Needy turning to social media to seek help, air grievances

Like transport and retail, the social service sector is undergoing its own version of disruption with the rising use of crowdfunding platforms and social media.

The needy are bypassing the authorities, charities and social workers in appealing directly to the public for donations.

They also now have recourse to an instant platform to publicly air their version of the story when dissatisfied with government aid or intervention.

For example, some parents have taken to the Internet to contest the authority of welfare officers tasked with removing children from their alleged abusive homes. They have even released the officers' personal details - from names to identification numbers - online.

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Some aid recipients also post about how their welfare aid is insufficient to meet their needs.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin alluded to this trend in a recent interview with The Straits Times. "I don't see this (phenomenon) receding, in fact you will see more contestation on this front, a lot more issues played up."

 

In May for instance, The New Paper reported about a 20-year-old's fund-raising appeal on Give.Asia. Ms Nurul Asyiqin Buang, a waitress, wrote about having to be the sole breadwinner for her family, as her father, who has cancer, could work only part-time as a security guard. Her stepmother is a housewife.

Ms Nurul is the fifth of 11 children, but did not elaborate on what her older siblings were doing. She said a social worker provided her family with only dry rations.

The news article included the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) response that it had been assisting the family for 5½ years, and they also get ComCare and other aid.

But Ms Nurul later posted photos of government letters and the rations received, saying that the aid was not enough. A letter from MSF indicated that the family was getting $400 for the May-to-July period .

She wrote: "We have a long argument with the SSO (Social Service Office)... With that amount they (have) given us, you think it is enough to support a family of 11, along with my cancer-stricken father?"

She raised $27,530.

Fei Yue Family Service Centre principal social worker Rachel Lee said she usually explains to clients that the financial help given is meant to tide them over challenging periods, so it is short-term.

She said: "Our aim is to increase their capacity to cope through means such as skills upgrading, to increase their income."

AMKFSC Community Services chief executive Vincent Ng said people should give feedback to the respective organisations that they receive help from, instead of posting feedback on social media.

He said: "Front-line officers have to engage, listen and build a mutually respectful relationship with the client. This lessens the clients' anxiety, reduces misunderstanding, and efforts can be focused on resolving the issues that clients face."

Priscilla Goy and Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2017, with the headline 'Needy turning to social media to seek help, air grievances'. Print Edition | Subscribe