Partnering whole-of-society for a caring Singapore
Opening Remarks by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at the Touch Family Conference at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre
28 April 2021
Mr Lawrence Khong, Founding Chairman of TOUCH Community Services
Mr James Tan, CEO of TOUCH Community services
Ladies and gentlemen,
- Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you today.
a. Let me congratulate TOUCH on its inaugural family conference – At the Heart of every Family.
b. I looked through the programme, the speakers are well-qualified, and certainly highly relevant in today’s context.
No one-size-fits-all approach
- At the Heart of every Family is the key topic of today’s conference, and it is very timely.
a. Singapore is a small, young and multicultural country. As our society matures, and as we handle the pandemic and the new normal, there are some complex challenges.
b. This is most evident when we see how society reacts to a multitude of economic, social, geopolitical or cultural forces much larger than the individual, families or Singapore itself.
- Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. The range of issues that families have faced across a spectrum are both complex and diverse.
a. Those of us who have been fortunate to be able to work from home in a comfortable setting, or have our children do home-based learning in a convenient manner with relevant facilities, the circuit breaker and post circuit breaker period was something we could navigate.
b. But COVID-19 has also placed immense stress on many other families. This includes simple things that one takes for granted, such as day-to-day living, being at home in a confined environment and having to work or study from home. These are all novel experiences and putting families in close quarters sometimes made for more difficult situations.
i. To add to that, when a sole breadwinner loses his or her job, as had happen when our economy took a beating because of COVID-19, or
ii. prolonged physical separation from an overseas family member, where family members had to continue earning a living overseas or
iii. sometimes family members can get along better when they do not see each other as often. But when you have to be in close quarters all the time, there are different issues which may arise.
- The complexity of issues affecting today’s families is well reflected in the range of topics discussed at this conference.
a. From women’s issues, aging, youths, disability, mental wellness, transnational families, low-income and less advantaged families, to how we navigate the digital space, and some of the adverse effects such as cyberbullying.
- Leo Tolstoy, a famous author, put it quite well when he wrote that “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.
a. To address cross-cutting issues in a multi-faceted society, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. There cannot be just one solution and assume that solution will work for all families.
- Government, community, employers and academics, who write, think and research about these topics all have a role to play.
a. Each of us bring to the table very different perspectives – our own experiences and learnings, as well as networks and resources.
- At the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), we work with Singaporeans to build a home and society that is caring, cohesive and confident. We recognise that at the heart of all this, is the family.
- Let me highlight a few areas where the Government and other stakeholders have worked closely on in recent months.
- One area which we have paid much attention to over the past six months is on women’s development issues.
a. In September last year, the Government launched the “Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development” to understand Singaporeans’ aspirations and talk about ideas at the national level. What can we do, what more can we do, and how can we change some of the mindsets and thinking that underpins the role that we sometimes pigeonhole women to be in.
b. While Singapore women have made tremendous progress over the years with the support of the community and Government, I think and hope you all agree as well, that more can be done collectively to empower, protect and uplift women, as well as younger children like girls in school, in Singapore. In doing this, it is not just about the women or by the women, but the men need to work together on this as well.
c. We plan to complete more than 100 Conversations by end-May, engaging a diverse range of citizens, from grassroots to professional organisations and women at different stations in life, through the Conversations.
- This is one issue which affects the entire society – from our homes to the workplace.
a. The ideas and recommendations from citizens across these Conversations, will form the basis of a White Paper that will be submitted to the Government later this year. We will take steps in addressing these issues from the White Paper.
b. The White Paper will chart how Singapore can advance key women’s issues through potential policy changes and programmes.
- Mental wellness is another cross-cutting topic that has been with us in society for some time now. With the advent of the Internet and social media, these issues are much more accentuated.
a. According to the Singapore Mental Health Study 2016, 1 in 7 people in Singapore has experienced a mood, anxiety or alcohol use disorder in their lifetime.
b. For youths aged 18 to 34, this proportion is 1 in 5.
- The Government has put in place resources, initiatives and built up on-ground partnerships to help tackle this.
a. For example, the Youth Mental Well-being Network has brought together 1,000 individuals including youths, social sector and mental health professionals, parents and caregivers. As the saying goes, it takes a whole village to raise a child. These are all people in the village, who need to come together and come up with ideas and initiatives to improve mental well-being in our youths. Another dimension is recognition that this is a problem, so that it does not become a social stigma issue, and something that one hides from someone else because of the stigma.
b. HPB and MCCY had also worked with partners on a “Brave the New” campaign to equip the public with simple tips to care for their own emotions and mental well-being and also help others who may also require support, during the stressful COVID-19 period.
- But the issue of mental health is a very broad one which Government agencies alone, through programmes, cannot tackle by ourselves. We cannot be on the ground each time. We have to build up networks, resources and partnerships on the ground to help.
a. The community has an important and pivotal role – in reducing stigma, identifying individuals who need mental health support, and providing some of this support. Sometimes the best and first responders, are those closest to the individual like school mates and work mates.
- Organisations like TOUCH have been critical in these efforts.
a. I commend initiatives such as TOUCH Youth Intervention, which have benefited many youths facing mental health, cyber wellness or other youth issues.
Partnering whole-of-society to create a caring Singapore
- At this conference, professionals from the social service, education, and healthcare sectors, our students and our community have come together to discuss important issues. We can no longer regard these as segmented issues. It requires an all-of-government and all-of-society effort to bring these sectors together, to achieve seamless integration of addressing these problems.
- Beyond discussions, I am also heartened to see that various stakeholders have already established partnerships, to put action behind their words, and work on projects that can move the needle.
a. This is very consistent to what we do at SG Cares – a national movement to guide, provide infrastructure and support the goodwill for all who live in Singapore to better help those in need.
b. Collaboration between the people, private and public sectors will continue to strengthen the social pillars in our community, making Singapore a more caring, inclusive and endearing home that we are proud of.
c. This is the reason MCCY is going all out to establish one SG Cares Volunteer Centre as the synergising node for 3-P collaborations in all 24 towns. By March 2022, all 24 towns will each have a Volunteer Centre, to be the aggregator and also set up the infrastructure to support the Social Service Agencies (SSAs) on the ground. We don’t want to duplicate the work the SSAs are doing, as each of the SSAs are already plugged in and established. They know the needs of the beneficiaries, and we don’t want to replace them. Instead, we would like to see how that can be supported by the aggregation of resources.
- On this occasion, I’d like to make special mention of the Digitally Ready Families programme, which will be spearheaded by TOUCH.
a. This will equip low-income families with the skills to use basic digital platforms, and cyber wellness resources to effectively manage their use of digital platforms and devices. Sometimes it is one thing to provide the hardware, but it is another to provide the software. I think for every hardware we have, there is a need for a softer touch for better integration, which TOUCH provides.
b. The partnerships between TOUCH, Facebook, Microsoft and the National Council of Social Service, is a testament of the SG Cares movement to galvanise collective efforts for greater social impact.
c. I am really glad to see this public-private partnership come together and create a strong link to support the needy families on the ground. I wish this programme all the very best and I am sure you will grow from strength to strength.
- In closing, I would like to wish the organisers all the best. There is a great set of speakers with very relatable issues. I wish all of you huge success in exchanging ideas and getting to know one another. At the end of the day, what really powers these programmes is the human relations and dynamics behind them. That is what makes this so special.
- Thank you.
Last updated on 28 April 2021