Tap seniors to help at-risk kids and families

I applaud the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) for the KidStart initiative (Investing in at-risk kids from age zero to level them up; Aug 3).

I strongly agree that intervening early in the lives of at-risk children and their parents will yield rich social returns.

However, I fear that the results may fall short if not enough resources are invested.

Crucially, the at-risk children and their families need someone to show them how to build a warm and healthy home for the youngsters to grow up in.

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It is in a familiar and trusting environment that children will pick up values from their parents and elders.

This is an important aspect that should not be overlooked.

My wife and I are volunteer foster parents and befrienders.

It is in a familiar and trusting environment that children will pick up values from their parents and elders. This is an important aspect that should not be overlooked.

In the course of our work, I have come to realise that while helping the at-risk children is important, there is also an urgent need to work on their parents to get them to step up and be responsible.

This needs a lot of time and patience.

However, I notice that each Family Service Centre (FSC) officer handles more than 20 cases at a time. I believe the MSF officers handle similarly heavy loads, too.

With this workload, the contact time and frequency that each officer sees his charge would be too low to build any strong meaningful bonds, understanding and trust.

But we have a big pool of talent to tap: retired senior citizens who have successfully brought up a generation of useful citizens.

These senior citizens can be befrienders, and engage, advise and guide parents to build a conducive family environment.

They can also support the FSC and MSF officers in doing more frequent and regular house visits.

In this way, the KidStart initiative will achieve much greater success.

Chua Hwee Woon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2017, with the headline 'Tap seniors to help at-risk kids and families'. Print Edition | Subscribe