Saturday, 25 January 2014

Social service network to expand with 9 new offices

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2014

THE Government is close to its goal of putting social service aid within 2km of almost all needy residents.

Nine more Social Service Offices (SSOs) will be set up this year, announced Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing yesterday. This brings his ministry close to its target of having 20 SSOs in HDB towns islandwide.

Together with the 43 Family Service Centres (FSCs), this will create a network that will put help within 2km of where 95 per cent of needy residents live or work.

Apart from the previously announced offices that will be set up in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Queenstown and Sengkang by June, the other five will be in Yishun, Taman Jurong, Bukit Panjang, Clementi and Serangoon.

Mr Chan gave these details on the sidelines of the official launch of Choa Chu Kang SSO at 8A Teck Whye Lane.

The SSOs, which are run by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, work with voluntary welfare organisations and community partners in their areas to plan and coordinate the provision of social services. They also give out financial aid under the national ComCare scheme.

FSCs mainly do counselling work and run local programmes.

The Choa Chu Kang office is one of 10 SSOs which have been set up since last year. Five of them are located within the five community development councils (CDCs), such as those in Toa Payoh and Tampines.

The locations of the SSOs are being carefully planned.

"We are using geo-spatial systems to plan for all the centres so that they are more accessible to needy residents," said Mr Chan.

This involves the ministry using software that shows the locations of existing help centres such as the FSCs, and mapping out the travel patterns of those receiving aid. Similar software is being used to plan for and site childcare centres.

This is to ensure that new SSOs will be located in areas that are not being served by such help centres and can be near transport nodes such as MRT stations.

Extending the reach of help agencies by setting up a network of SSOs is one of the Government's key initiatives to make the delivery of social service more seamless.

Other efforts include the setting up of a nationwide social service map in the next two years, which will locate those in need and provide a directory of agencies such as voluntary welfare organisations.

A national database is also being developed for social service agencies to share data on aid recipients from the middle of next year, so they can help those in need more speedily.

Health Minister and MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Gan Kim Yong, who also officiated at the launch, said the location of the new office is ideal as it is close to rental blocks. "It provides a one-stop service in bringing help right to the doorstep of our residents," said Mr Gan.

A 52-year-old shop assistant receiving financial aid from the Choa Chu Kang SSO, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Lim, said living near the office has made it easier for her to go through the application process.

Said Mrs Lim, who lives 10 minutes away from the SSO: "It is very convenient as I can stop by the office on my way to the market."

Making social support personal
Editorial, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2014

THE Government's pledge of $250 million, to match donations to social service organisations dollar for dollar this year, underscores how partnership between the state and the public can expand the philanthropic horizon dramatically. A benefit of this pairing is that it helps to make such support more personal - individuals are more likely to give to their pet causes and charity in general if they know that the state takes their donations seriously enough to match them. And Singaporeans who participate in the scheme will do so in the knowledge that the value of their contributions will double - $500 million will be available to voluntary welfare organisations under the Care and Share Movement.

Social support may appear depersonalised under official schemes that dispense help to the needy and vulnerable as a matter of course. When linked to public generosity, it helps it to be viewed with a measure of gratitude instead of just entitlement.

A culture of giving, based on habits of the heart, is a characteristic of mature philanthropic societies. As Singapore approaches the 50th anniversary of its independence next year, citizens need to remember the pioneer generation which helped to make the nation's success possible, but itself missed out on the educational and other fruits of that success which subsequent generations take for granted. There are others, too, who find it difficult to thrive in a competitive society today and are deserving of compassion. How well a society treats its disadvantaged reveals its self-perception as a moral and caring community and not a flea market of atomised and self-seeking individuals.

A compassionate society also reduces demands for welfarism, which are difficult to ignore in a democracy. Any system to contain such demands can hold only so long as the public empathises with those genuinely in need and is prepared to step in. Finding ways to boost the public's efforts, like providing matching grants, is a never-ending task. Charities setting up their own businesses to raise funds display precisely the kind of inventiveness that is required to prevent compassion fatigue. Social enterprises are a promising avenue, although there are understandable concerns over business interests superseding charitable purpose, and even whether charities possess the skills to operate successful businesses. So long as integrity and accountability are preserved, imaginative ways of raising money enable charities to be self-sufficient and reduce the pressure on handouts. What is also heartening is the number of individuals and organisations that are devoting themselves to the cause of others. One has to just take this personally to make a difference.

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