Budget 2014: Vulnerable families to be helped by one social worker each

A new approach of having one social worker hold the hands of each family with complex problems till the family is back on its feet will be tested on 500 such families this year.

These vulnerable families - from those with single parents to those with elderly members or abused children - face issues that go beyond cash-flow problems.

For example, the breadwinner of a family may be in jail while his children struggle with learning difficulties. Others may have chronic health conditions.

"We are going to change the way we want to tackle some of these difficult cases in society," said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing during the debate on his ministry's budget on Thursday.

"We want to have dedicated social workers to walk those years with these families because it will take us many, many years to manage some of these challenges."

The pilot programme for vulnerable families will involve social workers assessing the needs of the family, and then working with the family to come up with solutions.

Instead of simply referring them to different agencies to deal with the various aspects of their multi-faceted problems, the social workers will coordinate the help from the agencies.

This was among several measures to improve the delivery of social services - especially in the last stage before reaching the recipient, which tends to be less efficient - that Mr Chan announced, in response to several MPs' calls for more integrated and holistic help services.

"We need to have effective 'last-mile delivery' by mobilising community resources and integrating the work of the social service offices, the family service centres and the other help agencies to deliver localised and integrated services," he said.

Plans to better customise solutions and integrate help across agencies include piloting a national database for social service agencies to share data on aid recipients by next year, he revealed.

The database will help those in need get assistance more speedily, as it will eliminate the need for them to repeat their details when they get help from multiple agencies.

Social workers will also be able to check what assistance has already been given, and give further help without wasting time on unnecessary paperwork.

Working more closely with troubled families also requires a deeper understanding of the cultural and religious backgrounds of these families, said Mr Chan.

Particularly for vulnerable Malay/Muslim families, mentors with such understanding and empathy are needed for help to be given effectively, he added.

He called for more successful Malay/Muslim professionals to come forward as mentors to children from such families.

"We need positive role models who can walk the journey with these children," he said in Malay.

His ministry will also work closely with Malay/Muslim organisations to help the families.

Administrative executive Mary Lim, 40, said she looks forward to working with social workers to resolve deep-seated issues in her family. A single mother of three daughters aged seven to 13, she is the family's sole breadwinner.

Medical expenses for her oldest daughter, who was born with opaque corneas and is blind, amount to about $700 each month. This is more than a quarter of Ms Lim's salary.

But her monthly pay of about $2,000 means she cannot qualify for financial assistance to pay for her younger children's school expenses.

She hopes help agencies will be more flexible, and that the application process for different schemes can be simplified.

But beyond financial help, she knows that the needs of her children have to be looked into.

"After the divorce, I know my oldest daughter was quite disappointed. I'm not sure about its impact on the rest," she said.

"Once the financial issues are settled, hopefully the emotional aspects can also be tackled."

FOCUS ON FAMILIES WITH COMPLEX PROBLEMS

Tough to make ends meet for single mum

Ms Mary Lim struggles to make ends meet, as more than a quarter of her $2,000 salary goes to medical expenses for her oldest daughter Adelyn Koh, 13, who is blind.

The 40-year-old divorcee has also not been able to get financial help to pay for her two younger daughters' school expenses because she does not meet the income criteria.

Families with complex issues like Ms Lim's could get more help when a pilot programme with integrated case management is introduced this year.

Said Ms Lim: "It would be good if the integration led to the agencies having a better understanding of all the issues we face. They should be more flexible in giving assistance."

jantai@sph.com.sg

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

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