Thursday 15 August 2013

More access to help with launch of Social Service Offices

Centres will work with agencies within community to ensure needy residents receive coordinated assistance
By Ashley Chia, TODAY, 14 Aug 2013

Low-income families and individuals who need financial and social assistance now have extra touch points to access more coordinated help, with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) deploying its officers in the new Social Service Offices (SSOs).

Besides administering ComCare assistance, the officers work closely with the agencies within the community, such as voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), to ensure that needy residents can receive coordinated help if they require.

Two SSOs have been operating in Kreta Ayer and Jalan Besar since July 1. By the end of the year, there will be nine and, within three years, there will be 20, each serving a specific Housing and Development Board town.

ComCare assistance was previously only disbursed at the five Community Development Councils (CDCs). With the SSO situated closer to residents, the usual application and processing time can be shortened to only two weeks if all required documents are submitted, down from the two to six weeks previously.

And if a resident forgets a document, he or she can go home to get it because the SSO is nearer. If they had to return to the CDCs, they might have to make another appointment because of the travelling time, said Kreta Ayer SSO General Manager Jai Prakash in an interview with TODAY.

The Kreta Ayer SSO, which oversees the Bukit Merah and Outram areas, has served more than 300 clients, who were either existing clients or referred to from partners on the ground.

The SSOs have a “local planning function”, where officers “walk the ground” and engage with residents and community partners to identify possible gaps in social service delivery.

The SSOs will also have the “autonomy” to try out local ways of collaborations that best fit the community’s needs, Mr Prakash said. They are also able to surface issues and recommend changes to the policy division.

For instance, at an engagement session with the Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre (FSC) last week, one of the suggestions was to give the FSC the ability to make the financial assessment and send the report to the SSO so the client need not make another trip to the SSO or be asked the same questions over again.

Mr Prakash, however, stressed that the SSOs are not there to audit or take over the functions of the VWOs, but will instead help develop their strengths through facilitating collaboration with other partners. With the extra help, VWOs are also more likely to come forward to experiment with different programmes, said Kreta Ayer SSO Assistant General Manager Andre Wai.

A Member of Parliament, Dr Lily Neo, who oversees Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng, welcomed the presence of the SSO and said residents have given positive feedback.

“Help is at hand and it’s so nearby for my residents. It is also like a one-stop centre, where residents can come and be referred to the nearby FSCs that are equipped with the different specialities,” Dr Neo said.

VWOs shared the sentiment. Executive Director Khee Shihui of Bukit Ho Swee FSC said she is “looking forward” to the partnerships. One example she cited was how the SSO, with a larger network, could help source for volunteers at short notice for ad hoc programmes.

First Social Service Office opens at Kreta Ayer
Channel NewsAsia, 15 Aug 2013

Residents living in Kreta Ayer and its surrounding areas will find it more convenient to seek public assistance with the opening of a Social Service Office (SSO).

The SSO was officially opened on Thursday by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

The office was launched by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development; Mr Sam Tan, Mayor of Central Singapore District; and Dr Lily Neo, Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Since it started operations in mid-July, the Kreta Ayer SSO has served more than 300 residents.

As the SSO is located within the constituency, it means residents have a shorter distance to travel and their applications for financial assistance can be processed more quickly.

Kreta Ayer was chosen because of its large proportion of elderly residents and public assistance recipients.

The government plans to have more than 20 SSOs set up islandwide.

Mr Chan said the next three SSOs to be set up will be in Choa Chu Kang, Boon Lay, and Bukit Merah.

He said: "We have decentralised the services. We want the officers to be forward deployed to the local community so that they can frequently walk around the neighbourhood to understand the needs of the local community, master the resources of the local community, get all the VWOs (Voluntary Welfare Organisations) and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) working in the same community to work with each other so that we can really deliver integrated services to the local community."

Social service now nearer to those who need it
Help will be brought closer to home for needy residents with seven new social service offices now up and running. The Straits Times spends a day at the Kreta Ayer office, which officially opens tomorrow, to find out how it works.
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2013

IT WAS 6.20 on a Monday evening.

While most people were winding down for the day, a team of five were gearing up for work.

Armed with maps, cameras and notebooks, they set off for their weekly "community walk".

They are staff from the local planning team of the new Kreta Ayer social service office (SSO) in Sago Lane. By talking to residents and observing happenings in the neighbourhood during these weekly visits, they hope to identify unmet social needs in the community and find ways to plug those gaps.

The office, which oversees the Bukit Merah and Outram area, is one of seven which were set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) last month.

There is one at Jalan Besar, and five others which are co-located with the Community Development Councils (CDCs). Another two - in Jurong West and Bukit Panjang/Choa Chu Kang - will open by the end of the year. The plan is to create a network of 20 such offices - one for each of the bigger Housing Board towns - in the next two to three years.

The offices will administer financial and social assistance programmes under the national ComCare scheme - which was previously handled by the five CDCs. This means that residents no longer need to travel all the way to the CDCs which may be far from their homes.

