Adding heft to helping hands

Adding heft to helping hands
The social service sector will come under more pressure - by 2030, some 900,000 people here, or one in five, will be 65 or older.

SINGAPORE - The numbers get mentioned every now and then but think, for a moment, of the number of people in Singapore who will need help - not so many years from now.

By 2030, Singapore could be home to 80,000 dementia patients. Some 900,000 people here, or one in five, will be 65 or older. The place could be teeming with foreign spouses - already 40 per cent of marriages here are transnational - who may need help to integrate.

The burden of helping these people will fall on the social service sector, which is already feeling the strain. Facing competition from the private sector, it struggles to retain good people and those who stay could face burnout.

In the face of these challenges, the sector has to get its act together and integrate services to better help the needy, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing yesterday, as he laid out plans for the sector.

Currently, a gap in the sector is the lack of coordination between the various agencies when someone seeks help. This is especially so since it is common for someone in need to have issues in several areas, such as jobs and housing.

The various voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) should also tap on each other's capabilities, instead of a "do-it-all-myself" model, he added.

Mr Chan was speaking at the inaugural Social Service Partners Conference.

He said more scholarships and training will be provided to social service professionals to widen their opportunities. Better human resources management and stronger leadership teams should also be developed.

Mr Chan said: "We want to do much more... we want to do much better as a social service sector, and we want to do much better together."

The Government's plans to better integrate services include a national database for social service agencies to share data on aid recipients by next year, so that those in need can get help more speedily.

Other plans are also in the pipeline. The National Council of Social Service (NCSS), which has more than 400 member VWOs, is considering expanding membership to others, such as social enterprises.

Meanwhile, those in the sector welcomed the directions given, going forward.

Yew Teng Leong, president of Rainbow Centre, noted: "For years, the social service sector has lagged behind the private sector but we are catching up, partly driven by need because there is competition with the private sector for the same talent pool.

"There is also the issue of burnout, which is also a major factor for people who may decide to leave the sector ... Our policies on the HR side have to address some of these burnout issues."

But it will not be in a day's work.

Associate Professor Irene Ng from the Department of Social Work at the National University of Singapore said: "People don't reach out, they tend to work in silos. So, to shift from a mindset of 'my kind of work, my turf' to a mindset where you naturally collaborate, naturally reach out, I think that's a challenge."

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