1. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today for the official launch of the Strengthening Families Programme at Family Service Centre, or FAM@FSC in short. Many of us turn to our families as our first line of support in the face of stresses and setbacks. Building strong and resilient families is an important endeavour that we must endeavour together as a society, as individuals, as a community and as a nation. This has become even more important given the stresses brought about by COVID-19.
2. We look at divorce numbers. We monitor this at MSF and the divorce numbers are worrying. We see later cohorts of marriages dissolving earlier. We also see examples of uncooperative parenting post-divorce, which impacts children negatively. COVID-19 has created many pressures for families. Perhaps there are financial uncertainties. There are disruptions to lifestyles, working from home, home-based learning - all that increases interactions within the family, but also potentially increases conflicts within the family.
3. We see this borne out in more than 50,000 calls to our National Care Hotline since it commenced operations in April 2020. And also more than 5,300 calls to our National Anti-Violence Helpline since it began taking calls in January this year. We also see more frequent requests for help to facilitate supervised access to children post acrimonious divorces.
4. Earlier this year at MSF’s Committee of Supply debates, I announced that we would be scaling up FAM@FSC from two pilot sites to 10 centres within the next two years. At the MSF, we believe in building strong and resilient families and our suite of policies, programmes and initiatives with many of our community partners all come together to serve with a common purpose. I am heartened to be here today, in the presence of our partners on this very important endeavour. They have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to officially launch this initiative.
5. FAM@FSC is part of MSF’s range of programmes and services to support families with varying needs. The 10 centres spread out across Singapore so as to make their services accessible to families. They will support couples and families who are facing challenges and stressors in their marital or family relationships and they will provide marriage and divorce support services and family counselling. When all the FAM@FSCs are set up by the end of 2020, the family support landscape for couples and families with early risks will eventually comprise the 10 FAM@FSCs, 2 standalone Divorce Support Specialist Agencies otherwise known as DSSAs and also three centres for Muslim marriages. My MSF colleagues will be sharing more details in a short while.
6. The launch of the FAM@FSC marks an important milestone for our work in strengthening families, we firmly believe that FAM@FSC will positively impact many families, and encouraged by stories of individuals who have gone to agencies for divorce support for counselling and later decided to give their marriage another chance because they had a chance to access these programs pre-divorce. My colleagues have told me how a client decided to start on individual counselling after she attended the mandatory parenting program, which was a requirement for her before she could file for divorce. She had gained emotional support and also more clarity on her marital issues through counselling, which brought in her husband as well, to discuss the issues and the marital challenges that they were facing together. And from a place of contemplative divorce, Mrs. A and her husband are now working on marital reconciliation with the help of a counsellor.
7. Even for those who eventually proceed unfortunately to a divorce, they are closely supported and guided to better manage their emotions. They also have to address issues such as co-parenting arrangements and finances. So this support is emotional support. Working with them is extremely important in trying to rehabilitate their relationship and ensuring that they can co-parent effectively.
8. I heard of of how Mr. Lim had struggled with his emotions and parenting his two children after his divorce. With the help of a counsellor and social worker, he is now able to take steps towards rebuilding his life, mending relations with his three children. The turnaround in marital and family relationships is something that we take very seriously. And we know that it would not be possible without the dedication and hard work of various social service agencies who are running the FAM@FSC. The FAM@FSC staff have been doing a wonderful job in serving these families and I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to their staff and volunteers.
• Care Corner and Fei Yue which worked with us on the two pilot centres;
• AMKFSC and THK which have been supporting divorcing families, and have just started on FAM@FSC;
• Montfort Care which will start its FAM@FSC from December; and
• Lakeside, KKCS, MWS and TRANS which will start later next year.
9. Thank you all for joining us in this endeavour. We look forward to our continued strong partnership to work together to support even more families.
10. Besides the FAM@FSC, the MSF has also recently set up an Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships. It looks at supporting ground-up initiatives and projects for families with early risk and also for single parents. This brings stakeholders, community partners and also Singaporeans together to co-create solutions and implement solutions to strengthen marriages and families. Through the Alliance for Action, religious organisations can also contribute as resource persons if the person receiving counselling wishes for their faith community to be involved.
11. It is not uncommon for families to face challenges and conflict, particularly in times when there is great stress all around them. But relationships do not break down overnight. We can and we must start early to mend cracks and fissures in relationships as soon as they begin to surface, rather than allow them to fester and snowball. And we know that it is important that we have the help of those who care for us to have them work with us on this journey. And that includes community resources – something that our SSAs and our FAM@FSC are able to do.
12. The government and the community have come together to ensure that adequate, accessible, and effective support is available. And I urge families who face relationship issues to reach out and to be open to seeking professional help. I know it can be daunting at times to reach out to a counsellor and I know that many also worry about social stigmas. Please be rest assured that FAM@FSC wants to help you and they will provide a safe, confidential as well as a non-judgmental space to support you on this journey, as you work through those conflicts. I also appeal to everyone. If you know of family, friends, relatives or colleagues with family relationship issues, reach out to our FAM@FSC and encourage them to take a step towards building better relationships with their loved ones. Together, we can continue to build strong and resilient families.
13. Thank you.