SINGAPORE - An initiative to help young children from disadvantaged families will be rolled out in five areas in the second half of this year.
The $20-million trial of the KidStart scheme will benefit 1,000 children aged up to six years and living in Bukit Merah, Kreta Ayer, Boon Lay, Taman Jurong and Geylang Serai in the first three years.
These children will be "proactively identified" by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and other organisations such as family service centres, hospitals and pre-schools.
They could include those who come from families with poor, young or unwed parents, or with parents who are in jail.
The scheme will coordinate existing services across agencies, and will also extend new forms of support and monitor the children's progress.
For instance, they will get health and learning support, such as basic immunisations and placement in pre-schools.
Their parents will also get help to better care for the children and support them during their pre-school years and transition to primary school. Such help could be given through home visits, parent support groups, or reading courses at pre-schools.
These details of the KidStart scheme, first announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech in March, were given by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin on Tuesday (April 12).
Said Mr Tan during the debate on his ministry's budget: "Some children, because of complex family circumstances, already lag behind developmentally even in their early years... In order to help these children, we must go upstream and provide additional support."
The ECDA said it wanted to "start small and focused" as the KidStart scheme is taking a new approach, and starting small allows it to refine the way services are delivered before evaluating if, and how, the scheme can be offered in more areas.
Mr Tan added: "I want this model to work. And I want to be able to ramp up and help more children."
While the cost of KidStart works out to an average of $20,000 per child, ECDA said the actual cost per child will depend on the child's needs and services required, so this could range "from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars each year".
Meanwhile, ECDA has set up a programme office to work with government agencies, social service offices, hospitals and community partners to implement KidStart.
Suitable families will be contacted and asked if they want to take part.