MSF to pilot mentoring programme to support at-risk youths starting with ITE students

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SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will pilot a mentoring programme to support at-risk youths this year, as well as expand efforts to help children living in rental flats and couples with marital issues.

The mentoring programme expects to target 100 youths over two years, starting first with Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students who leave school prematurely and will be launched in the fourth quarter of this year, said Parliamentary Secretary for MSF Eric Chua on Friday (5 March) in Parliament during the ministry's Committee of Supply debate.

The MSF will be making a call for mentors across industries to participate in this pilot.

"We intend to gather mentors from various industries, to guide the youths to explore potential careers in areas they are interested in. Where possible, mentors will pave the way for internships, apprenticeships, or job placements for the mentees," Chua said.

The ministry will assess the effectiveness and scalability of the pilot before deciding on the next phase of the programme.

Expanding Community Link

The ministry will also scale up the Community Link (ComLink) initiative nationwide to 21 towns over the next two years, an effort which is expected to benefit 14,000 families with children living in rental housing across Singapore, said Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration Desmond Lee during the debate on Friday.

The move is aimed at accelerating plans to strengthen support for the lower-income and families and individuals in need amid the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ComLink pilot was first launched in April 2019 at four sites – Boon Lay, Jalan Kukoh, Kembangan-Chai Chee and Marsiling – to provide greater support to around 1,000 families with children living in rental housing.

Across the four ComLink sites, there are currently 59 programmes, supported and run by some 17 corporates and donors and 242 volunteers. These programmes range from reading and tuition classes for kids to employment coaching for adults.

The ministry will begin with 11 towns by this year, including expanding the existing four ComLink sites from the rental cluster level to the town level, before launching ComLink in the remaining 10 towns by the first half of 2022.

Lee also stressed that the way that such services are delivered to vulnerable Singaporeans must be "redesigned".

Outreach efforts must be streamlined so that families are not over-taxed by various agencies, he said, adding that agencies must be aligned to a common set of outcomes centred on the families, so that they are not "pulled in different directions".

Lead agencies such as SSOs and Family Service Centres must also be empowered to exercise more leadership to stitch together interventions, while other agencies support as part of a team, Lee said.

"Fourth, provide better signposting of ground needs to donors, volunteers and corporate CSR (corporate social responsibility), so that their giving is not just meaningful, but impactful and productive," he added.

Boosting family programmes

Ten Strengthening Families Programme @ Family Service Centres (SFP@FSCs) will be established across Singapore over the next three years, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling during the debate on Friday.

Each will be dedicated to one of 10 regions – defined by the service boundaries of a cluster of Social Service Offices (SSOs) – in Singapore.

The SFP@FSC initiative is part of the MSF's family programmes and services targeting couples who may face greater challenges and families showing early signs of stress.

The SFP@FSCs will consolidate existing programmes in the areas of marriage and divorce, including marriage preparation and support for couples in early marriages and transnational marriages, and the programmes offered by the divorce support specialist agencies.

The MSF will also introduce a new family counselling service at the SFP@FSCs to address family relationship and marital issues.

"Some marriages need more support, such as those who marry before 21 years of age, and transnational couples. Tailored marriage preparation and support programmes will help lay a strong foundation for marriage," said Sun.

"Four existing Divorce Support Specialist Agencies, or DSSAs, will be folded into the SFP@FSC. Services will be more accessible as families may approach any of the 10 SFP@FSCs, whereas the DSSAs may not be located as conveniently."

The SFP@FSCs was piloted in 2019 with social service agency partners Care Corner Singapore and Fei Yue Community Services.

Three more SFP@FSCs will be added by the last quarter of this year and another five will be rolled out within the next two years.

The ministry will also work with the Singapore University of Social Science (SUSS) and community partners to support the social service agencies in their recruitment, capability building, and training needs.

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