Friends from the FSCs,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Brief Re-Cap on Progress in the FSC Sector
Good morning and I am happy to see all of you again. One year has passed very quickly. At last year’s FSC Seminar, we spoke about the social challenges facing Singapore and the 4 ‘C’s that would help develop more accessible and effective FSC services for our families in need. The 4 ‘C’s are: Capacity, Capability, Cluster and Commitment.
We have made steady progress on each of the ‘C’. Let me give a brief update. On increasing capacity, we announced our plan to build 10 more full-fledged and branch FSCs by 2015. In the coming year, we will see 3 new FSCs starting in Ang Mo Kio, Potong Pasir and Jurong. We are also seeing higher caseloads in Bedok, Bukit Merah and Geylang, and hence we will study the possibility of building new FSCs in these locations. Five FSCs are undergoing expansion. We will continue to identify areas requiring FSCs.
On capability, we have reduced the caseload of FSC social workers to enable them to devote more time to their cases, especially families with complex needs. We hope that this has also enhanced the well-being of our social workers, who face challenges supporting needy families.
We have introduced the Master Social Worker Scheme last year to raise professional practice standards and mentor senior social workers in the sector. This scheme also seeks to enhance the career progression for these experienced Master Social Workers by providing them opportunities to pursue specialised training locally or overseas. We would like to have even more master social workers amongst you in the years to come. We hope that the master social workers will also serve as mentors to the social service professionals joining our ranks.
I am delighted to hear that 1 in 2 trainees accepted for the Professional Conversion Programme for Social Workers in 2012 are placed with FSCs. In addition, all 22 parent organisations of FSCs have also made salary adjustments to eligible FSC staff with the increased funding that MSF provided last year.
The FSC Advisory Council chaired by Mr Cyril Chua and Committee for Practice Standards chaired by Ms Lee Yean Wun continue to be valuable partners to raise the professional standing of FSC services. The FSC Advisory Council will continue to give advice in the areas of governance, corporate best practices and competency-building. I understand that the Committee for Practice Standards is currently involved in the development of the Code of Professional Practice, which is a guide on social work best practices for FSC social workers. The Code will bring up the practice quality of the FSC sector and in turn bring about more positive impact on the lives of the families that we serve.
On cluster, we will continue to support FSCs in areas where there is economy of scale. Development and use of ICT applications is one such area. FSCs have been actively involved in contributing ideas to the ICT Masterplan for the Social Service Sector, in particular on enabling integrated case management and better data management. The first ICT pilot involves the deployment of mobile tablets to all FSCs to help caseworkers perform their work on the move. Conducting home visits is a core function of the FSCs in reaching out to individuals and families requiring support. With these tablets, the FSCs can now ‘find, explore and experiment’ with mobile applications to better engage their clients, enhance staff productivity, and improve service delivery. I am pleased that the project has met with positive feedback from the FSC community.
However, that is only the front end. At the back end, we are building an Integrated Social Service System, allowing us to share our client’s caseloads, to better reach out to the families in need and also increase our productivity.
The above achievements would not be possible without the commitment, dedication and hard work of various stakeholders - the social service professionals, centre directors, board members and volunteers in every FSC and NCSS. We now have 41 FSCs island wide, with 500 professional staff handling close to about 28,000 caseloads a year. At this point, my ministry and I would like to put on record our thanks and appreciation for the good work done.
Forward Plans – Working with SSOs within the community
We must build on the momentum. This year, we would like to introduce a 5th ‘C’ – Community - which supports the theme of this seminar “Aggregating Community Help to Strengthen Families”. A connected and collaborative community will bring about more co-ordinated assistance and better outcomes for vulnerable families with multiple needs.
Just yesterday in Parliament, I gave details of the Social Service Offices that MSF will progressively roll out across the entire Singapore. This is a significant step in our move to improve service delivery to needy families – to allow them to have greater access, customised to local needs and to have stronger co-ordination at the ground level.
Each Social Service Office will largely serve one HDB Town, deliver ComCare financial assistance as well as help link residents up with other forms of assistance they might need. This would include employment assistance or family services.
The Offices will participate actively in planning social services in their respective local communities. Building on the foundation laid by the CDCs and the ComCare Local Networks, the Offices will build up local knowledge of ground needs, service provision and gaps. They will continue to work with various stakeholders, government agencies or community partners to cater to the specific needs of residents in the estate.
The Offices will also work with the various social service providers in the community to strengthen service coordination and integration. This will ensure that no one in need will fall through the cracks. This is also to ensure that no one in need will have to travel long distances in order to seek help.
A natural question that some of you may ask is how FSCs fit into this new landscape. Would the Social Service Offices duplicate what FSCs are doing? Let me assure everyone that this is not the intent. The Social Service Offices will not duplicate FSC services. Instead, it will forge stronger community partnerships and information sharing to enable FSCs to be even more effective in serving residents in the neighbourhood. Allow me to share my views on three areas which I think the FSCs will collaborate with the Social Service Offices closely to strengthen their role in the community.
