SINGAPORE - A government pilot programme to help disadvantaged children up to the age of six will be expanded to benefit another 5,000 children over the next three years said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 18).
KidStart, led by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), was rolled out in the second half of 2016, targeting children from low-income families in Bukit Merah, Kreta Ayer, Boon Lay, Taman Jurong and Geylang Serai.
The programme provides advice and support to families in various aspects such as nutrition, child development and parent-child interaction to enable them to have a good start in life. Research has shown that a child's early years can significantly influence his development.
About 1,000 children have benefited so far from the $20 million trial.
"We are very happy with the results, and so are the parents," said PM Lee.
"I am confident we are on the right track.
"We still need to follow up a few more years, to assess more exactly its benefits.
"But for each new cohort of babies, there is no time to lose."
After the expansion, "we will take stock again how to expand KidStart further", he said.
The scheme, which was first announced in 2016, is part of government efforts since 2012 to raise the quality, accessibility and affordability of pre-schools.
There are three components to KidStart - regular home visits, weekly community-based sessions and enhanced pre-school support.
ECDA partners hospitals, social service offices, family service centres and other agencies to identify families who can benefit from the scheme.
The home visits provide parents with knowledge on child growth and development and health and nutrition. Regular screenings of the child's development and maternal well-being are also conducted to identify and treat issues early.
The community-based sessions help parents and caregivers build up skills in child development and parent-child bonding through an evidence-based curricula of structured and purposeful play.
Selected pre-schools are also provided with additional resources to improve support and engagement with parents, and to improve the child's school readiness.
Two families who have benefited from KidStart were mentioned in a video shown at the rally.
Mr Mustakem Mohamed, 46, has two daughters aged five and seven. The two girls have additional learning needs such as slower speech development. The single parent said that he used to struggle with disciplining his children.
"I used to shoot rubber bands at them to discipline them when they didn't listen to me," said the private-hire car driver with Grab.
"KidStart taught me to be more patient, keep eye contact with them, and discipline them by telling them what is right and what is wrong," he added.
The programme also taught him to use songs to teach the girls to wash their hands and brush their teeth.
For Madam Jenny Ooi, 38, her sons Javier, six, and Kevier, three, could not adjust well in pre-school, often crying and refusing to take part in class activities.
She and her husband run a chicken rice stall in Taman Jurong, and the children did not attend pre-school regularly because they had trouble settling in.
Madam Ooi said the KidStart programme helped to increase her children's confidence and they are now settling in well in pre-school and attend school regularly.