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Speech By MOS Sun Xueling On National Perspectives In Strengthening Families & Marriages At The Consortium Of Institutes On Family In The Asian Region Regional Symposium & MSF Asian Family Conference (CIFA-AFC 2022) On 10 November 2022

Type: Official Speeches: Sun Xueling

Topic(s): Children & Families, Marriage Journey

Mr Chuti Krairiksh, Minister of Social Development and Human Security, Thailand

Ms Zifleena Hassan, Minister of State for Gender, Family and Social Services, Maldives

Mrs Patricia Chu, Chairperson, CIFA

Mr Masagos Zulkifli,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I. Introduction

1. A very good morning to everyone. Firstly, my great thanks to Minister Hassan for sharing Maldives’ perspectives on what works for her country, and what are the collective challenges that women and families face. I also share Minister Mariam’s, Qatar Minister for Social Development and Family, earlier words that strong families lead to strong societies.

2. In Singapore, our people are our greatest priority and asset. Our people are the soul of our nation and the reason for our being. At the same time, we also recognise that individuals are not alone. We have to consider an individual and the nexus of relationships around him or her. In particular, every person develops and grows within the context of their family. In good times and bad, our families are who we can turn to as our source of comfort, strength, love and joy. If we nurture strong families that can overcome challenges together, then we are better assured that we are also building a resilient society that can handle whatever the future may bring. So for this very important reason, we place a great emphasis on ensuring that Singapore is a great place for all families.

3. Yet at the same time, we also recognise that many families in many countries are coming under great strain. In many countries, there is a rising preference to delay marriage and parenthood, with couples choosing to have fewer or perhaps no children. Economic volatility is also putting stress on marriages and causing fractures in familial relationships. We discussed this with our Indonesian, Thai, Maldives, Japanese, and Cambodian guests during meetings on the first day of our conference. And I believe attendees to this conference, whether in person or online, have come together with the desire to learn from one another how we may build a comprehensive ecosystem of support with the right solutions appropriate for each community or country.

4. We have an ongoing exercise in Singapore right now – Forward SG – where the Government is engaging citizens and stakeholders to examine our values and aspirations, build consensus, and refresh our social compact together. Our social compact must be one where the public, private and community sectors come together to co-create and co-implement solutions which can support families who need help.

5. We believe that just as families raise supportive and contributing members for the community, the community can help strengthen families and marriages to nurture resilient and self-reliant individuals. This is a mutually-beneficial virtuous cycle which propagates so that other families may also succeed.

6. In Singapore, we have an endearing term for community-based support and celebrations – we call it the “kampung spirit” – which many ASEAN countries will be familiar with, especially our close neighbours like Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. I understand that in Thailand, we may also recognise this feeling when they use the term “jai dee”, which is about “having a good heart” to the members of their community who have done good to them. “Kampung” refers to the village communities of the olden days, which used to be common in Singapore, that we are still working very hard to create in our neighbourhoods. Communities can come together to form a “many helping hands” approach which offers greater support and opportunity to everyone in the community. We must therefore tap on the expertise of community partners and grow with them so that the virtuous cycle can continue to benefit more families.

7. In a morning meeting with Minister Masagos and Minister Chuti of Thailand, Minister Chuti had shared that the work of social workers and community volunteers often happen after the lights go off. During a news event, sometimes a crisis, the media covers the news and the police are there to maintain law and order. Then, after the activities are over, the lights go off and the work starts for social workers and community volunteers who are there to hold the hands of families who have been affected – to rebuild broken lives, broken hearts and broken relationships. So, I wanted to use this opportunity to let all our social service practitioners here know that we thoroughly recognise and acknowledge the hard work that you have put in to help rebuild families. Thank you so very much.

II. Supporting and empowering families through accessible and timely aid.

8. In the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), we recognise the importance of working with our community partners and volunteers, and we set up the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships (AFAM) in 2021.

a. The AFAM functions as a platform for stakeholders, community partners and Singaporeans to co-create and implement solutions to strengthen marriages and families. Recognising the diversity and swathe of problems and challenges that families may face, the AFAM currently works on six focal areas for different family needs, such as supporting young couples before marriage or single parents.

b. For example, the AFAM has organised public engagements to better understand challenges faced by single parents. Minister Chuti just now shared that his ministry assessed that there are 38 mountains that single mothers have to climb before they can become a strong parent.

c. The AFAM recognises that there are challenges that single parents face and that is why they have been working with HCSA Community Services to revamp a one-stop portal that equips single parents with information and practical resources. Let me be clear here – family is often the first line of support for many individuals but we recognise that there can be instances where single parents need help to reintegrate back into society and rehabilitate family relationships. They are often time strapped, resource poor, and they need information on one platform easily accessible to them. I am heartened to be able to share that the AFAM, together with HCSA Community Services, has revamped the one-stop portal and it is now live.

d. This is an example of how the AFAM works with our partners to deliver resources, to problem solve, and to help parents in our midst who may face a whole array of issues. When we are able to make them more independent and more equipped [with information], they can better take care of themselves and their children.

