SINGAPORE: Inadequate coordination between different bodies and schools is an important issue that social workers and volunteers face to help disadvantaged children.
This was taken on Tuesday (November 27) at a meeting with social workers, voluntary welfare organizations and other social services representatives.
The session was held by UPLIFT, a secretary of colleges led by other Minister of Education Indranee Rajah, which aims to strengthen support for children with disadvantaged backgrounds, especially by addressing long-term absence and lack of tax rates in schools.
During the meeting, participants discussed the problems they encountered on the ground, for example, to access information about the children and their families from different agencies and schools.
Having the necessary information can make a big difference, said Social Worker Syed Alwi Syed Abdullah Alhadad, from the Southern Central Community Family Service Center.
"You do not feel like working alone with the family," he said, adding that he mostly gets support and information about specific cases from student care staff attached to schools. He noted, however, that the level of support differs from different schools.
"We will not know how they are at school, so sometimes there may be problems we do not see, and they pick up and discuss about it," he added.
Another problem is that the various agencies are doubling services, as emphasized by the deputy director of the Singapore Children's Society Joy Lim.
"There is a need to be informed about the other services in society," she said. "Every agency comes with its special skills and skills, and sometimes when we enter, and we do what other agencies are better at, it's not as effective as it could be."
"Many times, we only need an important social worker or counselor on the case to track the conversation and let it go on."
A single stop center to improve coordination?
In order to improve coordination, participants made a proposal for a one-stop center where families can comfortably get help they need from different ways in one place or through a single point of contact.
A group of participants pointed out that there are learning points to note how a hospital works. Describe it as a one-stop service, participants explained how a patient walks in, see a general practitioner first before referring to different specialists – all in the same building.
"It's more than just a physical co-location, but also how everyone in the building works as a team," they said.
Ms Indranee noted that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Family Development has already begun the process of bringing together the various agencies around the Social Services (SSOs).
"I think what you really want is a place where someone can go to where someone in that location can connect them to the other services," she said.
Singapore Children's Society's Lim Lim pointed out that modeling such a center after a hospital may not be so clear in practice, but serves as a concept.
"We have discussions between schools, community agencies and authorities, and after the discussion, the roles are clearly spelled out," she said. "Everyone has a role."
"It's not about who is better or who is more important, but about everyone who knows what they contribute," she added.
NEED FOR CONNECTION BUILDING TO START IN AN EARLIER STAGE
Another issue raised by the participants was the importance of building relationships and reporting to the children and their families at an early stage before problems arise.
"If you can go in before anything happens, you start building relationships and it will be easier for you to help them if problems arise," says Lam Moi Kwai, President of the Life Community Services Society, adding that she has seen this from Her organization's experience drives a drop-in center for latchkey children.
"The children without problems enter our center automatically," she said. "We are starting to mentor them, and we ask them to make us visit their family."
Lam explained that it can not be difficult to go in to help only when a child is referenced or a case is reported without a relationship between social workers, volunteers and families. "The help from social workers is then seen in a very negative light," she explained.
Participants also said giving these children a positive model can make a big difference. Some noted that the children they see tend to have parents absent in their lives due to work or illness while others take a hands-off strategy in their childhood education. Therefore, a participant said they lack a positive model that they can look forward to.
Lam said that she has taken the lead in how mentors from society have benefited such children and cited an example of how her organization plans meetings or trips for the children but lacks purchases from parents who may not see the value of such experiences.
"The community mentor went in to bring the child, and after the child went to the first session, the family realized that the child had benefited so much," she said. "So next time there are such excursions, the family does not immediately reject them saying they do not have time. They rope relatives, or do some internal family arrangements to have the child there."
"So the community mentors show the way."
Speaking to the media at the side of the session, Indranee noted the importance of having such engagement sessions, as the workgroup gets input from those who are "at the forefront" of the issues it's trying to deal with.
"What we did not want was to have many theoretical concepts … separated from the reality of what's happening on the ground," she said. "That's why it's so important to hear from people on the ground as social workers and volunteers, and the stories they have to tell."
She also agreed on the need for more coordination to help disadvantaged children.
"It was very obvious to me that you have many people who are very well-meaning and everyone wants to help, but not having the correct contact points," she said. "One of the things we have to look at is how we can facilitate better references, better coordination and introduce parties to each other.
"These are the downloads from the discussion so far, and we will certainly decide in the recommendations we will make."
In total, 30 participants from 15 community organizations participated in Tuesday's engagement, which is the third held so far.
The first two engagements were held in elementary school and upper secondary school to hear the leaders of the school, teachers, school advisors and student careers.