Monday 7 November 2016

KidSTART: 280 needy kids get kick-start in life

Pilot scheme has playgroup sessions, regular home visits and enhanced pre-school support
By Priscilla Goy and Kok Xing Hui, The Sunday Times, 6 Nov 2016

Housewife Melissa Lee, 21, is thankful to have picked up some parenting skills over the past five weeks in a playgroup session.

"I've learnt that it's important to talk gently and keep calm, even if I'm frustrated when the child whines. It's helpful that there are facilitators who role-play how we should interact with children," said the first-time mother, who has a 10-month-old daughter, Mathilda.

"Initially, she was not used to new environments and would not allow strangers to carry her. But now I notice she's somehow more sociable."

Mathilda is one of 280 young children from disadvantaged families who have benefited from KidSTART, a government scheme which started in July to help such children get a leg-up in life.

The three-year pilot scheme is led by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and $20 million has been set aside for it.

About 1,000 low-income children up to age six are expected to benefit. They live in five areas where the scheme is being piloted - Kreta Ayer, Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong, Boon Lay and Geylang Serai.

The scheme was first announced during the Budget speech in March, and ECDA gave an update yesterday about how it works and has progressed so far.

The playgroup session, called KidSTART Group, is one of three components of KidSTART being piloted. This is for children up to three years old and their parents, who learn parenting skills and how to strengthen the bond with their children.

Because the concept behind the KidSTART Group sessions is new here, a five-week trial was held from Oct 1. A total of 33 children and 29 parents took part, going for weekly sessions at the volunteer-run We Love Learning (WeLL) centre at a void deck in Henderson.

ECDA said the response has been encouraging, with 80 per cent attendance on average per session.

Partners involved in the trial include EtonHouse International Education Group, National Library Board and family service centres.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said on the sidelines while visiting a session yesterday that it was vital to have community partners involved.

"When we say it takes a village to raise a child, it's true, because the partners can bring their different expertise to this," he said.

The KidSTART Group sessions use evidence-based curricula from Australia and the US, and ECDA said it will use learning points from the trial to finalise the curriculum for sessions that will be rolled out in the other pilot sites next year.

The other two components of KidSTART are regular home visits and enhanced pre-school support.

Under the regular home visits, staff from KK Women's and Children's Hospital or ECDA have dropped in at the homes of 50 infants and their parents or primary caregivers. This will continue until the child turns three.

During the visits, the parents receive support in skills and knowledge about stages of a child's growth, health and nutrition.

The enhanced pre-school support component has about 200 children across selected pre-schools run by PAP Community Foundation and NTUC First Campus receiving help so far. Staff from the pre-schools help to monitor the child's attendance, address barriers that hinder the child from attending pre-school, and look out for the child's developmental needs.

* 250 preschool kids from low-income families receive additional support

By Liyana Othman, Channel NewsAsia, 3 Jan 2017

It is the first day of school and a fresh start on Tuesday (Jan 3) for about 250 children enrolled in 10 preschools who have been selected to be part of the Early Childhood Development Agency’s KidSTART scheme.

The children from low-income families now have the support of professionals who will work closely with teachers and parents to monitor the students' progress and make sure they attend school. This support is provided at selected preschools from two partner anchor operators, PAP Community Foundation and NTUC First Campus.

Both anchor operators are in the process of hiring more of these professionals, known as child enabling executives (CEE), to help track the students' progress. Currently, eight of those executives are serving the 250 children in 10 preschools, which means some have had to divide their time between different centres.

These CEEs must be trained in social work or early childhood. They can also provide referrals to other programmes, like the Focused Language Assistance in Reading (FLAiR) under the Ministry of Education, to support the children’s developmental needs.

The KidSTART initiative, first announced at last year's Budget, aims to reach out to 1,000 children from vulnerable and low-income families in five neighbourhoods - Boon Lay, Bukit Merah, Geylang Serai, Kreta Ayer and Taman Jurong - in three years. It targets children up to six years old, giving them access to a slew of programmes that include early access to health, learning and developmental support.


Parents' response to the programme has been good, said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin during his visit on Tuesday to My First Skool at Boon Lay Drive, where 25 out of about 90 kids are registered under KidSTART.

“Early intervention makes a lot of difference to children, especially for those in lower-income families who are more vulnerable and who may not be getting as much exposure as perhaps other children," said Mr Tan. "It really is a holistic approach - it's not just about the children, we're working with the families, supporting them, working with the schools and getting the community involved.”

The minister also noted the “very important role” of CEEs, as they help to build relationships with parents.

“(This) is actually very critical, because once you establish that trust, I think parents begin to have a connection with the childcare,” Mr Tan added.

As a result, children are attending school more regularly. At My First Skool at Boon Lay Drive, attendance has improved from 60 per cent to 80 per cent. Parents have also become more active in attending school programmes and events. Teachers, on the other hand, can better focus on the children's education because of the additional support they receive from CEEs.

The programme will be expanded to nine more preschools this year (2017).

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