Wednesday 18 January 2012

Family service centres to get more funds

Extra aid for them before caseloads soar as downturn looms
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2012

FAMILY Service Centres (FSCs) will be given more financial muscle to tackle an anticipated surge in the number of people seeking help during a downturn.

Additional funding will be provided so the centres can hire more staff to cope with any increase in caseloads, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) said yesterday.

FSCs help families and individuals to resolve social and emotional issues. They also provide an information and referral service, assessing the needs of families and linking them up with other community help groups.

The latest move comes as the Government highlighted plans to boost efforts to help vulnerable groups in the current uncertain economic climate.

Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob told Parliament yesterday that the ministry is 'planning to set up a central pool of professional staff who can be deployed to FSCs that see sudden spikes in caseloads'.

She was responding to a question from Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) on what additional support would be given to FSCs to deal with the possible surge in clients.

Should the FSCs have difficulty hiring more staff after receiving the additional manpower funding, they will be able to tap this reserve pool of social service professionals. This ensures that the FSCs will get the extra staff that they need in a timely manner. The additional manpower funding can be used to hire professionals from this reserve pool.

More details on the extra support for FSCs will be released in the next few months. Details of the funding scheme were given to The Straits Times separately yesterday.

While funding for additional manpower needs was also provided for the FSCs during the last recession, some key changes have been made this time, based on prior experience.

These changes are designed to ensure that FSCs will not have to scramble to hire additional staff should a crisis hit, and will provide an added incentive for them to help more clients.

FSCs will be eligible for additional funding once the number of cases they handle reaches a certain figure. The funding will be jointly provided by the ministry, the Community Chest and the Tote Board.

During the previous downturn, extra funding was disbursed when the number of cases handled exceeded a certain threshold. But some received the extra funding they needed only to find that the downturn was almost over.

In future, FSCs will receive the extra money before their caseloads become too heavy to handle. This will give them more time to hire the additional labour they need. There will also be no cap on the amount of funding FSCs will be able to receive.

'We want to encourage organisations which have the capacity to help more people to do so without worrying about the resources needed. You go as far as you can and we will support you,' said Ms Ang Bee Lian, chief executive of NCSS.

These latest moves come after the NCSS held a session for all FSCs last Wednesday to provide updates on the economic climate and discuss learning points from the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

At the session, which was attended by 150 people, FSC representatives aired their suggestions. These included simplifying the referral process for help-seekers by having a common referral form and social report, so resources are not duplicated. Others wanted to have emergency funds available to use at their own discretion in order to tide walk-in clients over while they wait for their financial schemes or job training to kick in.

Instead of waiting for government help in gearing up for a downturn, some FSCs have already begun making their own preparations.

Ang Mo Kio FSCs have set aside a reserve pool of about four social workers who will come on board should caseloads increase. During the previous economic downturn, they saw a 50 per cent surge in the number of clients they dealt with.

They are also stepping up their outreach efforts at community events to target a group that they do not usually handle - professionals, managers, executives and technicians, or PMETs.

'The impact of a downturn may be greater for the PMETs rather than the low-income groups as the reduction in income is more drastic should they lose their jobs,' said Mr Vincent Ng, executive director of Ang Mo Kio FSCs.

Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura FSC (East) will be easing its criteria for financial disbursements to those who will potentially be hit hard in a downturn - for example, those in the production and manufacturing sectors.

'These are the riskier sectors which may be hit first, so we are closely monitoring our clients from such backgrounds,' said its manager, Mr Amran Jamil.

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