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Standing Together, Lifting Lives

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

Topic(s): Children & Families, Financial Assistance & Social Support

FSC Board members and sector leaders,
Community partners,
Social workers and social service colleagues,

1. Good morning.

2. Happy to see so many colleagues from the FSCs and other social service agencies join us today.

3. You are all very busy people

And we are very appreciative that you’ve prioritised this FSC Sector Advance.

4. Our first FSCs were established some 30 years ago.

There were 4 pilot sites - at Bukit Gombak, Tiong Bahru, Telok Blangah and Tampines.

An evaluation established that FSCs were indeed an effective way to serve community needs, and this model was then scaled up.

5. Today, we have 47 FSCs all around the island,

Run by passionate social work professionals.

You support low-income and vulnerable individuals and families, and through Case work, Group work and Community Work, you help them achieve stability and self-reliance.

You serve around 30,000 families and individuals each year.

You teach families that their potential is not limited by their circumstances. And together, they can stand tall and face tomorrow’s challenges head-on.

Our FSCs have served our community well. Thank you for persevering in supporting these families and giving them hope amidst despondency and courage amidst fear. We know it is challenging and often emotionally draining work, and yet with each success, no matter how big or small, it energises and gives us the energy to keep going forward.

6. We are also very honoured to have among us today, the pioneers and giants of the social services in Singapore, such as Dr Ann Wee, and many others. You have laid the foundations for us to build on, and enabled us to stand on your shoulders. All of us in the sector owe our pioneers a debt of gratitude, for your pioneering leadership, your sense of adventure, your vision, and most importantly, your sacrifices.

Social Services – History and trajectory
7. In the early years, we had a largely ground-up social safety net.

Government focused on providing the broad basics – public housing, education, healthcare, security and jobs.

Social assistance was very basic.

Community support was ground-up and localised. Many people stepped forward to run charities and voluntary welfare organisations to meet needs that they saw on the ground.

Over the years, Government began to put in more support services to complement FSCs’ work, such as Divorce Support Specialist Agencies for families undergoing divorce, and Integrated Service Providers for Youth-At-Risk programmes.

We also introduced new programmes to address social issues upstream, such as KidSTART, to provide child development and parenting support for low-income families with children, to give their children a good start in life.

I am happy to hear that some of our FSCs are already actively partnering ECDA on KidSTART. This is important as child-centric interventions are part of the overall family intervention plan to achieve holistic outcomes for families.

We also developed more schemes administered by Government agencies to help the vulnerable and the low-income. At the same time, we strengthened our support to the FSCs, for example, by enhancing and adjusting the way we fund.

So, today we have a large number of public agencies and social service agencies on the ground that can offer help to vulnerable and low-income Singaporeans. Help of different types, meeting different kinds of needs, allowing for degree of specialisation and focus.

How we help - today
8. How do we help people today?

9. Let me illustrate with a real case, anonymised

10. This is a family where the two grandparents are the main caregivers of their three grandchildren. We don’t see such cases all too often, but they are not uncommon. Grandparents looking after grandchildren with a missing generation in between.

This is because four of their five children go in and out of prison for drug-related offences. And when they are in prison, the grandparents take over as caregivers to the grandkids.

But the elderly couple struggle with poor health.

And their grandchildren have a range of issues

  • Two were recently caught for shop-lifting.
  • One has global development delays and requires frequent follow-up at the hospital.
  • And there is one more new-born on the way, the mother is expecting this child while serving a prison sentence.

A number of different government, social service, and community agencies, are helping this family.

  • The Social Service Office supports them with ComCare;
  • FSCs provide counselling and support, and because the children live in different places, more than one FSC is involved;
  • Youth agencies engage the grandchildren who were caught shop-lifting;
  • Polyclinics and hospitals support the grandparents’ medical needs,
  • And many other agencies, self-help groups, civic and religious organisations and grassroots organisations are involved.

11. Even though everyone takes the family’s concerns and problems seriously, and do their best to help them, the family still needs to work with many touchpoints, navigate different systems, repeat their circumstances.

