New after-school care centre for special needs children opens, giving caregivers some relief

Volunteer Nagakalishwari Ramesh and training officer Nurimah Ghani helping Minds students Amanda Wang (right), nine, Vicky Chew (left), 12, and Roy Hong, 17, with their glitter art during the official opening of Minds Raintree, a special student care centre on Sept 5, 2019. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - For the past nine years, Madam Ng Beng Tiaw, 68, has been the main caregiver for her teenage granddaughter who has special needs.

Although Madam Ng's husband and an adult son live in their Choa Chu Kang flat as well, the retiree was often left juggling housework and caring for Lee Xin Hui by herself.

The 15-year-old has Global Developmental Delay (GDD), a condition where a child has delays in his physical and cognitive development, which can include speech skills, and emotional and social development.

Since February this year, Xin Hui has been able to spend time at a new after-school care centre for children with special needs, which is located in the Minds Woodlands Gardens School compound.

For Madam Ng, it means she can now spend her afternoons resting and relaxing.

Xin Hui is one of 23 students attending the centre run by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds), which was officially opened on Thursday (Sept 5). It first began operations on Jan 2 this year.

Besides providing before-and-after school care for special needs children aged seven to 18, Minds Raintree tailors learning programmes to their needs - from cooking and the arts to critical thinking skills.

The educational and enrichment programmes are also planned to complement the school's structured curriculum, thus reinforcing the skills and knowledge taught at school, said Minds deputy chief executive Koh Gee May. It is the first such centre by Minds.

Madam Ng became the main caregiver for Xin Hui and her 14-year-old sister after their parents divorced around 2009, but had to devote even more time when the girls' father died last year.

"She used to cry every morning and refused to get out of bed. She would also be uncomfortable in crowded places like foodcourts, but since attending the centre, she is happier and more confident," said Madam Ng.

Programmes at the centre have helped her socialise and develop confidence, added Madam Ng.

The teen attends the Minds Woodlands Gardens School from 7.45am and Minds Raintree from 12.15pm, where she is looked after until 5.30pm.

"Now I have at least four hours every day to rest and read my magazines," said Madam Ng.

Fees cost $832 every month but Madam Ng said 70 per cent of the cost is subsidised in Xin Hui's case.

She had been looking to enrol her granddaughter into an after-school care centre for three years, but many could not take her in because of her special needs.

The centre has been a godsend for Ms Ruhama Halimi as well, who is the main caregiver for her 12-year-old son, who also has GDD.

Ms Ruhama Halimi and her son Iqbal Syabil at MINDS Raintree. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

"It's really not easy and it can be stressful especially for a single mother," said Ms Ruhama, 47, who works as a school librarian and has another 14-year-old daughter.

But after son Iqbal Syabil, also a student at Minds Woodlands Gardens School, started attending the care centre from February, Ms Ruhama said that she has had more time to rest and focus on her work.

Said Ms Koh: "The idea in opening a special student care centre was mooted years ago as we noticed that there were a lot of caregivers in Minds who have no additional caregiver support, and had to give up their jobs with regular working schedules to care for their children with special needs."

Minds Raintree is the sixth care centre in Singapore for children with special needs.

Others include the Association For Persons with Special Needs Student Care Centre in Ang Mo Kio.

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