New pilot scheme offers help for needy families' kids even before they are born

A new pilot scheme that aims to improve the care of children from needy families even before they are born, has been launched in Ang Mo Kio, with plans to extend it nationwide eventually if it goes well.

The three-year scheme aims to maximise the potential of these children by providing them with a comprehensive system of care, from the time they are in their mothers' wombs until they reach three years old. Professor Chay Oh Moh, the programme's director, said the development of children in the prenatal period up till three years old was a critical window. "We now know that the origins of (some) diseases start during childhood," she said at the launch of the programme yesterday.

Temasek Cares, the non-profit philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings, has provided $2.3 million in initial funding for the programme, which would target 300 mothers from families in Ang Mo Kio with a per capita income of less than $650.

Beginning in the hospital, pregnant mothers will get prenatal lessons on how to care for their babies. After delivery, nurses, social workers or community health visitors will pay home visits lasting one to two hours to these mothers to give them tips on raising infants. Teaching these parents how to properly interact with their children is a key part of these home visits, said community health visitor, Ms Rajni Parasurum, 32.

"Some parents just let their children watch TV and play with an Apple iPad, but that's not enough," said Ms Rajni, a nurse.

"You have to spend time reading with the children, sit down, play with them and engage the child," she added.

The programme is led by the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, in partnership with the Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre (AMKFSC). Currently, there are 23 mothers in the programme, which began in July.

The programme was tailored after KK hospital did a study of 32 needy children below five years old and found that 30 per cent of them showed significant delays in more than two areas of development.

"Our biggest worry is that (for) people who come from low-income backgrounds, their children do not get the same start as the rest of the nation," said Prof Chay. "What we want to do is (to) give them an equal chance and help these children realise their potential."

dansonc@sph.com.sg