More social workers at family service centres

The number of social workers at family service centres has increased even as the amount of cases they take on stayed roughly the same.

There were 588 such workers in 2017, 680 in 2018, and 706 last year - a 20 per cent increase in three years. These centres help low-income and vulnerable people.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said this amounts to about 15 social workers last year per centre, though numbers vary depending on the size and needs of the area the centre serves.

These were among statistics released in replies to written Parliamentary questions on help for low-income people, raised by Nominated MP Anthea Ong on Monday.

She asked Mr Lee if family service centres can sufficiently meet needs, especially when cases spike during crises like the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the caseload varies across centres but is generally stable from quarter to quarter, with about 350 clients on average annually per centre. Each social worker had 23 cases on average in 2017, 25 in 2018 and 22 last year, with cases distributed according to each centre's needs.

He added that his ministry has been in regular contact with the centres during the current crisis and issues advisories on precautionary measures to them.

It also gives more funding to centres that deal with "complex and high-risk cases" so they can hire more staff if needed.

Apart from Budget measures, family service centres - as National Council of Social Service member agencies - can claim $3,000 from the Community Chest to cope with expenses related to the pandemic.

Ms Ong also asked Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong about rent arrears among families living in public rental flats and the help given to them.

He said about 5,200 such households - or one in 10 - have not paid rent on time, of which about three in four owe less than $3,000. About half owe less than one year's rent.

HDB has helped 159 families who wanted to ease their rent move from two-to one-room flats in the last three years. The "vast majority" of these families had four or less people, said Mr Wong.

He added that the Housing Board seeks to understand families' individual circumstances and refers those who need financial aid to social service offices.

Upon appeal, HDB cuts rent for families that have changes in financial situation, like a drop in income. Tenants who need more time are allowed to pay arrears in instalments.

He added that the termination of tenancies is taken only as a last resort and "would not be solely due to the accumulation of rent arrears".

There has only been one such termination in the last three years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2020, with the headline 'More social workers at family service centres'. Print Edition | Subscribe