Each office will have a social assistance team and a local planning team.

The idea behind setting up the offices, which was announced in February, is to have a dedicated team for each HDB town. This way, the officers will have a more intimate knowledge of what residents need, and they can play the role of a "local" coordinator and planner of social services in each town.

Plugging the gaps

THE weekly "community walk" is a good example of the role SSOs can take on.

Local help agencies such as the family service centres (FSCs) also conduct these visits, but on an ad hoc basis.

"With the frequency that SSOs are doing it, they can better help coordinate outreach efforts with the FSCs and grassroots and we can all share data," said Ms Rachel Lee, senior assistant director of Fei Yue Family Service Centre.

During last Monday's community walk, the team from Kreta Ayer SSO covered the area bounded by Jalan Kukoh, Jalan Minyak and York Hill, which has many rental blocks.

Trudging up stairs splattered with urine, they headed for their first stop: Kreta Ayer Seniors Activity Centre on the fourth floor of Block 8.

A group of seniors had just finished their aerobic exercises and a few were lingering around to chat. Mr Andre Wai, 32, who heads the local planning team, struck up a conversation with centre manager Cindy Lee Chee Leng, 51, while others fanned out to talk to the seniors. Mr Wai used to be a probation and policy officer at MSF. His teammates were also from the ministry.

The visit was fruitful. They found out that of the some 1,000 elderly living in the area, only 300 of them, mostly Chinese, are members of the centre. About 70 of them are on the Government's long-term Public Assistance Scheme.

The team's homework for the day: Find out why the Malays and Indians do not use the centre as much, and whether needy elderly know about the public assistance programme.

The next stop: The Jalan Kukoh Residents' Committee (RC) where children were attending tuition classes. Most of the children came alone as their parents were either at work or busy at home.

RC chairman Yeo Gek Nai said that fewer children now wander about in the neighbourhood. But having more volunteers to coach them would be useful.

It was another useful point to note for Mr Jai Prakash, general manager of the Kreta Ayer social service office. The office could help find corporate volunteers, said the 35-year-old, who was previously involved in disability and rehabilitation policy work at MSF.

'Local' solutions

EARLIER in the day, the team met social workers at Thye Hua Kwan Family Service Centre to understand the challenges they are facing.

This is another key aspect of the work done by the local planning team. Every day, they meet at least one local community partner - the police, HDB or a voluntary welfare organisation. Feedback will be given to MSF if necessary.

After these meetings, the team will also share information with other local agencies and come up with solutions - something not done previously.

Said Mr Prakash: "Each of these agencies, whether the police, HDB or welfare groups, is only privy to its own sphere of work. By piecing together the big picture, potential problems and solutions can be identified early."

During Monday's meeting, for example, Mr Udhia Kumar, executive director of Thye Hua Kwan FSC at Tanjong Pagar, told the SSO officers that there are not enough childcare centres for the growing number of young families in the area. Said Mr Kumar: "We commonly associate the Tiong Bahru and Chinatown areas with the elderly and there are so many services for them here but not for the young."

In the past, such feedback would take at least one or two weeks to reach the MP for the area and the ministry. With the SSOs playing intermediary, input can be gathered faster and more directly.

Said Mr Prakash: "That's the role of the SSOs - building on the community's strengths to develop local solutions."

Convenience for needy residents
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2013

THE social service office will not duplicate the work of existing local help agencies.

It serves two main functions: First, the 20 offices are additional "touchpoints" which needy residents can turn to.

For residents who need financial help, the new office acts as the first point of contact, said Ms Claudine Goh, who heads the Kreta Ayer social service office.

Previously, the five Community Development Councils (CDC) administered the financial help programmes under the National ComCare scheme.

If residents need help with other problems, such as housing or family issues, the social service office will then work with other agencies, such as the Housing Board or the family service centres.

Second, it plays the role of a coordinator and planner of social services in HDB towns.

While existing help agencies also carry out periodic case conferences where multiple parties come together to discuss a case, the office, being an extension of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) , can coordinate efforts within and beyond the social service sector, said Ms Goh.

Ms Goh and the other four members in the social assistance team at the Kreta Ayer office were from the social assistance unit at Central Singapore CDC.

Since its soft launch on July 1, the office, which officially opens tomorrow, has served more than 300 clients.

When The Straits Times visited the office last week, its social assistance officers were tending to walk-in clients, attending case conferences and going for home visits.

With help now available closer to home, residents told The Straits Times that the time and cost savings were significant.

Madam Wong, who wants to be known only by her surname, was able to make a quick trip to the Kreta Ayer office during her restaurant's lull period at 4pm on Tuesday last week. The 58-year-old's workplace is a 10-minute walk from the office.

Chinatown resident Chan Siew Hong also appreciates the convenience. He used to apply for aid at Central Singapore CDC in Toa Payoh.

But now, he heads to the office which is just one street away from where he lives.

Said the 67-year-old, who uses a walking aid to get around: "I can just go upstairs to get my documents and come down."

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