Budget 2014: Walk the last mile on social problems

Budget 2014: Walk the last mile on social problems


IN 2006, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Low-Wage Workers presented its report.

I remember covering it, and getting excited about two of its proposals. The first was the Workfare Income Supplement, a ground-breaking proposal to top up incomes of low-wage workers. It has since become part of the social safety net.

The other was its call for a holistic approach to help low-wage workers' families, one that would look at their work and housing, and children's education. Alas, that one remained more an aspirational ideal than a reality. Till now.

Over the years, many MPs in Parliament, social work activists in the community and academics have all agreed on the need for a multi-agency approach to help vulnerable families. These may be families broken by divorce, abuse, drugs or imprisonment. They may struggle with health problems, low wages or all of the above.

As Nominated MP Laurence Lien noted on Wednesday, social problems require a multi-sectoral approach. He had suggested: "Might we have an agency looking after vulnerable families and the issues they face, for example? And even better than a whole-of-government approach, are we able to take a truly whole-of-society approach by involving the community even more deeply?"

MPs Seah Kian Peng and Alex Yam also wanted help for families in crisis. Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing responded to those calls yesterday.

MSF will pilot a programme to help 500 of the most vulnerable families with complex needs. A multi-agency approach will be adopted: "We are going to bring together the various government agencies to do an integrated case management... We want to have dedicated social workers to these families to walk those years with them because it will take us many, many years to manage some of these challenges. Then, progressively, as we take on the hardest cases, it will free up resources for us to take on yet more cases."

MSF will work with agencies such as the Housing Board, the ministries of Education and Health, and the police, as well as voluntary welfare organisations and grassroots bodies, to come up with solutions for these families.

The idea is for MSF officials to "walk" the ground and mobilise local partners to come up with solutions to make sure "the last mile" of social service is effective.

For example, MSF officers who walked the streets at Jalan Kukoh in Outram from midnight to 5am found lots of young people hanging around. Their take: Youth guidance is needed.

Proposing "holistic solutions" is easy; finding a practical way to do it is harder.

MSF's approach bridges ideals with ground reality. Its network of 10 Social Service Offices bring ministry expertise to the ground.

And even though social workers already use a case management approach to help clients, targeting 500 of the most complex cases provides a critical mass of cases to test out multi-sectoral solutions, yet is focused enough to deliver maximum impact.

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