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Speech by Mr Desmond Lee at MSF Committee of Supply 2021

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Desmond Lee

Topic(s): Committee of Supply

Partnering the Community to Uplift Families

Mr Chairman,

1          Minister Masagos has just set out our social compact and laid out MSF’s key focus areas for the year ahead.

a.         Let me now expand on how we intend to integrate social services and transform our social safety nets in Singapore.

2          COVID-19 has had a profound impact on societies all around the world.

a.         But it has also brought out the best in Singaporeans.

b.         In the past year, many more Singaporeans stepped forward.

c.         Government, community, and corporates partnered one another to support our neighbours, our friends, and fellow Singaporeans.


3          At MSF, my colleagues have been working hard to strengthen and transform our social safety nets.

a.         This transformation is guided by our 3C principles.

b.         First, providing comprehensive support, not only downstream when issues occur but also going upstream to identify and tackle root issues.

c.         Second, ensuring that help is convenient, by putting individuals and families that we serve at the centre, and organising support around their needs.

d.         Third, coordinating ourselves by building strong partnerships and networks, anchored in local communities.

4          This foundational work served us well when COVID-19 struck, especially during the Circuit Breaker.

5          One example was the PEERS Network, which stands for “Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers”.

6          The PEERS Network was officially formed in July 2019, and includes social service agencies, community groups and government agencies.

a.         Some are befrienders.

b.         Others offer their premises as “Safe Sound Sleeping Places”, or S3Ps for short, and these provide localised interim shelter.

c.         Officers from MSF and MND join the partners’ outreach walks to offer assistance. They work closely with PEERS members to support homeless rough sleepers with housing needs.

7          Early last year, there was an urgency to provide shelter to rough sleepers because of COVID-19. For their safety, we needed to find rough sleepers safe shelter quickly.

a.         MSF called for more groups to open their premises as S3Ps.

b.         Over 40 organisations answered our call. And this was a six-fold increase from pre-COVID times.

c.         We also worked with HDB to provide vacant flats as temporary Safe Sound Sleeping Places.

d.         The Network has sheltered about 900 rough sleepers since April 2020.

8          MSF also set up two new Transitional Shelters in January this year. And about 250 residents from Safe Sound Sleeping Places have moved into new Transitional Shelters.

a.         The eventual goal is to help them address their underlying social issues and achieve longer-term stable accommodation.

9          Another example was the outreach effort to households living in rental flats, which commenced last June.

a.         We wanted to ensure these households were coping well with the pandemic, as they were much more vulnerable, and to offer support where necessary.

b.         We activated the SG Cares Community Networks to support this outreach.

c.         The local Networks were started in 2018 to bring together the social, health and community sectors in each town, to strengthen social-health-community integration.

10         The Networks were quickly mobilised. MSF, PA, and MCCY rallied community partners, social service agencies, corporates and some 900 volunteers to reach out to 50,000 rental households.

a.         We managed to offer timely support, especially to households who were suffering but had not yet reached out to seek help.

b.         We referred 5,000 households in rental flats to various agencies for further healthcare support, counselling, employment and financial assistance, and so on.

11         These examples demonstrate clearly how important networks of trust are during a crisis.


Deepening integration across agencies

12         Ms Joan Pereira and Ms Denise Phua asked how we work with social service agencies and community partners to deliver social services in a coordinated manner.

a.         Now, our approach has been to organise our support around each family’s needs, and practise what we called the 3Cs earlier.

13         And to achieve this, MSF has trained nearly 4,300 officers to assess underlying issues and to deliver more comprehensive support.

a.         Frontline officers can connect those in need to relevant support, if the families’ issues go beyond their own agency’s remit.

b.         This shift, which is a work-in-progress, emphasises a family-centric approach, instead of adopting an agency-centric lens.

c.         We will be training community partners and volunteers next, who are important touchpoints to render even more comprehensive support.

14         Now besides building capabilities, we have also integrated processes.

a.         One example is the plan that Minister of State Faishal Ibrahim mentioned to strengthen information exchange between Singapore Prison Service and the FSCs. He described this during the MHA’s COS. This enables offenders’ families to receive timely support from FSCs and community partners.

b.         Another example is Streamlined Assessment Protocols, or SAPs, that allow ComCare clients to access other forms of help schemes more easily.

c.         They now qualify for medical assistance at public healthcare institutions, childcare subsidies and MOE Financial Assistance, without having to be repeatedly means-tested.

d.         MSF is working with other agencies to set up new protocols, so that clients can seamlessly access assistance via other agencies, beyond the SSOs.