The challenge
12. More importantly, if the different systems worked together much more closely, the outcomes can be even better for the family.

  • When I speak to social work professionals, many of you have cited this as one of the important challenges that you hope that as a system we can resolve together.

13. This challenge of system coordination is not new. Nor is it unique to Singapore.

  • In fact, this is in social work literature, in systems theory. Having too much friction between systems and inefficiencies can cause difficulties for our families.
    And when I speak to foreign counterparts and social work professionals in other countries, they say it is equally a challenge for them.

14. We should not throw out what has been working well. But we should constantly seek to improve.

15. In the past years, we have made major strides in the family services sector to strengthen capabilities and capacities.

  • For example, the FSC-Code of Social Work Practice, that was developed with your support and practice insights. With this Code, all 47 FSCs now have a common language to assess and support clients. Use it as a guide, to enable you to collaborate and work with other agencies.
  • We rolled out a sector-wide IT platform, called the SSNet, as a common platform for case management and data-sharing. We are further fine-tuning SSNet, because of the feedback that we have received from practitioners.
  • We have also been physically siting services together, such as locating Family Services Teams with two SSOs Fei Yue with Taman Jurong SSO, and Montfort with Kreta Ayer SSO.

16. With these, we have piloted some innovations. There could be some teething issues along the way but we work together, continue to improve them because we want our systems and capabilities to serve our clients better. We standardised some important areas – our social work practice, data, and systems – and are working more closely together.

17. But we must constantly look ahead, to anticipate the future needs of our families, and gear ourselves up ahead of time so that we are ready for the future.

18. What are some things on the horizon that we should be prepared for as FSCs, as a social service sector?

  • Our society is changing.
  • We will have more seniors; our families are getting smaller; more people remaining single and growing old alone; risk of greater social stratification; impact of technology on job security, lifestyles, and personal relationships; and so on.

19. We also see several driving forces that may go one way or another in future, such as

  • The strength of families and adequacy of family support;
  • And how cohesive we will be as a society and how willing we are to help each other.

Social service transformation
20. We must therefore transform our social services - to meet the challenges not only of today, and prepare ourselves for the needs of tomorrow.

21. So what is the overall vision that we seek to achieve? I would like to preface this by saying that these ideas and the vision that we are going to sketch out is the result of many conversations we have had with you, and with many other social work professionals, with other systems outside this room.

  • Singapore is made up of a number of Towns. I am from MND, and we plan our city in an orderly way, around towns and estates. Within your towns, we place as many services as possible to support your daily living.
  • We want to build a Community Network in each and every one of our Towns.
  • Bring together all our FSCs, SSOs, social services, government agencies, healthcare institutions, civic and religious organisations and grassroots that serve that Town.
  • Where all these agencies, coming from different organisations, having different missions, specialising in different aspects of needs, can work closely together to form a more integrated and responsive social safety net to provide Comprehensive, Convenient and Coordinated Help.

22. Standing together with vulnerable and low-income families, in order to help them overcome their challenges holistically and lift their lives.

23. How will we seek to achieve this?

24. First, we need good infrastructure.

  • Physically co-locating services can help foster greater collaboration. For example, today – SSO at Taman Jurong is now co-located with an FSC, AIC, SGO, and SANA.
  • Technology can also help ameliorate challenges of clients having to travel from one place to another, and ameliorate the stressors on our social work professionals having to travel frequently to attend case conferences and meetings with other agencies. Technology such as video-conferencing and telephone-conferencing are already readily available and harnessed by the business sector and other sectors. Let’s use it.
  • So that clients can receive holistic help in a more convenient manner.

