Help for special needs carers, single parents mooted for MSF family plan

Ideas from engagement sessions to help craft policies for a more family-friendly Singapore

More help for families of people with intellectual disabilities, destigmatising existing marital support programmes, and affordable childcare for single parents are among suggestions mooted by the public and various groups for a more family-friendly Singapore.

They were put forward to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in 10 engagement sessions under the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships (Afam), to help it develop the Made for Families plan.

Announced during the Budget debate in March and slated for release in November, the plan will set out Singapore society's commitment and support for families.

In response to questions, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said single parents may face time and financial constraints.

Families and neighbours may often provide support to them, she said, but "we recognise that if you are able to help single parents... it will enable them to get to a stable and sustained path so that they are best equipped and empowered to take care of (their children)".

Policies that may help single parents do so include more affordable childcare services, she said.

Ms Sun attended the ninth session co-organised with the People's Association (PA).

In all, over 600 people, including experts, participated in the sessions for the plan, originally called the Celebrating SG Families Plan.

The first session, on June 27, was held with representatives from faith groups, and the second involved social service agencies.

The other eight sessions - co-organised with the PA, Fei Yue Community Services, Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities, or ethnic self-help groups - involved local families.

Ms Sun, who leads Afam, also said many suggestions were made on how to support young couples, such as improving outreach for pre-marriage counselling and preparation courses.

Mr Kelvin Koh, chief executive of social service agency Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore, was among the participants.

He said the most pressing gaps lie in addressing the three main fears that families of those with intellectual disabilities have: living arrangements, educational pathways, and integration into the community.

More can be done to help people with intellectual disabilities live as independently as possible while with their families. Mr Koh said: "Evidence has also suggested that if you prematurely enrol a person with intellectual disabilities into institutional care, their condition will regress very quickly."

He noted that family members of those with intellectual disabilities also worry about learning opportunities after the end of formal special needs education at 18 years old, even though they can continue to learn vocational skills.

Meanwhile, Ms Joyce Hope Ang, group head of the integrated family group at Touch Community Services, said normalising relationship-building programmes as a tool to prevent, rather than heal, conflicts in marriage is one thing she hopes the plan will address.

Ms Pauline Sim, 59, a human resources director, represented her family at the Saturday morning session. Married with two daughters, aged 28 and 30, she was struck by a discussion about less face time between family members.

She advised: "We may not have a lot of time, but in the little bit of downtime, focus your attention on one another and spend time together mindfully."

Said Ms Sun: "(While) we want to celebrate families and support families, we recognise that families come in all shapes and forms and the support we give... will need to take different formats."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2022, with the headline Help for special needs carers, single parents mooted for MSF family plan. Subscribe