Scene of family having meal on floor moved her

It was a part-time job conducting surveys for a magazine that cemented social service veteran Ang Bee Lian's decision to enter the sector and help the disadvantaged.

Ms Ang, who was fresh out of secondary school, was going door to door in a housing estate polling families on their lifestyle choices.

Then she chanced upon a home with little furniture, and the family was having a meal on the floor.

"I was confronted with something that was deeper in society," said the past winner of the Outstanding Social Worker Award.

"There was no singular reason that moved me into social work but clearly this was an incident that's still stuck in my mind till today," added the 58-year-old.

It was reported last month that Ms Ang, who is the most senior social worker in Singapore, will be stepping down as the chief executive of the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

She is headed for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Nov 1 as its new director of social welfare.

The ministry was also where she began her career as a child protection officer more than 35 years ago after graduating with a degree in social work from the National University of Singapore.

In her new appointment, she will oversee the protection of vulnerable persons, such as the destitute and those who have been abused.

She will also provide views and advice on the standards of social work practice and the professional development of social service practitioners.

This means that she will still be "very much on the ground".

"I hope to grow the group of mentors and role models for the next generation of social work leaders," she said.

Ms Ang, who has headed NCSS since 2007, has been credited with boosting the professionalism and image of workers in the sector and improving the coordination of social services.

The number of charities and voluntary welfare organisations under NCSS has also doubled, from about 200 in 2007 to over 400 last year.

Under her charge, NCSS launched the Social Service Institute which provides training courses and programmes.

It also has a career centre for those interested to work in social services.

Nurturing the younger generation is clearly something she feels strongly about.

She said: "The sector is highly dependent on human capital so we need to ensure that we help people to understand the work of the sector, the purpose it offers."

One challenge the sector faces is to find "fresh solutions to emerging issues of care and supervision", she noted.

Her suggestion is to prepare an adult in every household to be a caregiver.

Manpower is another major bugbear for the industry, and increasing wages to attract more to join the sector has been discussed.

But she feels that raising salaries is not the only solution.

"We need to ensure there is a reasonable wage, but an organisation culture that supports the work of the professionals is also important," she said.

For herself, she started out with a pay of $625.

"Friends who did other courses in university were earning more, but I have no regrets. We were driven by one mission - to go out and change the world," she said.

And the one person whom she said was a "tremendous influence" in shaping her world views and values is her mother.

Ms Ang, who has three older siblings, said: "I saw how my mother, a seamstress, worked so hard daily to support us. We were poor, but if neighbours wanted to borrow money, my mother would always lend it to them.

"It's not so much about whether you're poor, it's how we organise our lives and our approach towards life which determines how we cope with a lot of situations."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

SOCIAL SERVICE VETERAN ANG BEE LIAN ON...

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

"There was no singular reason that moved me into social work but clearly this was an incident that's still stuck in my mind until today."

- Ms Ang, on meeting a poor family while doing part-time work fresh out of secondary school

NOT JUST ABOUT MONEY

"We need to ensure there is a reasonable wage, but an organisation culture that supports the work of the professionals is also important."

- On how raising salaries is not the only solution to meeting the sector's manpower needs

MY MUM, MY INSPIRATION

"I saw how my mother, a seamstress, worked so hard daily to support us. We were poor, but if neighbours wanted to borrow money, my mother would always lend it to them. It's not so much about whether you're poor, it's how we organise our lives and our approach towards life which determines how we cope with a lot of situations."

- On her mother's efforts to raise her and her three older siblings


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