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Speech by Minister of State Sun Xueling at the KidSTART Partners' Townhall 2024 "KidsMatter: Transforming a Generation" on 26 January 2024

Type: Official Speeches: Sun Xueling, Official Speeches (All) All

Topic(s): Children & Families, Social Service Agencies & Partners, Financial Assistance & Social Support, All


 

Mr Aubeck Kam, Chairman KidSTART Singapore,
Mdm Rahayu Buang, CEO KidSTART Singapore,
Distinguished guests and partners,

Ladies and gentlemen,


1. Good morning, everyone! This is our 3rd KidSTART Partners’ Townhall and I am really happy to see so many partners involved in this very important effort to give our KidSTART children a good start in life. Let’s give each other a big round of applause.

2. The theme of this year’s townhall “KidsMatter: Transforming a Generation” is apt and timely.

3. It underscores the fact that uplifting our children is a key step in helping lower-income families achieve social mobility across generations. We want to ensure that every child has a good start in life. When these children grow up in a nurturing home environment under the loving care of confident parents and are supported with years of quality preschool education, our children gain a strong foundation to do well in life. Also in line with the Forward SG agenda, KidSTART empowers parents, because every significant adult matters, and we want to provide them with the knowledge and skills to better support their children’s development.

4. This theme is also very apt and timely because it emphasises the need for our work to be transformative. As families’ needs change over time, we must innovate the way we work with them and journey with them. We can only do this by listening to the families’ stories, journeying with them to build trust, and understanding how we can better support them.

5. I wish to share the story of Ms. Priya, a mother of three children, who has been a part of KidSTART since 2021. During a difficult period when she had to be separated from her family, her KidSTART practitioner, Pearl, became a consistent support in her life. Through home visits, Pearl encouraged Ms. Priya’s partner to also be actively involved at home, they shared parenting techniques that enabled the couple to support their daughter’s learning and growth. Ms Priya now feels more confident in her parenting skills, especially with a newborn. She is also grateful for the stronger bond she has with her children and the support she has received on her parenting journey.


Positive Evaluation Outcomes

6. Ladies and gentlemen, KidSTART works. An evaluation study commissioned by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to the Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) found that parents and caregivers who received KidSTART home visitations had more positive, quality parent-child interactions and were more confident in supporting their child’s development after 12 months into the programme. In turn, their children also showed improved socio-emotional development at 3 years old, compared to those families who did not receive KidSTART support. We must remember that children with higher levels of socio-emotional skills can benefit more from any investments in their cognitive skills, and these are predictors for outcomes later in life such as in education attainment, employment, mental well-being and lesser likelihood of anti-social behaviours. These findings serve as indicators of KidSTART’s success in promoting children's development, providing them with a strong foundation for success and contributing to the stability, self-reliance, and social mobility of their families in the longer term. KidSTART matters, kids matter, and we are transforming a generation.

7. In expanding KidSTART to benefit more children, we want to ensure that the programme stays impactful, while being sustainable. The revised KidSTART model will see Home Visitation as the main mode of intervention. It will remain child-focused and family-centric, with practitioners in hospitals and community providing antenatal support for pregnant mothers and child development support for all children under 6 years old in the family. As a further enhancement, KidSTART will integrate with ComLink+, with family coaches from Social Service Offices and social workers from Family Service Centres progressively expanding their reach to provide social and financial support to all KidSTART families.

8. KidSTART is currently in 15 towns and will expand to the remaining 9 towns from April this year. NTUC First Campus Ltd will be serving KidSTART families as a KidSTART Service Agency in Sengkang, Hougang, and Serangoon. TOUCH Community Services and Care Corner Singapore Ltd will serve KidSTART families in Punggol, Tampines and Pasir Ris from April. In 2025, Fei Yue Community Services will start its services in Clementi, Queenstown and Jurong East and this will complete KidSTART’s nation-wide expansion. Thank you, partners!

