Parliament: Front-line government officers to be trained to point individuals to all the help that they need

The Ministry of Social and Family Development is equipping front-line officers at government and community agencies with knowledge of a range of aid schemes beyond that of the agency they work for.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development is equipping front-line officers at government and community agencies with knowledge of a range of aid schemes beyond that of the agency they work for.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - If a person approaches a front-line officer for help, say, at the Housing Board or a social service office, the officer should be able to point him to the aid he needs, as well as more.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is beefing up the delivery of social services here and equipping front-line officers at government and community agencies with knowledge of a range of aid schemes beyond that of the agency they work for. This will help ensure that the person gets the help he needs.

In the debate on his ministry's budget on Wednesday (March 7), Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee outlined plans to make it easier for those in need to seek and receive help by getting different help agencies to share information and better coordinate their services.

He said: "As far as possible, they should not need to submit the same documents, repeat their circumstances, or fill in multiple application forms asking for similar information. This will help reduce the burden often faced by low-income individuals and households who may be in distress or urgent need."

The move is part of the national movement to foster a more caring society, called SG Cares.

Two other ministries are also pitching in to promote volunteerism and giving: The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) is encouraging more people to offer their time and energy, while the Health Ministry is building a system of volunteers to reach out to seniors.

Both Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong spoke on Wednesday about their ministries' plans for SG Cares. Speaker of the House Tan Chuan-Jin said it was significant to see three different ministers from three different ministries speak on the same topic.

For example, the Government has brought various social service agencies together, led by a central coordinator, in pilot projects in Bedok and Jurong East to serve seniors in various ways. These include providing rehabilitation services, visiting seniors at home and engaging them in recreational activities. The MCCY plans to replicate this model in other towns.

In his speech, Mr Lee also announced that MSF will make it easier for people to apply for aid schemes from the second half of the year.

Institute of Technical Education students whose families get financial aid from the Government's ComCare scheme will be assessed if they qualify for bursaries, without them having to apply for them.

The MSF and the Ministry of Education (MOE) will also extend this service to students in other schools, polytechnics and universities.

For mothers or single parents who are employed or seeking work and getting Comcare help, the MSF will automatically assess their eligibility to get additional childcare subsidies and other financial aid when they enrol their child into childcare, without them having to apply for such aid.

The MSF plans to roll out this initiative later this year.

On top of that, the MSF will continue to boost coordination between the different agencies so that help-seekers and their family members get their different problems attended to in a more holistic manner.

To this end, the MSF, MOE and family service centres have come up with a referral system, so that schools know when and how to refer students or their families who need help, for example, to a family service centre for counselling or a social service office for financial aid.

The ministries have started rolling out this referral protocol and it will be introduced in all schools here by the end of the year.

Mr Lee was responding to Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) and Mr Amrin Amin (Sembawang GRC), who spoke about the need to provide help in a more holistic manner to disadvantaged families, who may face a host of complex problems.

To make it more convenient for help-seekers who need to apply for different schemes from different agencies, the MSF is looking at locating complementary services, such as family service centres providing counselling and other aid to families, and social service offices providing financial aid, at the same location.

The ministry is also exploring the use of video-conferencing for people on ComCare schemes to consult officers from other agencies, such as the Housing Board, from a social service office to make it easier for them, instead of them having to run around to get their queries attended to.

In his speech, Mr Lee stressed the need for Singaporeans to offer mutual help and support.

He said: "Ultimately, I hope all Singaporeans will recognise that the success of SG Cares rests on an important truth. That is: We are all responsible for each other. None of us got to where we are purely on our own. We must recognise this and pay it forward."