Winner of top social worker award went against mother's wish for her to become a teacher

Ms Melissa Chew, winner of the Outstanding Social Worker Award this year, has made a difference in the lives of many. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - If her mother had her way years ago, Ms Melissa Chew, 38, would not be a social worker today.

Her mum, a cleaner, wanted the younger of her two children to be a teacher as she felt teaching offered better career prospects. But her dad, a retired driver, supported her decision to study social work at the National University of Singapore.

Ms Chew, principal medical social worker at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said: "I went against my mum's wish for the first time in my life."

But the social worker of 15 years has gone on to make a difference in the lives of many and is the winner of the Outstanding Social Worker Award this year.

On Friday (Nov 16), Ms Chew received the award - the highest honour for social workers - from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana.

Three others were given the Promising Social Worker Award - Ms Tay Yu Ping, 28, acting senior social worker at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) Woodlands Gardens School, Ms Zoe Tee, 26, senior probation officer at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Mr Benjamin Yeo, 31, senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services.

Besides touching the lives of her patients, Ms Chew also spearheaded an initiative to reduce the waiting time - as the wait often leads to more anxiety - for patients who are ready to be transferred from hospital to nursing home.

(From left) Senior probation officer at the Ministry of Social and Family Development Ms Zoe Tee, senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services Mr Benjamin Yeo, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, President Halimah Yacob, Outstanding Social Worker Award recipient Ms Melissa Chew, and acting senior social worker at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore Woodlands Gardens Schoo Ms Tay Yu Ping at the Istana on Nov 16, 2018. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Ms Chew and her colleagues had streamlined work processes, roped in various partners, from doctors to staff at the Agency for Integrated Care which facilitates the placement of patients in nursing homes. This initiative has since been adopted and customised by other hospitals, she said.

Ms Chew said her mother is now very supportive of her work.

Among the patients she has helped is a 82-year-old woman who suffered from respiratory failure. Afraid that her four children would be affected if they saw her die but also afraid of dying alone, she asked Ms Chew to be by her side as she breathed her last.

"I'm very glad I could fulfil that wish of hers," said Ms Chew, who had also counselled the woman's family to help them cope with their mum's impending death.

The other three award winners have also shown dedication in helping others.

Ms Tay from Minds, for instance, started a programme at Minds to help siblings of children with intellectual disability to learn more about the condition and cope with their emotions.

MSF's Ms Tee was commended for her passion in helping youth offenders to change their behaviour and rebuild relationships with their families and others in the community.

Mr Yeo was lauded for his zeal in reaching out to youths at risk.

He and his colleagues would befriend young people hanging out on the streets and work with them to resolve their problems, such as delinquency, family woes and truancy.

He said: "Many of them come from very challenging family backgrounds like single-parent families or there is abuse at home. They will not come to us when they face problems, so we need to go out onto the streets to reach out to them."

One person he has helped is a boy who had quit school and was involved in gangs. Mr Yeo eventually persuaded him to go back to school and he emerged as a top scorer in his school for the N Levels.

Mr Yeo also helped a teen who became suicidal over family woes and his grandmother's death. He was also involved with a gang.

With the social worker's help, he overcame his suicidal thoughts and left the gang.

The fact that the teen knew that someone cared for him helped him change for the better, Mr Yeo said.

He added: "What keeps me going is that the youth share with us that our work is helpful and our work does matter."

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