9. I would also add that the progress and good outcomes are only possible through the hard work of those implementing the KidSTART programme on the ground.  In fact, as practitioners interact with the families, you may already see the seeds of change being planted in the families you are helping and sense the difference you are making. I hope the positive results of this evaluation study will affirm your efforts and further motivate you as we expand the programme nation-wide to benefit more families. 


Partnerships for Integrated Support

10. KidSTART’s good outcomes can be further magnified when we integrate with other services and support provided by the Government and wider community.

11. Today, lower-income families are supported by a wide range of programmes, with the providers often wearing multiple hats in their attempt to provide holistic support. The providers also find it challenging to focus on making their programme impactful because they are busy trying to recruit and coordinate assistance for families. On the other hand, families being helped often struggle with limited bandwidth to deal with multiple service providers who want to work with them, all with very well intentions. While our intentions are good, there is a need to adopt more family-centric approaches to support our families.

12. This is why KidSTART has begun integration with ComLink+ since July 2023. ComLink+ provides long-term support to families with children under the age of 21 living in rental flats. Under this programme, family coaches will journey with families in a sustained manner, act as a single point of contact to help them access support services and co-develop action plans. ComLink+ aims to benefit up to 14,000 families in rental flats nation-wide, many of whom are also eligible for KidSTART

13. Family coaches will help to identify and refer eligible ComLink+ families to KidSTART. While KidSTART practitioners focus on guiding parents and caregivers on providing a conducive home environment and upskilling their parenting skills, family coaches will facilitate preschool enrolment of the children by age 3, as well as support regular preschool attendance and up-to-date immunisations.

14. As with any nation-wide rollout of government-funded programmes and major changes in service delivery, we recognise that there will be challenges. On behalf of MSF and ECDA, I wish to thank everyone for embarking on this transformative journey and for working hard to address teething issues which will happen on the ground. Remember, we all share a common goal of wanting our KidSTART families to break out of their status quo and to do better with each new generation. 


Partnerships with Volunteers and Corporates

15. Our KidSTART community is also enriched with the active involvement of volunteers and corporates. The Growing Together with KidSTART initiative has seen more than 1,000 volunteers step forward to encourage eligible families to join KidSTART, as well as pack and deliver essential items to these families. Since the initiative was launched in 2019, KidSTART had received over $9.7 million worth of donations and sponsorships for families, including books, diapers, and milk powder.

16. One KidSTART family that has greatly benefitted from these efforts is Ms Wahidah. She is a mother of 8 children, ranging from infants to teenagers. She is very appreciative of the essential items provided by KidSTART and its partners, such as monthly fresh food produce and diapers. These have alleviated the family’s living expenses. These provisions also made it easier for her to prepare nutritious meals for her children, as she no longer needs to deal with the challenges of grocery shopping with her many children. 

17. The KidSTART team has been working closely with partners to bring families to creative and interesting activities that promote family bonding.  In 2023, I was among the 300 parents and children who enjoyed the “Adventures with Andi” play which was sponsored by SP Group. This is part of the KidSTART Stories initiative which aims to promote literacy among KidSTART children through reading. At the same time, Maybank also launched the Maybank KidSTART Saving Stars programme, a savings programme aimed at improving financial knowledge amongst KidSTART parents and enhancing their saving efforts through top-ups and matched deposits. KidSTART also worked with Prudential to launch the second season of an online cooking series called “What’s for Lunch?”, where families learn how to prepare simple, nutritious meals. This is on top of other community events, such as visits to Kidztopia and Mandai Zoo sponsored by Lego Group and Kris Flyer.

18. As KidSTART scales nation-wide, I hope more volunteers and corporate partners will join us on this journey to help children from lower-income families to get a good start in life.


Concluding Remarks

19. It takes a village to raise a child. But I am sure that with all of us working together in the KidSTART community, we can realise our shared vision of a more inclusive society.

20. Congratulations to the KidSTART team on your achievements in this journey thus far. I wish everyone a wonderful and meaningful Townhall ahead. Thank you very much.