ground, to provide holistic support to families in need.

6          We call this our 3‘C’ approach, which we have shared in Parliament over the last few years – providing Comprehensive, Convenient, and Coordinated support.

a.         Comprehensive in addressing presenting issues, as well as deeper root causes,

b.         Convenient support, so that families can focus their energies on improving their lives,

c.         And Coordinated across different agencies and partners.

7         Through this approach, we seek to empower the family to secure a brighter future – by first stabilising their circumstances, then enabling them to grow in self-reliance by building up skills and resources, and ultimately to achieve social mobility.

I.         BETTER SUPPORTING FAMILIES IN NEED – Providing Comprehensive, Convenient, and Coordinated support

8          Let me illustrate how we are translating this paradigm shift into action, using a ‘fly-through’ of a hypothetical ComCare client – let’s call her Mrs Tan.

9          Mrs Tan is a working mother with school-going children, and she recently lost her job. Her first step might be to visit Workforce Singapore (WSG), to find work, amongst other organisations.

a.         But WSG officers don’t just help Mrs Tan look for a job or upskilling opportunities. They also find out about her situation. And when they realise she is in financial hardship, they will proactively link her up with a Social Service Office (SSO).

b.         That’s what we’re training our frontline officers to do – to identify the various needs of a client, beyond their presenting issues, and connect them with the relevant support.

c.         Going forward, we will extend this training to our community partners and volunteers, so that families can get comprehensive support as soon as possible.

10         WSG can link Mrs Tan up with an SSO using Case Connect, our new online platform which we launched last year.

a.         Through Case Connect, agencies can refer cases to one another, share case updates, discuss next steps, and bring in more partners if required.

b.         This makes it a lot easier for our colleagues to coordinate with each other and keep track of all case updates to have greater impact.

11        The SSO then assesses Mrs Tan for ComCare assistance.

a.         To do this, they can use another digital system – One Client View, which was also launched last year.

b.         One Client View allows our frontline colleagues to pull a client’s relevant information, with the client’s consent, from other agencies seamlessly.

c.         For instance, Mrs Tan does not have to submit her CPF statements or her children’s birth certificates for her ComCare application.

d.         Instead, she just provides her consent for the SSO to draw the relevant data from government agencies backend.

12         We will continue to enhance Case Connect and One Client View, and extend them to more organisations progressively.

13         Now, the SSO assesses that Mrs Tan qualifies for ComCare.

a.         But she may need other assistance too – for example, support with school fees for her children, from MOE.

b.         So we have set up what we call Streamlined Assessment Protocols, or SAPs. These allow ComCare families to easily access different forms of support based on just one means-testing assessment – rather than being assessed separately for each scheme.

c.         We have done this across six agencies so far, covering schemes on digital access, rental housing, healthcare, education, and childcare.

d.         For Mrs Tan, once the SSO officers assess that she qualifies for ComCare, they will also assess whether her children are eligible for Student Care Fee Assistance (SCFA) and MOE financial assistance (FAS).

14         OneCV and SAPs will reduce the number of times clients have to be interviewed and means-tested. They also reduce the administrative load for our frontline colleagues.

15         However, in some cases SAPs still require families to submit separate applications for different schemes, which can be administratively cumbersome.

16         Ms Joan Pereira and Mr Leon Perera will be glad to know that we will further streamline this process so that eligible ComCare families automatically receive help from the relevant schemes, doing away with additional applications for each scheme.

a.         Since 2018, eligible ComCare clients automatically receive MediFund assistance and bursary for full-time Polytechnic and ITE students.

b.         We will expand on this effort, to build a “schemes bundle” to support families with school-going children.

c.         By end of the second quarter of this year, ComCare clients like Mrs Tan, whose children are in government or government-aided schools, will automatically receive MOE Financial Assistance – without needing to apply at their children’s schools.

d.         Mrs Tan’s primary school-aged children are enrolled at an MSF-registered Student Care Centre (SCC), so they will also automatically qualify for maximum SCFA subsidies for 12 months. This applies for children with special needs who attend special SCCs too.

e.         This schemes bundle covers Mrs Tan’s children from primary school to pre-tertiary studies, including after-school care. She need not worry about submitting and tracking multiple applications.

f.         We will progressively bundle together more schemes that cover other domains.

g.         For instance, by end-2022, eligible ComCare clients will be automatically referred for the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) for medical and dental subsidies at participating clinics.

h.         We expect 30,000 ComCare families to benefit from the schemes bundle that we will progressively roll out.

17         Mrs Tan’s example illustrates how we’re organising support around the needs of families, rather than around our agencies or programmes.

18         We will continue to make our processes even more convenient for families by digitalising our social services, while ensuring that in-person support remains available for those who prefer face-to-face interactions.

19         Today, we have the SupportGoWhere portal, which consolidates information across government schemes into one website for easy reference.

a.         But users still need to approach the various agencies separately, to apply for the schemes.

20         We will enhance the SupportGoWhere portal, so that users can also check their eligibility for different schemes, apply for assistance directly, and receive prompt updates on their application on a single platform.

a.         By Q2 2022, families can apply for ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA) and submit relevant documents through the portal directly instead of having to apply in-person at an SSO.

b.         They will then receive a phone or video call from SSO officers to understand their situation and assess their application.

c.         For those who prefer to speak to an SSO officer in person, they can still visit the SSO.

d.         We will progressively support more schemes application on this portal. These improvements will reduce the burden on families-in-need, allowing them to better focus on longer-term goals.

