Intervene early to help disadvantaged families: Lily Neo

Intervene early to help disadvantaged families: Lily Neo
Beneficiaries of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund shopping at a Cheers convenience store outlet in Downtown East.

SINGAPORE - Veteran MP Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) made a push on Monday for more aggressive and earlier intervention to help children from disadvantaged families.

Her suggestions include identifying at-risk children for follow-up with their families when they register their child's birth, and reserving some places in pre-schools for them. Another idea she offered is for greater collaboration among ministries to give such families help, ranging from child care to housing to jobs.

Her call prompted a detailed response from Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing, who stressed that the integration of social services is the key to providing a leg-up for children of disadvantaged families.

Dr Neo, who champions the cause of the disadvantaged regularly in Parliament and whose ward includes a disproportionate number of poor families, had called for an adjournment motion to give her more time to speak on the issue.

For 15 minutes, the general practitioner spoke on behalf of families headed by single mothers, unemployed fathers or parents in prison, broken families without proper housing, and families of children with special needs.

She asked that more help be given to train these parents in parenting skills, and to improve their literacy, numeracy and confidence, so that they can get jobs.

Citing research in Britain and Canada that shows the influence of the early years on a child's later achievements and behaviour, Dr Neo called for "effective and evidence-based interventions".

She lamented that despite Singapore's long-running policy of helping the poor to do well in school to move up the social ladder and its emphasis on self-reliance, there are still disadvantaged children.

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