Saturday, 26 July 2014

More social service offices to help needy

3 more added to 20 planned, with better idea of caseloads for each town
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

BY NEXT June, 23 social service offices (SSOs) will be up and running across the island, as part of a network of help points close to needy residents.

The number of offices exceeds the initial target of 20.

Twenty was an estimate based on "rough geographical location and dispersal", said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing at the official opening of the 11th such office in Sengkang yesterday.

"But after starting operations and having a better idea of caseloads from each town, we further refined the plan."

He also announced where the 20th SSO and the three additional ones will be - Bukit Batok, Hougang, Punggol and Pasir Ris.

Run by his ministry, the SSOs will work with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and community partners in their areas to better coordinate the social services they offer. Along with the 43 family service centres islandwide, the SSOs will put help within 2km of where 95 per cent of needy residents live or work.

Mr Chan said they will have first dibs on the national database of aid recipients when it is ready next year. Other VWOs will follow suit later.

The national case management system for the social service sector will be similar to that for health, which allows doctors to call up a patient's records no matter where the patient is treated.

Social service workers can get an overview of the case history of each beneficiary and the different places he has sought help from, so that he does not have to repeat personal details to every agency.

Unlike the other SSOs, the Sengkang office at Block 261C, Sengkang East Way, has two in-house job placement officers. The office roped them in from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and a grassroots group as they found that residents in Sengkang needed help to find jobs.

"There are a lot of young families in the area and because they are held back by childcare duties and are lowly skilled, they need a leg up in employment," said Ms Lim Lay Ling, the Sengkang office's general manager.

Of the 500 cases that the office has handled since its soft opening last month, 60 per cent needed financial aid, out of which 40 per cent needed jobs.

Besides processing applications in the office, Ms Lim and her team of 15 staff can be found whizzing around the estate on bicycles so as to better understand residents and their needs. "It's faster, more efficient and a good way to fit in with the residents here who cycle to run errands and do marketing."

Minister of State for Trade and Industry and North East District Mayor Teo Ser Luck, the guest of honour at the opening of the SSO, said the office will scale up assistance to residents "tremendously".

"In the past, our officers either stay in the Community Development Council office in Tampines... residents have to go there, or we reach out by making appointments and and go to the community centres.

"There was no physical presence or office like the SSOs within the constituency," he said.

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