New centre to focus on improving physical, mental health of young children in S'pore

The centre aims to work with organisations like the Health Promotion Board, social service agencies, preschools, among others. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - A new research centre set up by Lien Foundation and National University of Singapore medical school will study how best to improve the physical and mental health of young children.

The Centre for Holistic Initiatives for Learning and Development or Child will bring together experts from across a range of disciplines, including health, education, sociology, psychology, artificial intelligence, and data analytics.

The experts will focus and build on research from the Growing Up In Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes or Gusto study to provide data on mothers and children for community partners and policymakers.

Child, which is being set up with $30 million in funding from the Lien Foundation, will also work closely with the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Centre for Evidence and Implementation, and A*Star's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences.

It will be launched officially on Friday (July 30).

The centre is the first of its kind in Asia, and aims to work with organisations like the Health Promotion Board, social service agencies, preschools, among others.

It will also will bring together professionals from different industries like scientists, researchers and policymakers, and help translate research into policy.

One key plank will be to see how health screening for children in Singapore can be improved so that those at risk of developmental and mental health concerns can be identified early and they get the help they need.

Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah, in a statement on Wednesday, said: "In a time of rapid social and technological change, we believe the convergence of disciplines and collaborative talents will inspire and propel new ways of uplifting the early childhood ecosystem."

Professor Chong Yap Seng, dean of the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, in a virtual media briefing on Wednesday, said the centre's work will be available to the public.

Prof Chong, who is also executive director of the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) at A*Star, said: "The idea here is that Child is not in the business of delivering these services ourselves, we are delivering information and sharing best practices to people who are delivering services to children."

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Child has put out two research briefs so far, on maternal mental health and the impact of digital media use on the brain development of children.

Both reports draw on a collaborative research effort called Gusto, which has been put together by the National University Health System, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, and SICS as well as international researchers.

Clinical psychiatrist Carol Balhetchet, who specialises in issues involving family, youth and children, said: "It's good that a centre like this is coming up.

"It's very useful because we really need more research in a lot of topics concerning the well-being of children in Singapore."

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