Debate on ministries’ budgets: Social and Family Development

Parliament: Families facing 'complex' issues to get better support

Geylang Serai Social Service Office has been piloting the video-conferencing service since December. By the end of this year, all 24 SSOs will offer financial, employment and housing services either through physical co-location of services or video c
Geylang Serai Social Service Office has been piloting the video-conferencing service since December. By the end of this year, all 24 SSOs will offer financial, employment and housing services either through physical co-location of services or video conferencing.ST FILE PHOTO

Social service delivery being strengthened to provide comprehensive help: Desmond Lee

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee yesterday outlined plans to better support families bogged down by "complex and often interlocking challenges" such as addiction, divorce, incarceration and illness.

To tackle this, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is beefing up social service delivery so that help can be given in a more comprehensive, convenient and coordinated manner, Mr Lee said in Parliament.

By the end of this year, all 24 Social Service Offices (SSO) islandwide, which administer the Government's financial aid schemes, will offer financial, employment and housing services either through physical co-location of services or video-conferencing facilities.

About 2,500 front-line officers from agencies like the Housing Board (HDB), Workforce Singapore, Singapore Police Force and the Agency for Integrated Care will be trained to better identify a client's needs and refer him to the relevant organisations, beyond just the agency the staff member works for.

This will be expanded over time to include more agencies, such as voluntary welfare organisations.

Mr Lee said: "We have worked out information-and data-sharing arrangements across agencies to reduce the administrative load on clients while ensuring that each agency has a holistic perspective of the family's circumstances."

For example, clients visiting an SSO can, through video conferencing, check the status of their rental flat application with the HDB, inquire about monetisation options such as the Lease Buyback Scheme or virtually link up with career coaches from NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute for job assistance.

CITIZENS NEED TO GET INVOLVED

Income inequality and social mobility are key issues in our time. We must tackle them effectively, to keep our society open, egalitarian and united.

At the Committee of Supply yesterday, Desmond Lee explained that as inequality has multiple causes, we must fight it on multiple fronts.

Four ministries - Ministry of Education, Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Social and Family Development - will work together, to improve existing initiatives and implement new programmes to help those who need help. They will provide multi-layered support for disadvantaged students, low-wage workers, families living in rental homes and vulnerable Singaporeans.

Citizens need to get involved too. We all need to be open, neighbourly and inclusive, regardless of income or status, to push back on social stratification. Every Singaporean, regardless of background, deserves the chance to succeed, to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, weighing in on income inequality and social mobility in a Facebook post last night, after four government ministries outlined their plans to tackle these issues in Parliament.

Two SSOs in Geylang Serai and Bedok started their pilot of the video-conferencing service last December.

The MSF will also start video-conferencing links with the Legal Aid Bureau for legal advisory services by the second quarter of the year at the SSOs in Boon Lay, Taman Jurong and Queenstown.

Mr Lee said: "Clients with complex problems are often asked to submit multiple documents or repeat their circumstances when they seek help. We should not let this be a barrier to them seeking help."

Ms Lim Hui Min, the Legal Aid Bureau's director, said the organisation was happy with the collaboration "so that low-income and vulnerable families can get legal advice more quickly and conveniently, at a location close to their homes".

 

Asked by Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) and Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) how the MSF is strengthening the last mile support for families, Mr Lee pointed to greater information sharing across different government agencies.

For example, families with young children on the ComCare financial aid schemes will, by the second half of the year, no longer have to submit multiple applications and will be automatically assessed for childcare subsidy and financial aid.

His ministry is also introducing a set of guidelines, called the Guidelines for Case Master Action Planning, to guide agencies and their staff by setting out good practices and protocols to help families facing complex problems.

About 200 agencies and 400 officers across seven towns are trained in these guidelines, which the MSF started rolling out this month.

Since last May, the MSF has started bringing together government agencies, charities and community partners to network to promote greater collaborations.

Mr Lee said: "Each agency and voluntary welfare organisation in the town is like a node and we seek to connect the various nodes through the SG Cares Community Network."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2019, with the headline 'Families facing 'complex' issues to get better support'. Print Edition | Subscribe