Circle of Care scheme helps track needy kids' health, development

Study shows it has positive impact like early intervention when needed to benefit children

A programme to help children from low-income families has had a positive impact, a study showed.

Children who had been through Circle of Care - a support initiative for pre-schoolers in various aspects such as healthcare and primary school transition - showed results. Among other benefits, the children were better able to participate in physical activities independently and pay attention in class.

Launched in 2018 by the National University Hospital's Khoo Teck Puat-National University Children's Medical Institute, the study found that the community health screening and health education efforts under the scheme brought the children significant benefits.

Circle of Care, first piloted in 2013, is run by Care Corner Singapore with support from the Lien Foundation and Quantedge Foundation. It brings together social workers, educators, therapists, health specialists and community partners to support pre-schoolers and primary school children from low-income families.

The study screened 147 children under the Circle of Care programme and 304 of their peers from the same pre-schools.

Announcing the findings on Tuesday, the study's principal investigator, Dr Chong Shang Chee, said: "There were really positive findings for (Circle of Care). This allowed us to remove some of the barriers to us reaching the children who were hard to reach."

"Designing such place-based health models for the hardest-to-reach children helps to enhance early detection of health and developmental issues and informs parents of changing practices," she added.

"Singaporean children enjoy high quality healthcare generally, but there are some children from disadvantaged backgrounds who stand to benefit from more timely and early intervention for their development needs."

The study, which also looked at the health habits of children from low-income families, found that they were getting poorer quality sleep than their peers despite having more hours of it.

They also had more screen time, less outdoor activity time, poorer dental health and less healthy eating habits.

Dr Chong, who also advises the Health Development Screening Programme at Circle of Care, noted that a majority of low-income parents were concerned about their children, with developmental needs, growth and nutrition as well as dental hygiene topping the list.

The study also found that there was a significant decrease in referral follow-ups for health issues picked up during health screening.

Despite 76.2 per cent of the children having issues, only 63.6 per cent followed through for polyclinic referrals, 40.4 per cent for child development referrals, 11.8 per cent for dental referrals and 15 per cent for specialist medical needs.

Some reasons included parents who were not contactable, those who felt it was too much hassle and others who felt their children were doing "fine".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2021, with the headline Circle of Care scheme helps track needy kids' health, development. Subscribe