ComLink to be expanded nationwide to support low-income families in 21 towns

The programme will be expanded to cover all 14,000 families with children who live in highly subsidised rental housing. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - The Community Link (ComLink) programme, which provides comprehensive and coordinated support to low-income families, will be expanded nationwide to 21 towns over two years to cover all 14,000 families with children who live in highly subsidised rental housing.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) piloted the programme in 2019 in four areas - Boon Lay, Marsiling, Kembangan-Chai Chee and Jalan Kukoh - to better support families living in rental flats who often face a host of problems. Since its launch, the programme has supported 1,000 families.

For example, in each ComLink town, MSF's Social Service Office (SSO) leads a ComLink alliance, comprising government agencies, companies and community partners. The alliance seeks to better coordinate and manage the families' different needs and offer customised services and support to them, among other things.

"Instead of waiting for households to seek help, we proactively reached out to families with young children who are living in rental housing to understand their needs and aspirations," said Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration Desmond Lee during the debate on MSF's budget on Friday (March 5).

"Community partners come together to coordinate support for families with complex issues. We came up with common action plans and journeyed with families to support them in achieving their goals."

He cited the example of a divorcee known as Theresa. The 45-year-old has two sons, aged six and seven, and she once had problems holding down a job because of the problems she faced. But through ComLink, her social worker and others worked out a plan to help her improve her life.

She now works as a childcare teacher assistant and her sons attend free literacy and robotics classes run by School of Concepts and Preschool Market. Theresa also receives financial aid for her sons' childcare and student care fees.

Mr Lee was replying to Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman (Marine Parade GRC) and Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC) who asked about ComLink.

He said at the four current ComLink towns, about 250 families currently benefit from 59 programmes ranging from tuition classes to employment coaching and health services for adults.

In respond to MPs such as Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) who asked about the delivery of social services, Mr Lee said MSF has been working with other government and community agencies to strengthen the delivery of services and to streamline the application process for applicants.

This is done through building the capabilities of officers working with vulnerable families, improving work processes, leveraging technology and strengthening networks among the various groups working in a particular area, among other things.

For example, MSF taps technology to improve data sharing between different agencies. With the One Client View platform, which was rolled out in February, applicants do not have to submit the same documents for different applications such as for rental housing and ComCare financial assistance. They just need to consent for the different agencies to retrieve the information from the platform.

In 2019, MSF set up a Social Service Systems Office, which supports and resolves complex cases. For example, these families may have issues that cut across different agencies or issues that are not covered by the conventional policy boundaries.

Coordinators in agencies such as the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, the Manpower Ministry and the HDB work with the Social Service Systems Office to exercise policy flexibility in complex cases and ensure that the families are supported holistically across the various agencies.

To date, the Social Service Systems Office and the SSOs have supported some 160 complex cases that agencies had difficulties resolving on their own and might have remained "stuck" for a long period, said MSF.

In the debate on his ministry's budget, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli also spoke of the MSF's plans to build a stronger social compact in areas such as helping individuals bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic and helping social service sector to emerge stronger from the pandemic.

He said: "The tried and tested solutions of the past needs revisiting... We must keep opportunities alive for all Singaporeans to ensure social mobility. It cannot be only for those who have the resources, but for everyone, regardless of where they start off in life and where they are today. We must get this right, no matter how difficult.

"Because if we fail, Singapore will go down the path of becoming a fractured and disunited nation."

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