To give disadvantaged children a leg-up, the Government will spend more than $20 million on learning, developmental and health programmes for those aged up to six.
Young children who live in rental flats can also soon move into a two- room home of their own when their parents get a housing grant of up to $35,000 for their flat.
These announcements were made by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday during his Budget speech in Parliament.
The pilot scheme for development programmes, called KidStart, will benefit about 1,000 children in the first six years of their lives.
Mr Heng said: "There is extensive research which shows that the experiences in the early years of a child's life significantly influence his physical, cognitive and social development... There is a small group of parents who may need more support to give their children a good start in life."
Hence, KidStart will draw on government and community resources to develop programmes for these children to get learning, developmental and health support.
Maximumgrant for the Fresh Start
"We will develop approaches that work best in the Singaporean context," said the minister.
For families with young children who live in rental flats, the Government will give a grant of up to $35,000 under the Fresh Start Housing Scheme.
The scheme was announced last year by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech. It is meant to help families who owned a flat but sold it and moved into a public rental flat. As they would have received a housing subsidy before, they are no longer eligible for first-timer housing grants.
The Fresh Start Housing Scheme changes that, allowing these families to get a grant to buy a two-room flat with a shorter lease, which makes it more affordable.
But there are caveats. "Families will need to demonstrate effort, for example, by staying employed and making sure their children attend school," said Mr Heng.
Both announcements were lauded by social workers, who felt that children should not lose out because of their birth circumstances.
While details on KidStart are scant right now, Fei Yue Family Service Centre principal social worker Petrine Lim hopes it will target low-income families, "especially when they have limited means to make sure their children receive an equal chance to develop mentally, socially and physically".
She suggested that the programme teach parenting skills. "If you just target the children, when they return to their families after the programmes, their parents might not follow up. Also, what would happen after they turn six?"
AWWA Family Service Centre director Edwin Yim suggested that KidStart look at helping parents form attachment to their children.
"When you have that attachment as an adult caregiver or parent, you will tend to seek help to provide for your child, to follow through with vaccinations and ensure your child goes to nursery and childcare.
"The belief is that the education system works, but there are children who are not accessing it."