25. Second, we need effective systems and processes.

  • Better information and data sharing among public and social service agencies.
  • Harnessing the use of data analytics so that we can go further upstream - in terms of outreach, education, preventive work and problem solving. Many of you tell us that casework is critical but we need to do a lot more upstream work in the community, building community, harnessing community assets, enabling families and parents to pick up the skills to be able to address their own needs, even as we continue to strengthen our casework capabilities.
  • To have a common set of guidelines so that agencies can coordinate better with one another to understand, support, and uplift vulnerable families.
    • MSF has developed a set of case coordination guidelines, which we call Case Master Action Planning (or “Case MAP”) that agencies can use when supporting families with complex circumstances.
    • This is not just for the social sector, but also for government agencies, law enforcement, housing, and other services in each and every network, in each and every town.
    • Agencies across 7 locales have been trained on this since March 2019.
    • The 14 FSCs in these locales and their partners have been encouraged to use Case MAP as they work on complex cases.
    • We will roll out Case MAP progressively to all towns and FSCs by end of this year.
    • Please share with us your feedback on Case MAP. It is a common lingo and way of doing things for families with complex needs requiring a multitude of agencies working together. We need to be able to collaborate better together, we need one agency to be able to coordinate the rest of us so that issues are addressed from end-to-end, so that families have an opportunity to build meaningful relationships not with 20, 30 agencies, but a few meaningful relationships through which these interventions can be channelled through trust channels.

26. Third, and in my view this is actually the most crucial element for transformation We need to build a stronger culture of collaboration.

  • Infrastructure, systems and processes are important, but they are enablers.
  • But without a collaborative culture and mind-set, not just among social service agencies but among other systems as well, we will not make a significant breakthrough.
  • Because it is in the nature of organisations to pursue their own goals and objectives, and for individuals to operate within their organisational mandates and responsibilities.

27. How will we strive to build this culture?

  • First, through leadership.
    • We need the leadership of our organisations – SSOs, FSCs, government agencies, community bodies and so on, to lead by example, and encourage and incentivise our colleagues to a collaborative culture.
  • Second, through system-wide training.
    • MSF has been bringing frontline officers across public and community agencies together for training, to enable them to identify clients’ needs more comprehensively.
    • We all have our mission and mandate, but with some training and empowerment, we can look at clients’ needs and families’ needs holistically, and understand what help is out there in each of these networks that we can refer our clients to so that they can get more Comprehensive, Coordinated, and Convenient assistance.
  • Third, through secondments and cross postings.
    • We already second or post officers from one agency to another from time to time, for exposure, for personal development, for career development.
    • We want to see how we can further enhance this, so that officers pick up insights and perspectives from other agencies in the Community Network, and at the same time bring our agencies closer together. We will come around and speak to you at some point.
  • Fourth, by providing platforms for people to come together.
    • Innovation and change often is thought of in technological terms, but often old-fashioned relationship-building remains evergreen and can be the solution and panacea to many of these coordination difficulties and challenges.
    • For example, since last year, we have been organising SG Cares Community Network meetings in each Town, to bring people and organisations closer together.
    • SSO officers, FSC colleagues, school principals, government agencies, social service agencies, community and grassroots leaders, civic and religious leaders, and so on. Sometimes in a town you can have a hundred organisations with their representatives who are at the frontline, sometimes meeting each other for the first time, and realising there is someone else who can complement the work we do, and help our clients more effectively.
    • To get to know one another, network, build professional relationships, learn together, succeed together, and address failures together.
    • We will do this annually, and in between we will create more opportunities for frontline officers to meet, interact, deep dive to solve problems together, collaborate.

28. This culture of collaboration is, in fact, a vital prerequisite for several of our initiatives, beyond the basic building block of our Community Networks in each Town. For example

  • In the Community Links (or ComLinks) that we are establishing to provide proactive, collaborative and community-driven support for families staying in rental flats.
  • In UPLIFT by MOE, to better harness community resources to support students with worrying performance and absenteeism.
  • In M3, the initiative for Mendaki, MESRA and MUIS to better partner community and government agencies, to better support vulnerable Malay Muslim families.
  • In the Localised Community Networks being piloted by some schools, to provide wrap-around care for at-risk youth and their families.
  • And in the Community Network for Seniors (or CNS), spearheaded by MOH, to befriend seniors living alone, and to harness community resources to better support them.
  • I won’t go into detail for all these initiatives, because they will be covered in one of the breakout sessions later.
  • But what all these initiatives share in common, is a DNA of integration and coordination at the ground-level, putting families and clients at the centre of our services and efforts. ourOur ground officers need to be the ones that build the relationships to allow a collaborative culture to pervade each and every of our towns.
  • And as we continue to interact frequently, exchange case notes, experiment with new community initiatives, celebrate successes, and support each other through failure, I hope that this culture of collaboration will become an instinct, a norm, become second nature over time.

