New five-year road map for social service sector to help vulnerable people advocate for themselves

Business student Celine Lee balances a tray of water as she tries navigating around in a wheelchair during a campaign to encourage a more inclusive and respectful campus, and better integrate students with special educational needs and disabilities.
Business student Celine Lee balances a tray of water as she tries navigating around in a wheelchair during a campaign to encourage a more inclusive and respectful campus, and better integrate students with special educational needs and disabilities.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Enabling vulnerable people - say, those with special needs or mental health issues - to advocate for themselves is one of the goals that a new five-year road map for the social service sector, launched on Wednesday (July 5), hopes to achieve.

The road map lists various goals and steps that people and organisations can take to help each person live with dignity in a caring and inclusive society.

This comes on the back of a national seminar on Down syndrome held last year (2016), where some young adults with the genetic disorder associated with intellectual disability spoke up and voiced their needs and desires.

At the seminar, a young woman asked to have her personal space respected as her short stature meant that she was often shoved around in the bus.

Others spoke about their hopes to be able to be of use in the family, whether it is doing the laundry or looking after their parents.

To achieve the goal of self-advocacy, for example, the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore and the Down Syndrome Association will start a two-year pilot project this month (July) to formally train young people with intellectual and developmental disability, so as to build up their self-esteem and polish their public speaking skills.

Key elements of the road map include getting companies and social enterprises to partner charities to identify problems and gaps and work together to develop innovative solutions.

"The road map will have a wide and long-ranging impact, not just for vulnerable populations, but for the entire nation," said Ms Anita Fam, co-chairman of the road map's steering committee and vice-president of the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

"It is not meant to be prescriptive, but we have provided ideas and a starting point on how each of us can play a part," she added.

The road map was developed by the 21-member committee, in consultation with 1,000 other community, government and business leaders and individuals, said NCSS.

Other initiatives listed in the roadmap include improving career and professional development pathways for those in the social service sector, sharing and integrating existing databases such as for vulnerable groups of people, and forming partnerships to encourage social innovation through the use of technology.

"It was developed so that the sector remains relevant and responsive to future challenges and changing needs. With finite resources such as manpower, the sector needs to find sustainable and impactful solutions," said chief executive of NCSS Sim Gim Guan of the roadmap.

The last time the council released a similar plan - Vision for Social Services in the 21st century - was in 1998.

Ms Fam said that the 1998 plan had resulted in the strengthening of corporate governance in charities and the building up of volunteer recruitment and management.

"The vision (in the new road map) should not change for at least a couple of decades as much as the 1998 plan had withstood the test of time," she added.

NCSS said there will not be any specific evaluation of outcomes from the road map but it will track indicators of quality of life periodically to ensure progress in care and service standards.

Industry stakeholders say they appreciate having a national plan that articulates the shared vision, with suggested steps on how to get there.

Said Dr Terence Yow, cluster director at AMKFSC Community Services: "Some of the points in the road map are not new and we have been doing it, but it is helpful that those goals are made explicit nationally for everyone to be on the same page and to work towards these objectives."