9. Beyond co-creation, the community also supports and strengthens our families in other ways. Given the diversity in family structures and needs, it is important that there is a broad range of support services available islandwide, so that the right type of help is always around the corner.

10. Today, we have quite a few different types of family support services provided islandwide courtesy of our community partners, such as AMKFSC, Fei Yue, TOUCH Community Services, Lakeside Family Services and many others. Thank you so much.

11. The Government has appointed 10 of our community partners to be Parenting Support Partners (PSPs). These PSPs offer two evidence-based programmes, Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) and Signposts, which equip parents with techniques to promote their children’s psychological, social and emotional competence and also help to manage their children’s behaviour.

12. For married couples facing relationship challenges, the Strengthening Families Programme @ Family Service Centre (FAM@FSC) provides marriage support, divorce support and family counselling. There are currently seven FAM@FSCs with three more starting in December 2022. The 10 centres are spread out across Singapore to ensure that support is accessible to all families.

a. Now I would like to share the example of Patricia Lum – she is an Assistant Senior Counsellor at FAM@FSC (Eunos). Patricia shared that by offering couples a non-judgemental space to communicate, share and be vulnerable, she has helped them to build understanding and trust to strengthen a relationship. She also works with our faith-based organisations who provide counselling and volunteers trained as Marital First Responders, and the online portal Family Assist helps to support couples in marital dilemma.

b. I would like to highlight the presence of our religious leaders. They are our fourth community partners that work with our service providers to strengthen family relationships on demand. We are constantly looking at the problems that families face and the services we can provide on demand, working with community partners, to keep up with changes in the family landscape.

c. The Government is also not resting on our laurels. We had introduced legislative amendments to our Women’s Charter this year, which require all divorcing couples with minor children to attend the Mandatory Co-Parenting Programme (CPP). This CPP encourages cooperative co-parenting post-divorce. The FAM@FSCs then help to deliver this CPP, alongside their broader range of programmes for divorcing and divorced families.

III. The Government will also support community partners so that they can better strengthen families

13. Partnerships should never be a one-way street for action. Just as community partners help to strengthen families and augment the Government’s efforts, the Government can also help bring community partners together and provide them with the necessary support to reach out to more families.

14. One key way that the Government can do so is to improve social service integration, including the sharing of data, to help our community partners work more efficiently with one another.

a. For instance, to make referrals more efficient, we have launched Case Connect – an online platform which makes it easy for government agencies to refer cases to one another.

b. However, it can still be a hassle for each agency to have to ask for the client’s information individually to administer the appropriate support. And thus, we have launched another online platform named One Client View, which allows us to pull clients’ information across agencies seamlessly.

c. We have also set up Streamlined Assessment Protocols, which allow low-income families to easily access different forms of support based on just one means-testing assessment.

IV. Community partnerships also allow us to celebrate building strong families through ground-up initiatives for greater impact

15. I have talked about the different problems that families can face, our proposed solutions, and how we can work with community partners to help them. But, it is just as important that we help our families to build up their strength daily. This is something that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, in his opening speech at our conference, had talked about – about building a culture in Singapore that is pro-family and family-friendly.Even in the good times, we must not forget to spend quality time with our loved ones. He had shared about how we should have “eat with your family” time. By sharing the joys of family through community celebrations, we hope that we can all help to inspire everyone towards starting and building their own families.

16. We had introduced the National Family Week (NFW) in June this year.

a. Together with close to 60 partners, over 60 family-centric activities were organised for about 25,000 families during the week-long programme in June and this helped to bring the community together.

b. We are greatly encouraged by the strong response, and therefore we will be making this a recurring annual event. We also hope to work with our community partners to bring the activities deeper into the heartlands, so that we can reach out to many more families through organic ground-up initiatives.

V. Conclusion

17. In conclusion, our people and their families should be our priority. They are the building blocks of our community and our pillars of support in times of adversity.

18. We should also celebrate and encourage more community partnerships. In particular, alliances like the AFAM have helped us to co-create solutions and it has worked well because many of the members are practitioners who understand the pain points on the ground.

a. We have also organised the work around concrete problem statements. When a need emerges, we may need to start a new focal area and pool capabilities to solve the problem. When we have made progress in an area, we can then close the focal area, and move on to other concerns. This is, we hope, an agile approach, and I welcome more individuals and organisations to join the AFAM.

b. At this juncture, I wish to thank all our partners, including our AFAM champions and members, for their contributions and strong support.

19. Strengthening our families is not a journey which our families should have to walk alone. Every Singaporean should be able to draw strength and comfort from the knowledge that they have a community network out there. With that, I hope that we can all come together to celebrate and look forward to a Singapore that is really Made For Families.

20. Thank you.