Improving client-centricity with technology

15         Mr Don Wee had suggested making the help-seeking process more seamless for low-income vulnerable families, by sharing data across Ministries and integrating the application processes.

a.         This is indeed something we are working on with the relevant agencies.

16         We will make better use of data and technology to improve our clients’ experience and our officers’ productivity.

a.         Today, some clients have to repeat their circumstances, and submit similar documents repeatedly to apply for different schemes from different departments.

b.         Officers often spend time collecting information that’s already available with another agency.

c.         This time can be better spent building trust and rapport.

17         Now, the system enhancements that we mentioned at last year’s COS to improve data-sharing between agencies, are coming on-stream this year.

a.         One platform is what we called One Client View, or OneCV, which was rolled out last month to officers from 12 agencies.

b.         In the past, the household who wanted to apply for rental housing, ComCare assistance and childcare subsidies, for example, had to submit income documents three times to these three different agencies.

c.         With One Client View, the family can do away with these submissions and simply give consent for agencies to retrieve the information through this platform.

d.         One Client View has multiple levels of safeguards built in to ensure that such personal data is kept safe.

18         Another platform, called Case Connect, will be rolled out in phases from June this year.

a.         Today, collaboration takes place over different modes – emails, phone calls, messages, handwritten notes. You get the point.

b.         Valuable information can get lost when case workers change, or new partners come onboard. And you can imagine many many agencies are involved.

c.         Case Connect will allow frontline officers and case workers to make referrals, share assessments and updates, and coordinate with other partners on a single platform.

19         To reduce the administrative burden on frontline officers and our social service agency partners, we have integrated the systems with single sign-in and will progressively build system linkages. So not just focusing on our clients, but ensuring that our frontline – both in the government and in the social service sector – they find it meaningful, they find it seamless and they find it integrated for themselves too.

Strengthening coordination through regional approach

20         Now, case coordination can become challenging with more partners involved. To drive integration, we will take a regional approach to organise key social services. Because in reality, if you ask different agencies, they tend to serve the same families, the same households in the same locality.

a.         Our aim is to have a common set of partners serve the same community in the same region.

b.         This helps to reduce coordination costs and promote better integration across agencies.

21         We have been organising many of our programmes with this regional approach in mind. These include KidSTART and Community Link, or ComLink, which Minister Masagos had shared about earlier.

a.         We will also set up regional Strengthening Families Programme @ FSC to support early-risk and stressed families.

b.         Minister of State Sun Xueling will elaborate more later.

c.         These programmes will be organised along SSO regional clusters, so that agencies can easily work with the partners in the same region, build relationships among each another, to convene case discussions and coordinate support.

d.         In turn, this strengthens the SG Cares Community Network in each town.

Partnering the community in supporting those in need

22         During the Emerging Stronger Conversations that we have had, many Singaporeans expressed their desire to build a society that cares even more deeply for the vulnerable and less-privileged.

a.         Mr Seah Kian Peng also asked how we will build stronger partnerships with the community to support those in need.

b.         We will strive to achieve this through the SG Cares Community Networks. This is a Singapore Together Alliance for Action, or AfA, which focuses on prototyping new ideas to solve problems.

c.         The Networks also provide a platform where local partners in a town, with government agencies, charities, social service agencies and other community groups, get to know one another face to face, collaborate, and over time build a relationship of trust in the local community.

d.         We have seen the collective impact of the Networks earlier.

e.         And we believe we are just starting to tap on its potential, and we call on more community partners and volunteers to join our efforts.


23         Community Link, or ComLink for short, is a flagship initiative that seeks to pull together the elements that we talked about earlier:

a.         Achieving deeper integration,

b.         Putting families at the centre of our work,

c.         Being proactive,

d.         Building strong local networks, and

e.         Partnering the community.

24         DPM Heng and Minister Masagos had announced the expansion of ComLink earlier. So now, let me provide some details, which will also address Mr Mohd Fahmi’s cut on ComLink’s progress and future plans.

