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Speech at SSI Graduation and Awards Ceremony

Mrs Josephine Teo Second Minister for Manpower, The Republic Cultural Centre, Republic Polytechnic

  1. One memorable case I encountered as a young Member of Parliament involved a single mother who had come to seek financial assistance at my Meet the People Session (MPS). Accompanying her was her son, who was not yet 10 years old at that time. He was very active and his mother was distracted by him as she tried her best to explain her situation to me. He was most enthusiastic and could not stop distracting her. It was obvious he genuinely wanted attention from her.
  2. Seeing the interaction between her son and her, I was rather concerned and decided to have a quick chat with her. I asked the MPS volunteers to care for the son so I could have some private time with his mother. When we were alone, I said to her that I thought she may need a little bit more help. She fortunately was willing to listen and subsequent to that chat, I put her in touch with the Voluntary Welfare Organisation active in our area and I spoke to the family service centre on how else we can help and what seemed to be the challenge with her son.
  3. On the occasions that she came later, I always teased her son, telling him, “Your mother works hard to look after you, you must promise me to be good to her. I am going to ask you how many times you have told your mother your love her, and how many times you kiss her goodnight, every time I see you!”
  4. He was very good and would volunteer that information each time to me afterwards. Over time I saw the relationship shift. I soon realised what happened in-between; from the first time I saw her and occasions after when it was clear that the relationship between mother and son was improving.
  5. The critical difference was that the social worker who was assigned to help them identified that the son had a learning disability. He needed extra attention and help which his mother was unaware of and did not know how to provide. The social worker not only arranged for the son to be assessed professionally, but went one step further and identified a suitable programme for the mother to attend. She would better understand the root cause of his condition and why he behaved the way he did and begin to find a way to manage his behaviour better instead of getting into an argument with her son.
  6. That was for me a very memorable case. What a difference one social worker can make to a family. The family is in a much better situation now than before.
  7. In another occasion, a gentlemen woke up one day to the sudden passing of his mother. It was a shocking event and because he has an intellectual disability it was totally disorientating to him. A counsellor was assigned to help him overcome his period of grief as he had no other social support available to him.
  8. What the counsellor discovered was a whole host of other issues, that would prevent him from continuing to live reasonably well. One issue that was identified by the counsellor was that he had not learned how to maintain personal hygiene. Wherever he went, he would be socially avoided. No one would want to be close to him, interact with him, much less employ him or work with him as a colleague.
  9. The counsellor went the extra mile and tried to help him cope better firstly by improving his personal hygiene. She began to introduce to him the concept of personal hygiene. She was very creative in her approach. She bought bottles of baby lotion and bath lotion and asked him to smell it. She told him he had to try to smell like the bottles of baby or bath lotion she had given him after his bath every day. It worked.
  10. Step by step she went through all the pieces of his life that were making it difficult to integrate him into the community. He also had difficulty dealing with money. He had no concept of - if somebody pays you this amount, this is how much you give back after deducting what they owe you. She had to observe his interactions and understand the difficulties he encountered and address them, step by step. Bear in mind, she was only assigned to counsel him to help him cope with the sudden loss of his mother.
  11. I felt inspired to share these two recollections with you because this morning, as I interacted with some of the graduands, I had a sense that each and every one of them knows deep in their hearts that they are not merely providing or delivering social service but making a social impact in the work that they do.
  12. Whether they are working with ex-prisoners, or children from disadvantaged families or presently volunteering and intending to join the sector, they can and will make an impact not only to the individuals who are on the receiving end of their service but also an impact on the community where the individuals live.
  13. For many of us who do work on the ground in partnership with social service organisations, we say with great humility and sincerity that we truly appreciate the work that you do. Thank you very much for all that you put in to help another member of society.

