Support for young families, special needs caregivers among ideas for family plan

An engagement session co-organised by the People's Association and Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

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

They were raised to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in a run of 10 engagement sessions it organised in June and July under the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships (Afam), to help the ministry develop the Made for Families plan.

Unveiled by Minister of Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli during the Budget debate in March and slated for release this November, the plan will set out Singapore society's commitment and support for families.

Asked on Saturday (July 30) what Singaporeans can look forward to in the plan, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said single parents may face time and financial constraints, despite aspiring to be the best parent they can.

She said families and even neighbours may often provide support to these parents, but added: "(We) recognise that if you are able to help single parents in such instances, 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 on Saturday morning, which the People's Association (PA) co-organised with Afam.

In all, more than 600 people, including experts, participated in the engagement sessions for the plan, called the Celebrating SG Families Plan when announced in March.

The first session, on June 27, was held by Afam with more than 40 representatives from faith groups, and the second involved various social service agencies.

The remaining eight sessions, which were co-organised either with the PA, Fei Yue Community Services, Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities or ethnic self-help groups, involved Singaporean families.

Ms Sun, who leads Afam, also said that there were many suggestions made about how to support young couples.

For instance, "more social service agencies, as well as the faith communities, wanted to come on board and see how they could further (improve) outreach when it comes to pre-marriage counselling and pre-marriage preparation courses", she said.

Among the participants in earlier sessions was Mr Kelvin Koh, chief executive of social service agency Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore.

Mr Koh said that the most pressing gaps lie in addressing the three main fears families of the intellectually disabled have: their living arrangements, educational pathway, and integration into the community.

More can be done to help people with intellectual disabilities to live as independently as possible while together with their families, rather than being enrolled into institutionalised care.

He added: "Evidence has also suggested if you prematurely enroll a person with intellectual disabilities into institutional care, their condition will regress very quickly."

Mr Koh also said family members of the intellectually disabled also express 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.

Representing her family in the penultimate engagement session on Saturday morning was Ms Pauline Sim, 59, a human resources director.

Ms Pauline Sim represented her family in the penultimate engagement session on July 30, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Married with two daughters aged 28 and 30, she said what struck a chord with her during the session was discussion about lesser face time between family members, something she experienced herself while volunteering with the PA.

She gave this advice: "We may not have a lot of time, but in the little bit of downtime, focus your attention on each other and spend time together mindfully."

Summing up the spirit of the engagement, Ms Sun said: "(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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