When Ms Zamaira Bibi, 34, a divorcee with three daughters, heard about the Child Development Account (CDA) First Step grant, she thought her children were not eligible as she did not have a valid marriage certificate.
The grant, introduced in 2016 to help parents with child-raising expenses, sees the Government disbursing $3,000 into each child's CDA without requiring parents to make any prior deposit. Savings will also be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to the child's eligible contribution cap, which depends on the number of children in the family.
Ms Zamaira found out that children of single parents were also eligible for the grant after she received a call from a staff member at self-help group Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda).
With guidance, she was able to quickly open a CDA for her youngest daughter, aged three. Her other two daughters are 15 and nine.
To help parents like her be better informed and to encourage them to set up CDAs for their children, the Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Social and Family Development, People's Association (PA) and Sinda said in a joint statement yesterday that they are working together to reach out to disadvantaged families of more than 780 children.
The initiative is led by the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (Uplift), an inter-agency task force set up in 2018 and helmed by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah to strengthen support for students from disadvantaged families.
The two ministries have partnered PA and Sinda to train about 400 outreach staff and volunteers. As of last Tuesday, about 150 families were in the midst of opening or have opened the CDA for their children. The PA and Sinda are aiming to complete the outreach by end-September this year. The MOE is also working with other self-help groups on the Uplift programmes.
The money in the CDA can be used to defray child-raising expenses such as pre-school fees and medical bills at Baby Bonus Approved Institutions, including childcare centres, kindergartens, hospitals and clinics as well as optical shops.
Ms Indranee said that since the grant was introduced, many families have benefited, "but we discovered that about 780 children from lower-income households had not yet opened CDAs and hence, had not received the grant".
The reasons for this include parents' lack of awareness or other barriers, she added. "Uplift therefore tapped PA and Sinda's community networks to contact the families... In the current Covid-19 situation, the CDA First Step of $3,000 will provide much needed extra support to these families," she said.
Ms Zamaira, who works as a GrabFood delivery rider, said she will be using the grant for her children's medical expenses and education costs such as school fees. She has also used it to buy vitamin supplements and new spectacles for them.
Another parent, research engineer Benjamin Lim, said he was not aware of the benefits of the grant and what it could be used for until a PA volunteer called him three weeks ago.
Mr Lim, 32, who has four children aged two to 11, three of whom have CDA accounts, said: "The money has pretty much been sitting in the accounts for my other kids."
His children are receiving financial assistance in the form of bursaries. Mr Lim has since opened an account for his youngest child.
He will be looking into using the CDA funds to pay premiums for MediShield Life or Medisaveapproved insurance plans, he added.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said: "We want to support lower-income families who may otherwise not be able to fully benefit from the dollar-for-dollar government matching contributions. We encourage all parents to set up a CDA for their child, and will help them to do so regardless of their circumstances."