New training for front-line workers, volunteers to help lower-income families with finances

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli (centre) at the event where the new curriculum was announced. PHOTO: NUS

SINGAPORE - Front-line officers and volunteers such as prison officers and ComLink befriender volunteers who work with lower-income groups will be getting training on how to help their clients plan their finances.

This may include helping them find more stable financial footing, for instance in moving from renting to buying their own home.

The curriculum is being developed by the Next Age Institute (NAI) - a partnership between the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Washington University in St Louis in the United States - and supported by Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Citigroup.

It builds on an existing programme, the Singapore Financial Capability and Asset Building (SG FCAB)-Social Work Training programme, which was rolled out by the NUS social work department in 2020.

Under that programme, more than 250 social workers and 150 social work students have been trained to provide guidance on matters such as managing cash, budgets, credit, debt and savings. Topics covered include managing household finances and debt.

NUS aims to train 200 more social workers by June next year, as well as pilot the new SG FCAB-Frontline Training curriculum with 60 front-line staff and volunteers in the fourth quarter of this year, before a formal roll-out next June.

This was announced in an event at the NUS Society Kent Ridge Guild House on Friday (June 17). Speaking at the event, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said the goal was to help lower-income families overcome challenges and achieve the "3S" - stability, self-reliance and social mobility.

"For example, some may find it difficult to plan their finances if their income flows are uncertain or insufficient for their household expenditure. Others may face a bandwidth tax in juggling daily expenses," he said.

"Yet, achieving financial stability is even more important for them, because it's a necessary condition and enabler for social mobility.

"Hence to enable families to achieve the 3S, we need to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to make informed financial decisions."

Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon, co-director of NAI, said the upcoming programme aims to provide continued support to lower-income families beyond what is done by social workers.

"Low-income individuals and families, who have worked through their social and financial vulnerabilities with the support of social workers, can continue to work with front-line staff and volunteers as part of the wider support system network to achieve their aspiration," she said.

Set up in 2015, NAI studies, designs and tests social innovations to address the challenges and opportunities presented by social trends such as an ageing population.

Adjunct Associate Professor Corinne Ghoh, SG FCAB-Frontline project lead at NAI, said the course highlights the importance of listening, understanding and building trust with the families, over simply prescribing solutions to them.

"This enables them to become more in control of their circumstances and helps them develop increased financial functioning to achieve their goals," she said.

Ms Grace Xu, head of the social work team at Awwa Transitional Shelter, who attended the SG FCAB training in 2020, said she learnt to devise clear action plans with the families she works with, when previously she was not as sure of how to help them with their finances in a systematic way.

The course also opened her eyes to dealing with issues like bankruptcy, she said. "In the past, we only knew it was something we want to avoid, but through the course, we learnt about the alternatives to it, like debt repayment schemes and credit counselling," she added.

"This was useful as we had a case where the client actually didn't need to apply for bankruptcy, as there was an instalment repayment scheme."

Citi Foundation has awarded a grant of US$330,000 (S$458,000) towards the development of the SG FCAB-Frontline Training curriculum and the training of 200 more social workers until June next year.

It had awarded grants totalling US$630,000 from 2017 to 2021 to develop and roll out the SG FCAB-Social Work Training programme.

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