A Call to Action Standing Together, Lifting Lives
29. Our rallying call today is Standing Together, Lifting Lives. The theme of this FSC Sector Advance is also the focal point of our work for the coming years. They describe what we must do together as one sector, one community to help the vulnerable.

30. We must stand together, on many fronts.

Standing together
31. First, to Stand Together with Families and Individuals,

  • To achieve their fullest potential, and help those who are down to stand on their own feet.

32. Second, to Stand Together with Government and Community Partners to provide Comprehensive, Convenient, and Coordinated help.

33. Third, to Stand Together as a Sector, to strengthen capabilities for more effective FSC services.

  • Some of these very good initiatives and innovations will be showcased at our Learners’ Marketplace outside this ballroom during lunch.
  • I thank AMKFSC Community Services LtdLimited, Fei Yue FSC, and AWWA FSC for working with us to set up these learning booths.
  • These are just some of the many good community initiatives happening in each of your FSCs.

34. Tangibly, how will the role of FSCs change?

  • Over the years we have had to make changes, to improve the way we work together, to improve the way we serve families, to improve the way we coordinate with agencies. Change is a constant and more change is coming our way, but at the same time we must manage change so that our colleagues do not feel breathless. That they feel that these changes support them, and support their families effectively.
  • We now have a common language across agencies, first through the FSCs’ Code of Social Work Practice, and now with Case MAP. We have enablers and platforms such as SG Cares Community Networks, ComLink and many other to bring partners together.
  • These provide a strong foundation for us to build tightly-knit local Community Networks of agencies, social services, and grassroots, within each and every town.
  • Each agency coordinating closely, working together, sharing info, working upstream, strengthening downstream casework, serving clients holistically through relationships of trust.

35. FSCS, together with the SSOs, need to be at the centre of these networks and all these systems.

  • FSCs provide the critical social work lens to understand the families and individuals’ needs holistically, to guide different agencies to harmonise their interventions for greater impact.
  • SSOs will rally and bring community partners to the same table to create strategies to deliver integrated and holistic assistance.

Lifting Lives
36. I know that the sector is excited about the future too. Excited, yet always wondering how we can adjust to these changes together.

  • This is evident from the strong response from you for this afternoon’s breakout sessions.
  • I am encouraged by the sector’s commitment to lead and develop these sessions along with us.

37. There is a Malay proverb – “sedikit sedikit, lama lama jadi bukit”. Little by little we can build a hill together. We can start off small, but with clarity and unity of purpose, we can make a significant impact. Building hills works against gravity, there will be stress, there will be challenges. Change is not easy. But I think we all accept that we need to be ready as a social sector, partnering many others who need to see that their role fit into the social sector, with us, before we can meet the needs of Singapore of tomorrow. As we Stand Together, we can Lift Lives better and bring hope to many who are vulnerable and need help.

38. Thank you all for your hard work, please convey our gratitude and appreciation to your colleagues back in the office. Because your presence here is important, your understanding, your sharing, your networking and relationship building. Please join the SG Cares Community Networks, build networks and relationships with counterparts in other agencies. You make a big difference to the lives of many people, and you help to build a caring society in Singapore. All of us at MSF appreciate you, and we are committed to your success.

39. I wish you all a fruitful and enjoyable time today, a time of fellowship and learning, as we celebrate, learn and advance together to build a stronger family services sector, a stronger community, and a stronger Singapore.