    Attracting talent into the Social Service Sector
  14. But we have to do better than saying thank you.
  15. We have reached a stage of development in our society to do even more to help those who start off with a disadvantage, who with assistance, can also make progress with the rest of society. The role of social service professionals will become more important over time.
  16. Today we have 15,000 social service professionals. When I refer to them as social services professional, quite apart from the fact that there is a lot of skills and knowledge involved in what they do. Even the term “professionals” does not do justice to how complex their role is and how much the head, heart and hands come into play in them carrying out their work.
  17. The needs will grow and fortunately we have the resources to support them.
  18. By 2019, the sector will need about 16,000 professionals. More in the years to come.
  19. We also have a find a way to make sure the people invested in this work keep getting the tools they need to do better. They must also have the opportunity to advance in their careers. That is why the Human Capital Development arm of the NCSS, the Social Service Institute (SSI) plays such an important role. Many of the graduands and award recipients today are mid careers. This is an area that speaks to them and they do want to find a way to get into the sector.
  20. It is important for SSI to champion continuing education and training and make it available to all who have a heart to serve.
  21. Since 2013, SSI has provided training and learning opportunities to close to 50,000 individuals. SSI itself is not more than 50 people, that is an astounding number for SSI to reach out to in this short period of time.
  22. In particular, this year’s graduating cohort includes the first batch of the WSQ Advanced Certificate in Social Service and WSQ Diploma in Social Service. These two WSQ programmes support Government’s push to encourage skills upgrading and strengthen career pathways.
  23. Congratulations to the 82 of you who have completed the programmes. Armed with new knowledge and skills, you can now contribute more effectively in the sector.
  24. One of the graduands is Ms Talia Lee, used to run a beauty school for drop-out kids. Today, she is a Social Work Aide with The Turning Point. She is very passionate to work with the underprivileged and is now working with the residents for their rehabilitation.
  25. We also have Mr Timothy Chua, a graduand of the WSQ Diploma in Social Service. He is a Youth Worker from Gracehaven, Salvation Army. Inspired by a tough period during his teens, Timothy developed an innate desire to help others. So he chose social service, a path which he can follow through on his aspiration. Mr Chua will also be applying for the Bachelor of Social Work programme at SUSS where he hopes to take the next step to his ultimate goal – to be a social worker.
  26. We wish both Ms Lee and Mr Chua, all the best their new vocations!

    Uplifting the Social Service Sector
  27. The Government will continue to support skills development and build capabilities to meet the changing manpower demands of the sector.
  28. This will include providing more structured training and career pathways so that individuals are able to upgrade and deepen their skills as they progress in their career.
  29. The Ministry of Social and Family Development, NCSS, SSG and Workforce Singapore, with inputs from industry stakeholders and education and training institutions, are jointly developing the Skills Framework for Social Service that will be ready by the second half of 2018.
  30. The Skills Framework will provide valuable information about career pathways, occupations and job roles as well as existing and emerging skills and competencies required. It will also provide a list of training programmes for skills upgrading and mastery for the Social Service sector.
  31. In support of the strategies outlined under the Social Service Industry Manpower Plan (IMP) and the 5-year social service roadmap (4ST), to drive sector transformation, SSI will continue to collaborate with SSG and develop Skills Packages for the sector.
  32. I am pleased to know that SSI’s Education Innovation 2020 initiative now applies new and innovative pedagogies using technology to its online and blended learning. To-date, more than 110 courses have adopted blended learning and e-learning modes, and this has allowed sector professionals the flexibility to learn anytime and anywhere at their own convenience.
  33. I am also happy to note that NCSS will be partnering with e2i to further enhance the capability and capacity of the social service sector. Through SSI, the partnership will support employment and employability needs of the social service sector through career guidance, professional development, job matching and funding schemes. This tripartite commitment is a milestone for the social service sector.

    Conclusion
  34. To my mind there is nothing quite like the human touch our social service professionals bring to the table. It is what makes our country special and shows that we are a people that care about one another. We are a nation that wants to progress together.
  35. Congratulations once again to our graduands today.
  36. I have no doubt you will find your journey a meaningful one. As you find meaning for yourself, I want you to know that you are also making an enormous social impact. Something that takes us forward as a country.
  37. Thank you.
Last Updated: 30 January 2018