$13 million boost over next five years for Circle of Care scheme for disadvantaged children

Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah (left) with Care Corner chief executive Yap Poh Kheng. The Circle of Care scheme was launched by Lien Foundation and Care Corner Singapore in 2013.

SINGAPORE - A programme that aims to build strong support systems around disadvantaged children in Singapore will get an injection of nearly $13 million and expand to more areas in the next five years.

Called the Circle of Care scheme, it was launched in 2013 by Lien Foundation and Care Corner Singapore and brings together educators, social workers, therapists, health professionals and community partners, to support underprivileged children in partner schools.

As it enters its third phase, it will receive a substantial financial boost of almost $13 million over the next five years. The Lien Foundation will contribute $10 million, Care Corner will contribute $750,000, while new partner Quantedge Foundation will donate $2 million.

This will more than double its current investment, which is $6.14 million.

Mr Yap Poh Kheng, chief executive of Care Corner, announced on Wednesday (May 23) that the scheme will grow its network from the current 10 pre-schools and two primary schools, to 30 pre-schools and seven primary schools by 2023.

The schools will be grouped into three clusters - Queenstown, Taman Jurong and Woodlands - which have been identified based on the number of rental flats and low-income families in the area, said Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah.

Pre-schools selected for the scheme have to meet the condition of having at least 10 per cent of each cohort from low-income families. Mr Lee said that for some of the pre-schools, this proportion is as high as 50 per cent, a figure he described as "staggering".

The Circle of Care scheme has also roped in the National University Hospital (NUH) to address the health development aspects of children at risk.

Dr Chong Shang Chee, head of the Child Development Unit in the Development and Behavioural Paediatrics division of NUH, said it has identified some health issues that need to be addressed as a priority, such as poor dietary habits and poor dental health.

A health screening team has started conducting health and development screening at the pre-schools under the scheme, and there will be a structured way to identify those children who need further attention, said Dr Chong.

"We hope to get them to healthcare providers in a faster way, by having the social workers help them get appointments, such as at polyclinics or other specialist clinics if necessary," she added.

The Circle of Care scheme will also tap the expertise of the Centre for Evidence and Implementation in Australia and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill, to develop the skills of its social workers and pre-school staff.

Ms Tan Lee Jee, assistant CEO of pre-school services at PAP Community Foundation (PCF), which operates more than 350 pre-schools, said the scheme not only helps the children, but also benefits the teachers as it helps them handle challenges on top of teaching.

PCF currently has four pre-schools under the scheme, with eight more expected to be added by 2021.

"It's different from just teaching," said Ms Tan. "There's also the additional dimension of working with and supporting parents, the social work element, the health element."

The expansion of the Circle of Care scheme follows the Government's renewed commitment to tackle social inequality.

Mr Lee said there is currently no national consensus on how best to level the education playing field here.

"Right now, our education system encourages people to compete and win. I think we need to change that. There needs to be a genuine emphasis on developing every child, whatever their ability, to their full human potential," he said.

"At the national level, this is really about developing your limited human resource to compete with the rest of the world. So we need to pay attention to all these vulnerable kids," he added.

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