When you are a pre-schooler from a disadvantaged family, living in a rental flat, attending classes may not be the top priority.
But a three-year-old scheme piloted at two pre-schools has shown that such children can be brought back into the fold, with their parents getting more involved in their development.
So encouraging were the results that the Circle of Care scheme - piloted by philanthropic group Lien Foundation and welfare organisation Care Corner - will be extended to another seven pre-schools and two primary schools this year.
This is so that the children will have a smoother transition from kindergarten to primary school.
Care Corner and Lien Foundation said yesterday they will partner anchor pre-school operators MY World Preschool, PAP Community Foundation and Singapore Muslim Women's Association as well as Lakeside Primary School and Gan Eng Seng Primary School to extend the scheme.
The model was piloted at Care Corner's Leng Kee and Admiralty childcare centres in 2013.
Teachers, social workers, educational therapists and community partners worked as a team to identify the root causes of a child's difficulties and to help on different fronts. For instance, a six-year-old boy lagging behind was taught how to focus better and given help to develop his reading and maths skills; his mother learnt effective parenting techniques, including how to coach her son.
Early childhood expert Khoo Kim Choo, consultant for the programme, said the two centres have seen encouraging results.
Of the 76 at-risk children at the two centres, 95 per cent came from families with household incomes of below $3,000 a month and most lived in HDB rental flats. Many had jobless parents and money troubles.
The Circle of Care team raised their average attendance from about 30 per cent to 70 per cent by working closely with their families.
The children received help on all fronts. Educational therapists helped improve their literacy and numeracy skills.
Parents were roped in. In one pre-school with 80 children, where only a handful used to attend parent-teacher meeting in 2012, the attendance rose to 54 per cent last year.
But without formal collaboration between pre-schools and primary schools, some of the hard-won progress made by these at-risk children can be lost.
To prevent this, the team will organise workshops and school visits for the children and their parents to prepare them for Primary 1.
Social workers will also collaborate with the schools' counsellors, class teachers as well as allied educators, and follow a child and his parents until Primary 3.
Some pupils at Gan Eng Seng Primary are already experiencing the benefits of this extended care. The school's vice-principal, Ms Amisarni Mohammed Amin, said working with the Circle of Care team has speeded up the process of helping children in need.
Madam Sharon, the mother of a seven-year-old boy helped through the scheme, said her son was affected by the family's many problems. But the social worker and teachers helped to resolve the issues and her son began to do better in pre-school.
She said her son, who entered Primary 1 in January, is more confident and doing better in his studies. Said Madam Sharon, who works as a cleaner: "The same social worker has been helping us for many years. When I have any difficulties, I call her and she will advise me and try to help me."
Mr Lee Poh Wah, chief executive officer of Lien Foundation, said: "Children from low-income families are hurt not only by their circumstances, but also by the silo-ed manner the present system defines and addresses their inter-connected needs." He said the scheme tries to break down these long- standing barriers.