Helping individuals and their families
First, it will strengthen the provision of help for needy individuals and their families. When the staff at the Social Service Office assesses that one of the clients needs social work intervention, they will link them up with the FSCs. FSCs will continue to work with the clients in professional areas that they do best in. Conversely, for your clients, financial help will be closer – for some, it might literally be just a few steps away. I understand such mutual referrals are already in place today between FSCs and the Community Development Councils. With a larger network of touchpoints for financial assistance and more local knowledge, we hope to tighten the referral process, ensure cases are followed up and greater oversight of cases that require close co-ordination of help.
Improving processes and systems
Second, I expect our staff from the Social Service Offices to be constantly on the go, speaking and engaging with the FSCs and other social service providers in the community. This will allow them to find out how processes and systems can be improved such that clients who need help get the right kind of assistance as quickly as possible. FSCs have extensive experience working with needy families in the neighbourhood. You will know what is working and what is not. And you will have many ideas on how best to address these problems. You can now work with your Social Service Offices to deal with these issues.
Identifying gaps in social services in the community
Finally, at the broader level, FSCs will also be working very closely with the Social Service Office to identify gaps in the provision of social services within the housing estate. I know that FSCs are already very active in doing needs assessments of the residents in your community. Now you will have a partner from MSF with you, on the ground, looking into these needs and finding appropriate solutions for them.
The FSCs will be a key partner of the Social Service Offices in improving how we deliver help to our needy residents. We will set up the first four new Social Service Offices by the end of this year and will convert the social assistance units at the existing CDC locations into Social Service Offices. It will take us two to three years to get the entire network in place. As we do so, we will work with partner agencies, including FSCs, to refine the model and network to serve the community better.
You will not be surprised that some of these social service offices might be sited together with you, to improve coordination. We expect the FSC officers to continue your work, while the SSO officers to be constantly on the move within the estates to identify the areas of needs and work with the FSCs and the community leaders to develop local solution. We know from our experiences that, because of the different demographics, different estates, different towns, will require different solutions to the kind of challenges that they are facing. The role of the SSO is to make sure that we have more granular planning ability down to the local level. We want all the various VWO organisations and FSCs working in the same estate to come together regularly, to talk to each other, to coordinate their services, to synergise their services and where possible to share the scare resources such as IT systems, or counsellors. This is the only way we can stretch and be more productive with the finite resources we have at our disposal.
As we evolve, our social service delivery structure, the capability of social service professionals would be critical to support the changes. As such, MSF will continue to invest significantly in manpower development for the social service sector. We target to make the social service profession the career of choice by reaching out to potential candidates, students and the general public through various channels.
We will raise the sector’s professional capabilities through training and development. We will also want to ensure social service professionals remain in the sector, and build a meaningful career with us. To provide meaningful career progression for those in the sector, MSF will undertake a comprehensive review of our manpower strategies. We will develop a holistic talent development framework for social service professionals The Master Social Worker Scheme I spoke about earlier is one good example. We will explore new models for better retention and leadership development of professionals in the sector. Quite a few voluntary welfare organisations have feedback that they have challenges in recruiting and developing talent due to lack of economy of scale. They have mooted suggestions on how to improve the situation and these include exploring more centralised recruitment, development and deployment for certain key professions.
I am happy that many of you have come up these ideas and I look forward to hearing more ideas on how we can use different models to attract different groups of social service professionals to come and join our sector.
There are both plusses and misuses of the varied landscape that we have in our social service sector today. We have very small VWOs that are very good at providing niche services, but they always face challenges in fundraising, and human resource development. On the other hand, we also have bigger VWOs that are more structured.
So we must find a way to balance and harness the plusses of both models, while avoiding the minuses. That is why we are trying very hard to see how we can synergise the efforts of the big VWOs and the small VWOS in clusters. In the hub-and-spoke concept, we can share resources, share information, and ultimately, we can achieve our purpose of serving our clients better. We owe it to our client to make full use of the finite resources that we have, to be the most effective that we can be, so that they can get the help that they need.
This is why we need to think very hard about how to move. This is not something that the ministry can decide on our own, it is something that requires all of you to share your ideas, to share your perspectives, to see how we can better hardness the finite manpower resources within our pool. How do we retain that very personal touch in providing the service we want to provide and yet at the same time, provide the proper route of advancement, proper career development for the many social service sector professionals that are with us and that are going to join us? If we do not get our manpower strategies right, then it would be very difficult for us to attract a new generation of social service sector professionals.
It is very important that in the coming years we all put our minds together to see how we handle our manpower better. It will require us to have a new mindset to embrace a new way of sharing our resources, of pooling together our resources in order to deliver our services to the community. I am confident that we will find a solution for all these challenges, so long as we remain anchored in our values and we remain focused on where we want to go. We only have one goal and that is to serve our clients better, to help them to get through the difficult times so that they can improve their lives. As long as we remember that this is our ultimate goal in everything we have do, then I am confident that we can put aside whatever differences that we might have to come together to serve the community.
Finally, MSF is committed to strengthening the social safety net, building capability and a more connected, co-ordinated community of help agencies.
However, the government cannot achieve this alone. The FSCs cannot achieve this alone. No single stakeholder can achieve this alone. But together, as a community, we can certainly do so. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Before I end, let me thank you for your great work and dedication in supporting families in need. Thank you for being a part of the shared goal to better support the needy and build stronger families in Singapore. I look forward to continue working with all of you to take the sector forward.
On this note, I wish you a fruitful and engaging discussion at this seminar.