Why It Matters

Proactive aid for disadvantaged families a balancing act

To tackle social challenges such as income inequality and family dysfunction, the Government is taking a more "aggressive" approach and planning to intervene earlier.

For instance, in a bid to break the cycle of poverty, pilot scheme KidStart, which aims to level the playing field for disadvantaged children, will be made permanent, The Straits Times reported on Monday.

The authorities also plan to develop early intervention schemes for at-risk youth and adults.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin had told ST: "Who is going to fall (into the social safety nets)? You can take a more reactive perspective, but I believe we need to be a lot more aggressive and identify the precursors."

The intervention in KidStart happens so early, even before a child is born, in some cases. Children aged up to six are "proactively identified" by groups such as hospitals and family service centres. The help their parents get could include health screenings in the prenatal stage.

Helping children at such an early stage is not too soon. Research shows that the early years are critical for a child's cognitive, physical and social development.

Without early intervention, children from low-income or broken families may lag behind their peers in pre-school and primary school. Their self-esteem and ability to be resilient during tough times could be affected, which could have an impact on their future employment and marriages, and their own children's lives too, in future.

Mr Tan had acknowledged that inter-generational poverty exists here, and he wants to break that cycle.

Meanwhile, intervening earlier to help adults who show signs of financial struggle but do not qualify for aid schemes runs the risk of making them over-reliant on the Government for help.

A balance would need to be struck, as not intervening could incur high costs for their children and, ultimately, for the rest of society.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Proactive aid a balancing act'. Print Edition | Subscribe