Outstanding Social Worker Award

Winner took on job against mum's wishes

Outstanding Social Worker Award winner Melissa Chew (third from left) with Promising Social Worker Award recipients (from left) Tay Yu Ping, from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore; Zoe Tee, from the Ministry of Social and Fami
Outstanding Social Worker Award winner Melissa Chew (third from left) with Promising Social Worker Award recipients (from left) Tay Yu Ping, from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore; Zoe Tee, from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, and Benjamin Yeo, from Fei Yue Community Services.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Hospital social worker's mother initially felt teaching offered better prospects

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

Her mother, a cleaner, wanted the younger of her two children to be a teacher as she felt teaching offered better prospects. But her father, a retired driver, supported her decision to study social work.

Said Ms Chew, a principal medical social worker at Tan Tock Seng Hospital: "I went against my mum's wishes 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.

Ms Chew received the award - the highest honour for social workers - from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana yesterday.

Three others won 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 for patients who are ready to be transferred from hospital to nursing home. The wait now takes fewer than 10 days, from two to three weeks previously.

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

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


(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

Among the patients Ms Chew has helped is an 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 mother's impending death.

The other winners also showed dedication in helping others.

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

MSF's Ms Tee was lauded 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 commended for his zeal in reaching out to youth at risk.

He and his colleagues would befriend young people hanging out on the streets and work with them to resolve their problems.

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.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2018, with the headline 'Winner took on job against mum's wishes'. Print Edition | Subscribe