Stronger inter-agency tie-ups can better help at-risk families

Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School students coming and going on Jan 17, 2019.
Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School students coming and going on Jan 17, 2019.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

I applaud the Ministry of Education's (MOE) move in convening the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (Uplift) to strengthen support for underperforming and at-risk students.

If the recommendations address the underlying issues faced by disadvantaged families, this could act as a catalyst in tackling social inequality. Disadvantaged families often face complex multi-layered challenges, where providing only financial assistance will do little to help them escape the poverty cycle.

Even with the current welfare system, many still experience great difficulties and challenges in upward mobility. It is therefore heartening to note that the ministry is looking beyond that to provide more comprehensive support to these families. Nonetheless, inter-agency collaborations can be further strengthened to better link up at-risk families to various agencies and organisations. This will provide a more holistic approach in tackling the range of issues faced by these families.

Currently, grassroots organisations have their own programmes to help disadvantaged families. Most of the support involves providing financial aid such as vouchers and bursaries as well as food packages.

While such initiatives achieve the aim of helping families to defray their daily expenses, other issues, such as education, health and other forms of necessary support are not being adequately addressed.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development can work together with MOE and the People's Association in linking up not just agencies, but also community organisations to provide other services, such as tutoring and health-related support.

Schools can act as a key touch point in identifying at-risk students and families, and refer them to the various agencies and grassroots organisations.

Also, the qualifying income criteria for welfare programmes run by the ministries, grassroots and voluntary welfare organisations should be standardised so that families can receive support for the various complex issues they face.

A system can be put in place to better coordinate the work of all stakeholders. This multi-pronged approach can better enhance the recommendations that will be made by Uplift.

Sim Dian Chye

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2019, with the headline 'Stronger inter-agency tie-ups can better help at-risk families'. Print Edition | Subscribe