SINGAPORE - People with special needs and their caregivers were hit especially hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, when they were cut off from special education school, early intervention and other support services.
To rally flagging spirits, one caregiver set up CaringSG as an informal support group for other caregivers who are struggling.
CaringSG was officially launched on Saturday (Nov 20), along with its first initiative Project 3i that aims to strengthen support for caregivers through three programmes - for the community, family and individual.
Caregivers in the programmes will be connected to other caregivers, volunteers and professionals, such as doctors and therapists, who will provide support.
Dr Lim Hong Huay, an epidemiologist and developmental paediatrician who has two children with autism, said she founded CaringSG to give back to the community.
"CaringSG was born out of the Covid-19 pandemic that cut off many special needs families from mainstream services... During the circuit breaker last year, many special education schools and early interventions had to stop their services and families were stuck at home," she said.
Special needs children, such as those with autism, had trouble coping with the change in routines, she added. Many caregivers also struggled with exhaustion, burnout and mental health issues.
"But (despite this) the community rallied. I got all my doctor friends and therapists I know to help," she said.
National Development Minister Desmond Lee, who was the guest of honour at the launch, said that caregivers need strong support as they devote their time and energy towards taking care of their loved ones, without asking for anything in return.
"But along the way, they face different challenges and strains. Their needs and those of their loved ones change across different stages of life," he said.
"CaringSG is unique because it is a ground-up organisation, set up and led by caregivers, for caregivers. So it has a deep understanding of the specific needs of caregivers, and can better support them."
For instance, the community programme called CAREconnect aims to equip caregivers with knowledge and social support, and help them build emotional resilience, by connecting them with others in the community.
Twenty-one volunteers under the programme have been trained on the needs of caregivers and how to interact with them and their families.
Ms Jacqueline Ang, 45, who has 19-year-old twins with autism, said the training has equipped her to help people with different special needs.
"I've been doing community work on top of my duty as caregiver for 15 years. I want to better serve my community, but I could only advise based on my own experience, (which is) limited," said Ms Ang, who is a senior system analyst.
She has learnt how to approach people with different special needs - for example, eye contact may not be necessary for those with autism, but it could be important for those with physical disabilities, like wheelchair users.
CAREconnect has about 1,400 members, of whom more than 1,000 are caregivers.
Under the programme for individuals, called CAREwell, professional volunteers - such as doctors, therapists and psychologists - have been supporting caregivers who are placed on quarantine or home recovery for Covid-19.