II.        SOCIAL SERVICE TRANSFORMATION – COMMUNITY LINK

21         These are the ways that we are transforming our delivery of social services, to provide more Comprehensive, Convenient, and Coordinated support.

22         This approach is exemplified by our flagship initiative which we launched in 2019, Community Link, or ComLink for short, which several MPs spoke about.

23         ComLink supports families with children living in public rental housing, to achieve the three long-term outcomes that we mentioned earlier –

a.         Stability in meeting their basic needs, then Self-reliance where they can support themselves, and finally, Social mobility, so that they can improve their circumstances.

24         ComLink embodies the proactive family-centric approach that we are moving toward:

a.         We proactively reach out to families, to understand their needs and aspirations.

b.         We draw relevant data across agencies, with the families’ consent, to get a 360-degree view of their situation as best as possible.

c.         We work with the family and across agencies, to develop goals and a dynamic common action plan.

d.         And we then bring in customised programmes and services, tailored to their needs, with the support of community partners, donors, corporates, and volunteers.

25         Throughout this process, the family is working with us on their action plans, and taking greater charge of their future.

26         We announced during last year’s COS,that we will scale up ComLink nation-wide to support over 14,000 families over the next few years.

a.         Mr Faisal Manap asked how we can build strong relationships with these families. Let me share some of the new ideas that we are trying out, and what we have learnt so far.

b.         My colleague, Parl Sec Eric Chua will then elaborate on our progress in scaling up ComLink.

27         As I’ve explained, ComLink goes beyond episodic transactions with families, towards building longer-term relationships with them, partnering them, and empowering them to grow.

This is a much more impactful but intensive approach, involving many agencies and partners.

a.         As we scale up ComLink, we expect to run up against significant fiscal and manpower constraints.

28         To find ways to better manage our resources while ensuring greater impact, we’ve been running learning pilots with some ComLink families since last year

29         We are streamlining our frontend interactions with the families –

a.         Instead of burdening families with the need to interact with many different agencies and their frontline officers, we assign a pair of befrienders to each family, to serve as a constant touchpoint.

b.         These befrienders journey with the family, celebrating their achievements, and encouraging them through setbacks.

c.         Over time, they build rapport and trust, allowing them to better understand the family’s unique circumstances, and encourage the family towards their goals.

d.         The befrienders share their understanding of the families with the SSO.

e.         SSO officers then serve as overall coordinator, pulling in other agencies to support the family where necessary, and aligning agencies’ efforts and their schemes and programmes around the family's common plan.

30         We have seen good results from our Befriender pilot.

a.         With befrienders, we can consolidate the manpower needed for public outreach across different agencies and programmes.

b.         But more importantly, families and befrienders have the opportunity to develop trust and deeper relationships, and the families are often more motivated to follow through on their plans.

c.         We will therefore scale up the pilot this year to support more ComLink families.

31         Given how closely befrienders work with ComLink families, we agree with Mr Don Wee that befrienders must be trustworthy and adequately trained.

a.         Many of these befrienders are referred to us by community partners. And MSF interviews and conducts suitability assessments on all befrienders.

b.         We also have a training roadmap to equip our befrienders with the skills, knowledge and tact to support families.

c.         As a start, our volunteer befrienders will be paired with MSF colleagues to befriend these families. This way, we tap on both the expertise of our colleagues, and the energies of the community.

32         Looking ahead, we will strengthen backroom integration across agencies.

a.         Many ComLink families are also supported by other programmes – such as KidSTART for children up to 6 years old, UPLIFT for primary and secondary school students, or M3’s Project DIAN for Malay-Muslim families.

b.         Agencies that run these programmes often carry out similar functions – for instance, they need a database to support the families’ progress, and a system to train and manage volunteers.

c.         We will therefore try to consolidate some of these common systems and processes across agencies, and manage them centrally.

d.         This will also reduce coordination costs, and enable us to provide more integrated support – as we gear our systems to look at the progress of families more holistically, instead of along agency- or programme-specific lines.

III.       SOCIAL SERVICE DELIVERY AS A WHOLE-OF-SOCIETY EFFORT

33         To sum up, I’ve set out the many things that we’re doing to transform our social service delivery eco-system, along our new paradigm.

34         These are not technical fixes or technical changes; these manifest in the shift that Minister Masagos talk about in our social services paradigm.      

35         At the same time, this will also empower our frontline colleagues and social work professionals, so that they too can focus on the most meaningful part of their mission – to support their clients through their challenges.

36         And finally, we hope that our efforts will also galvanise the wider community to join us, with the assurance that their contributions will have greater impact.

a.         From community and religious groups to corporate partners, many give their time and resources generously to tackle inequality.

b.         ComLink and our other efforts to strengthen social service delivery help them achieve greater social impact by:

i.         Better identifying the specific needs of low-income families, through befriending and data integration across agencies,

ii.        And minimising duplication and wastage across agencies, through stronger coordination of our efforts.

37         Through asset-based community development and tighter social-health-community collaboration, we focus not only on the needs and gaps that exist in our society, but also the strengths that we can grow and nurture and tap on.

a.         This means building up resources in the community, investing in our families, and creating the conditions that enable families to achieve their aspirations.

38         We need all the help we can get. We invite everyone to join the MSFCare Network, which Minister Masagos launched earlier this year, to explore volunteering & giving opportunities and connect with like-minded people in making a difference to our society.

39         Let us work together to build a cohesive and caring society, so that all families can become more resilient, and benefit from our society of opportunities. Thank you.

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