Parliament: MPs call for dedicated agency for underprivileged children, greater social support for vulnerable persons

Children in Singapore already have a right to living necessities, education and healthcare. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A specialised children's agency and beefed-up counselling resources were some of the proposals to help vulnerable individuals put forth by MPs on Wednesday (Oct 14).

Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC) called for an equivalent of the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) - which supports seniors and their caregivers - to supervise, mentor and foster underprivileged kids.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), meanwhile, suggested that the Government support vulnerable families by channelling more resources into counselling services and mutual support networks backed by experienced professionals and other community partners.

Both were speaking at a debate on the Government's Covid-19 strategy as outlined by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Oct 5.

Mr Wee, a first-term MP, noted that children in Singapore already have a right to living necessities, education and healthcare.

"What we need is effective oversight for children in low-income families to ensure that they are receiving these essentials," he said. "In a knowledge-intensive future, these children will not stand a chance if they live in overcrowded flats with access to borrowed equipment, limited or slow connectivity, and minimal adult supervision and guidance."

The state must be prepared to intervene more, and the earlier the better, said Mr Wee.

'Watch our children as we would our reserves'

"For example, if the adults in the families pass away or are imprisoned, the state must step in to protect and provide for these kids. Children unaccounted for must be traced. Schools should alert relevant agencies when children do not seem to cope well," he observed.

"Protecting them, helping them, lifting them up will prevent a future group of potential permanent underclass. We should watch over all our children as zealously as we would over our reserves.

"Within 10 to 20 years, we will be able to see the fruits of our efforts… we can boost literacy and education levels, reduce crime and recidivism rates, and improve health outcomes," Mr Wee concluded.

Speaking after him, Ms Pereira emphasised the importance of the Government letting vulnerable families know that they are not alone, by creating networks for them to get tips and encouragement from professionals and community partners alike.

She also urged additional help for the "sandwiched" class - in particular young families with parents who might have been starting out in their careers when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

"I hope the Government will consider providing higher subsidies for their children's medical and insurance expenses, including some support for expenditure for the third child onwards," said Ms Pereira, who also works at Temasek Cares, the philanthropic arm of state fund Temasek Holdings.

Earlier, Ms Cheryl Chan (East Coast GRC) had also highlighted the need to aid vulnerable groups such as low-wage workers, seniors and the special needs community. She observed that several of these individuals had held jobs as essential and front-line workers during the pandemic, and those in service industries might have been displaced during the circuit breaker earlier this year.

"The larger impact they face goes beyond income, as a daily routine has really become disrupted. And this... has a huge impact on (their) mental state, especially for those with special needs," said Ms Chan.

"With the new and future economy, can we find avenues for more micro jobs to be created for not only the seniors, but also the special needs adults?" she asked. "With wider acceptance of remote working, this model… can well be adapted to support the special needs community."

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