Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Social and Family Development

Disadvantaged kids to get help in $20m programme

Single mum "Lina" and her six-month-old daughter live in Geylang Serai, one of the five areas where KidStart will be launched in the second half of the year. The scheme will coordinate existing support services provided by different agencies and will
Single mum "Lina" and her six-month-old daughter live in Geylang Serai, one of the five areas where KidStart will be launched in the second half of the year. The scheme will coordinate existing support services provided by different agencies and will extend support in areas such as health and learning, and will also monitor the children's progress.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

1,000 children up to six years old living in five areas to be identified for three-year trial

An initiative to give a leg-up to young children from disadvantaged families will be rolled out in five areas in the second half of this year.

The areas are Bukit Merah, Kreta Ayer, Boon Lay, Taman Jurong and Geylang Serai.

Some 1,000 children up to six years old will be "proactively identified" by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and organisations such as family service centres, hospitals and pre-schools, for the trial of the KidStart scheme.

They could include those who come from families with poor, young or unwed parents, or with parents who are in jail.

The Government has set aside more than $20 million for the three-year trial.

  • $2.5 billion 

    Total bill; up 11.8 per cent from last year.

    125,000

    Number of childcare places in Singapore today.

    44,000 

    Children received childcare and kindergarten fee subsidies last year.

    $500 

    Monthly cash allowance for one-person households under the Public Assistance scheme.

The scheme will coordinate the existing support services provided by different agencies for such children. In addition, it will extend support in areas such as health and learning, and will also monitor the children's progress.

For instance, the children may get basic immunisations and placement in pre-schools.

Their parents will also get help, such as through home visits or parent support groups, so that they can better support the children during their pre-school years and transition to primary school.

These details of the KidStart scheme, first announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech last month, were revealed by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

Said Mr Tan during the debate on his ministry's budget: "Some children, possibly because of complex family circumstances, already lag behind developmentally even in their early years... In order to help (them), we have to go upstream and provide additional support."

MP Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) asked Mr Tan if children older than six years can still be helped on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Tan said KidStart is but one programme and the older children could still be eligible for other aid schemes.

He said his ministry would look at the cases if Dr Neo flagged them.

The ECDA said starting small and being focused will allow it to refine how services are delivered before evaluating if, and how, the scheme can be offered in more areas.

Mr Tan said: "I want this model to work. 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, the ECDA said the actual cost per child will depend on the child's needs and the services required, so this could range "from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars each year".

It 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.

Ms Nur Zalina Ismail, executive principal at a My First Skool childcare centre, said it was important for organisations, such as pre-schools, to work with parents to help their children.

She said: "We should do whatever we can to make sure that no child gets left behind."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'Disadvantaged kids to get help in $20m programme Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Social and Family Development'. Print Edition | Subscribe