25         In 2019, MSF launched ComLink at four pilot locations: Boon Lay, Jalan Kukoh, Kembangan-Chai Chee, and Marsiling. And since its launch, we have supported 1,000 families with children.

a.         Ms Carrie Tan asked if ComLink is taking an asset-based community development, or ABCD, approach. Yes, elements of ABCD are in ComLink, but ComLink is more than that.

b.         Under ComLink, instead of waiting for households to seek help, we proactively reached out to families with young children who are living in rental housing to understand their needs, their fears, and their aspirations. Listen to their voice.

c.         We pulled together data across agencies and used them to identify issues faced by families, as well as assets and gaps in the community.

d.         Community partners came together to coordinate support for families with complex interlocking issues. We came up with common action plans and journeyed with the families to support them in achieving their goals. You can’t rush this. It takes time. You have to journey with them. It might take months. It might take years. It might take even a generation. But we journeyed with them.

e.         We also partnered about 30 corporates, donors and social service agencies, and 240 volunteers to mount some 60 ComLink programmes specifically tailored to meet the families’ and the community’s needs. So data-driven needs identified by our outreach to the families, hearing and listening to them, and tailoring those support.

f.         Our objective is to systematically uplift families with children living in rental housing, and support them towards stability, self-reliance and social mobility.

26         Now let me illustrate with one example.

a.         Theresa is a single mother with two children, and had difficulty holding down a stable job because of the difficulties she faced.

b.         Ever since the SSO knocked on her door two years ago as part of ComLink, Theresa gradually opened up to share her challenges and aspirations of becoming a childcare teacher and her hopes of owning her own HDB flat.

c.         Her social worker and community partners came together, provided her coordinated support, and worked out with her a case plan, a progress plan, a roadmap.

d.         Today, Theresa is a confident parent with stable employment who contributes back to her own local community. Her two children regularly attend ComLink programmes.

27         We want to empower more families like Theresa’s. We will therefore scale ComLink across Singapore over the next two years to cover all families with children living in rental housing.

28         We will do so by expanding from the existing four sites to 21 towns in the next two years, to cover 14,000 rental housing families with children across the island.

a.         The SSOs will continue to drive this effort with relevant Government agencies, social service agencies and community organisations, through ComLink Alliances.

Streamlining resources for better family outcomes

29         As we step up efforts to do more for vulnerable Singaporeans, we need to re-design the way we deliver services. This is a natural evolution of the social safety nets that Minister Masagos has set out in his opening frame. And what is this new way of delivering social services?

a.         First, streamline outreach efforts, so that families are not over-taxed by various agencies and interventions.

b.         Second, align agencies to a common set of outcomes, centred on the families, so that families are not pulled in different directions by different agencies and charities.

c.         Third, empower lead agencies such as our SSOs and our Family Service Centres, or FSCs, to exercise more leadership to stitch together interventions, while other agencies support as part of one team.

d.         Fourth, provide better signposting of ground needs to donors, to volunteers, to philanthropists, and corporate CSR, so that their giving is not just meaningful, but impactful, targeted and productive. Achieve social impact that many volunteers and donors yearn to see.

30         We are testing out these ideas at selected ComLink communities.


31         Now, ComLink is an ambitious enterprise premised on the belief that government, SSAs and the community come together at the national level.

a.         Supported by resources and the right policies, we can make a much bigger impact in uplifting the low-income and vulnerable.

b.         Social sector practitioners have told us that what we are trying to achieve is critically needed. In fact, we are doing this because of their sound advice and guidance over the years. They tell us this is much needed, but is not easy to achieve.

c.         We must confess that, with no precedent to rely on, we are feeling the stones as we cross the river.

d.         But I am confident that we can cross the river to the other side, because of our common desire to build a society that cares more deeply for those who have less. And want to roll up our sleeves to make an impact and see the difference.

32         We need to do this together, so Minister Masagos, MOS Sun Xueling, Parl Sec Eric Chua and I would like to invite Singaporeans to be a part of this movement, on the ground.

a.         Those who are keen to join us can approach a Volunteer Centre set up by MCCY in your town, or sign up through the portal.

b.         My colleagues and I look forward to working with more of you to build a Singapore where no one is left behind.