Social workers receive award for selfless work, community contributions

Ms Karen Kwa, a senior principal medical social worker at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, received the Outstanding Social Worker Award on Nov 18, 2022. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - After a hospital patient on respiratory support expressed his longing to go back to his family, Ms Karen Kwa became motivated to find a way for such patients to be cared for at home.

The medical social worker, 44, co-led the team that developed the Home Ventilation and Respiratory Support Service in 2009, which lets patients receive the required ventilation support they need at home.

The service also helps to free up intensive care unit beds for more needy patients, improving overall hospital capacity.

On Friday, the senior principal medical social worker at Tan Tock Seng Hospital received the Outstanding Social Worker Award, the highest accolade conferred to social workers in Singapore.

The 23rd Outstanding Social Worker Award ceremony, which was held at the Istana, also recognised two other social workers with the Promising Social Worker Award to celebrate newer workers who have made a positive social impact.

Ms Kwa said she was inspired at a young age to make helping others her profession after hearing stories of how her father helped inmates while working in the prison service.

Feeling tired on some days is inevitable, said the social worker of more than 20 years, but what keeps her going is serving people. “Knowing that big or small things I do can help to make a difference in their lives certainly helps me recognise the value of my work.”

President Halimah Yacob, who was guest of honour at the ceremony, said social workers are at the heart of our community, and need to adapt to an ever-changing landscape. “In the coming years, we will confront geopolitical uncertainties, inflationary pressures and technological disruption. Domestically, we will face a rapidly ageing population and slowing social mobility.

“Social workers will continue to play an important role to uplift individuals and families in need.”

Madam Halimah said this year’s award recipients exemplify how social workers are forward-thinking and future-ready in supporting those in need, spearheading impactful projects to better deliver care to clients.

The award is organised by the Singapore Association of Social Workers and supported by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and ExxonMobil Asia Pacific.

Assistant senior social worker and assistant manager at Fei Yue Community Services Janet Liam received the Promising Social Worker Award on Friday. She works with offenders, former offenders, and their families after making the switch to social work from administrative work five years ago. She knew that a nine-to-five office job did not suit her, and wanted to tap her strengths as a good listener.

Ms Janet Liam received the Promising Social Worker Award. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

After speaking to some pregnant inmates, she realised that there was a gap in support for these women who expressed anxiety and fear about decision-making and motherhood.

Ms Liam, 35, led Project Baby in 2020 – a programme that better supports incarcerated pregnant women in understanding care options for their unborn child, and provides strong emotional support for them through their motherhood journey.

She said: “We wanted to create a programme that best meets their needs, not just in terms of caregiving plans but also their emotional well-being, and create a safe space for them to share their challenges as a mother – on top of being in a prison environment.”

Senior social worker at Touch Community Services Peggy Lim, who works with children and young people, also received the Promising Social Worker Award. Ms Lim, 30, developed a mental health intervention project that utilises technology such as virtual reality to teach young people how to better regulate their emotions and enhance their mental well-being.

Ms Peggy Lim received the Promising Social Worker Award. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Ms Kwa’s advice to new social workers is to keep the same fiery spirit and passion that they had when first starting out, no matter how much their idea of helping others may be challenged along the way.

Ms Liam said: “Knowing how to draw boundaries is important. Many times we shoulder our clients’ problems, and that may result in burnout.”

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