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Opening Address by Mr Eric Chua, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth & Ministry of Social and Family Development at the 3rd Singapore Social Work Practice Research Conference on 7 June 2024

Type: Official Speeches (All) , Official Speeches: Eric Chua

Topic(s): Social Service Professionals,


THEME: SOCIAL INCLUSIVENESS OF THE VULNERABLE

 

Mr Keith Chua, co-Trustee, Mrs Lee Choon Guan Trust Fund

Dr Vasoo, Emeritus Professor, NUS Dept of Social Work

Prof Lionel Wee, FASS Dean, NUS

Professor Irene Wong, NUS and University of Pennsylvania

Dr Balbir Singh, Founding Chairman and Advisor of Down Syndrome Association

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

 

Introduction

  1. Good morning. I am delighted and humbled to be here, speaking to you this morning.

     

  2. I first want to thank NUS for organising this conference to strengthen the nexus between research and practice, as well as the generous support by the Mrs Lee Choon Guan Trust Fund, for making this conference possible.

     

  3. We gather for this conference to reflect on one of the most critical topics of our time: social inclusiveness of the vulnerable. We have made good progress in supporting and empowering vulnerable groups to live life with dignity. To ensure inclusion for vulnerable groups, however, we need to act on multiple fronts.

     

  4. Today, we still see people sleeping rough in our public spaces due to various reasons, youth experiencing poorer mental health, and limited employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. To have any hope of successfully tackling these issues, it is imperative that we come together as a society to address these often complex and multi-faceted challenges.

     

  5. Through Forward Singapore, Singaporeans have expressed their desire for a more caring and inclusive society. Whether different stakeholders, can come together in service of the same mission, will be key to how successful we can be in realising our vision.

     

  6. Social work practitioners have worked tirelessly in supporting individuals, families, and communities to adapt and thrive. To help social work practitioners deliver effective interventions, research (including practice research) is invaluable. Research provides evidence-based insights into the needs of our clients. It offers tools to evaluate our practices and policies, enabling us to tailor our approaches to meet societal needs.

     

  7. I humbly offer three strategies as to how we could potentially better integrate research with social work.

     

    Collaborating Across Agencies and Sectors

  8. First, we must collaborate across agencies and sectors to produce and share research findings on social issues. Such research involves understanding the complex challenges affecting various aspects of people’s lives and often generates possible solutions for these challenges. By working together, we can pool our resources and share insights, ensuring that the findings are comprehensive and actionable. This collaborative approach also prevents any duplication of research efforts and fosters a culture of knowledge exchange for the betterment of the clients we serve.

     

  9. Take for instance the collaboration between MSF, the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network, and academics on the nationwide street count conducted in November 2022. The PEERS Network comprises community partners, SSAs, and other government organisations. The objective of the street count was to understand the scale and geographical distribution of rough sleepers. Some of you may have participated in this initiative. Findings from the street count, along with the qualitative feedback from rough sleepers collected by the PEERS Network through regular night walks, have been useful in informing our ongoing outreach efforts and planning of shelter services.

  10. Another example can be gleaned from the partnership between South Central Community Family Service Centre and NUS’ Department of Social Work. With research expertise and guidance from NUS, the FSC practitioners conducted a study on the home ownership process for low-income families, identifying crucial elements for effective social work practice with these families. Finding a disparity between the financial beliefs and values of social workers and those of the families, the FSC practitioners developed a toolkit to bridge these differences. They also shared their findings with other selected agencies serving similar client groups.

     

    Continuously evaluating programmes

  11. Second, consider building evaluation into our work. Evaluation helps us to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why. It provides the evidence needed to refine our strategies, policies and practices, ensuring that our interventions are effective and impactful.  

     

  12. An example would be the National Mental Health and Well-being Strategy, which was launched last year. The strategy identified four key areas to strengthen Singapore’s mental health ecosystem: (a) expanding mental health services; (b) building the capabilities of service providers; (c) promoting mental health and well-being; and (d) improving workplace mental health and well-being. This strategy was developed after a comprehensive review of existing efforts, including a public consultation in 2022.

     

  13. The Enabling Masterplan 2030 is another example of how we continue to evaluate our progress and refine our strategies to bring us closer to our goal of social inclusiveness. Building upon past efforts, the EMP2030 is our fourth national roadmap that charts how our society can enable persons with disabilities to participate fully as integral, contributing members of society.

     

  14. It took stock of progress made, and identified key challenges and trends that will shape the disability landscape, and proposed strategies to guide our efforts over the next few years. And goals were set out across the focal areas, with indicators and targets to inform our progress towards these goals.  

     

  15. Looking ahead, MSF is also partnering academics to assess the effectiveness of initiatives like ComLink+. This will give us valuable information on which components of our strategies work well, and where we would need to improve.

     

  16. To support evaluation across the social sector, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) has also introduced the Sector Evaluation Framework (SEF). The SEF aims to provide a common measurement framework for social service programmes to articulate outcomes in a consistent manner. Having a common evaluation language also enables service providers to establish benchmarks for the implementation of effective interventions.

     

  17. Since the implementation of SEF, NCSS has worked with both government-funded programmes and funding agencies to adopt the SEF.  Accordingly, the call now is for a sector-wide participation in this endeavour so that we can ensure the work that we do translates into tangible impact for the sector.

     

    Capabilities in research

  18. Lastly, to do good research that can inform and enrich our work, we need to develop the capabilities and skills to conduct and to apply rigorous research. As social work practitioners, there are several research-related platforms that you can utilise to enhance evaluation and research capability. For example, NCSS provides resources such as online databases, as well as support for research projects through the Volunteer Research Consultant Matching Service.

     

  19. The Social Service Sector Repository houses research conducted by SSAs and public service agencies, and covers topics relevant to the sector. This will showcase local research, provide perspectives from the local context, and present opportunities for the sharing and consolidation of information across agencies.

     

  20. The Volunteer Research Consultant Matching Service matches aspiring researchers from SSAs to volunteer research consultants, who can offer support at different timepoints in a research piece. This means consultants can work with SSAs from beginning to end, or support in specific areas, such as coming up with research questions or deciding how to recruit participants, to analysing the results.

     

  21. In essence, there is a wide range of resources available, and I hope we can all be lifelong learners, and pick up relevant skills we would need along the way.


    Conclusion

  22. I would like to close by digressing to share a snippet of my personal thoughts and feelings. While I’m neither social work trained nor a member of academia, I must confess since joining MSF in 2020, I have been very seized by the mission of the social sector. The issues that we deal with; that I’ve had the privilege of working on: rough sleeping, vulnerable groups in society, income inequality. Many of these issues hold a special place in my heart, at a personal level.

     

  23. I started life in a humble family. My parents were both blue-collared workers. My mom in particular, is an amazing woman. Amazingly strong, and amazingly wise. The family purse strings were tight when I was young, and I did not always get what I want as a doe-eyed child. But she often told me: Study hard. Work hard. Do well in life in future.

     

  24. To me, much of what we do is in the sector about keeping Hope alive. Hope that regardless of what our starting points in life are, no one in Singapore society is ever written off on that basis. As we take baby steps in embarking on what to me is a significant pivot, moving from social assistance to social empowerment, practice research can inform, shape, and refine the critical work that we do on the ground. So on that note, I would like to express my deepest appreciation for all that you do, for keeping Hope alive not just for Singapore society at large, but perhaps more importantly, for young Erics of today, who believes that this is a society that provides opportunities for as many as we possibly can, for each to thrive and to realize our full potential in life.

     

  25. I wish one and all an enriching day ahead. Thank you.