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THE Ministry of Social and Family Development on Tuesday spelled out measures to strengthen and deepen the support given to vulnerable, low-income families, including even programmes to heal broken family relationships.
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will pilot a system of support in the second half of the year to give children from low-income families a good start.
Called KidSTART, the S$20 million programme will identify, reach out and provide coordinated support to these children and their families, so that the young ones get early access to appropriate health, learning and developmental support.
It is expected to help 1,000 such children living in Bukit Merah, Kreta Ayer, Boon Lay, Taman Jurong and Geylang Serai in the first three years, Tan Chuan-Jin, minister for Social and Family Development told Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate on his ministry's Budget.
Another new programme, called Safe and Strong Families (SSF), will set out to strengthen family-based care and community support for vulnerable children.
To be launched by December, it will, for a start, reach to 400 eligible families and vulnerable children over three years. The scheme will offer two services - one aimed at family preservation, and the other, at family reunification.
Mr Tan said: "In the coming years, my ministry will continue to strengthen these fundamental family relationships... Where relationships have problems, we will try to help repair and preserve them.
"Where they have broken down, we'll try to minimise the negative impact."
Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, the parliamentary secretary for Social and Family Development, told the House that the government has also moved to deepen the reach of its social-assistance policies.
The cash-assistance rate under the ComCare long-term assistance package to households, to be raised from July 1, is expected to benefit some 3,800 households, of which the majority are elderly.
A one-person household will now receive S$500 a month, up from the previous S$450; larger households will receive more cash assistance.
Under the scheme, those who are unable to work and support themselves or have limited family help, are eligible for monthly cash assistance, free medical treatment in polyclinics or public hospitals, and access to government-funded social services such as senior activity centres.
Mr Tan, who had called a year ago for a review of the discrepancy in benefits for unwed mothers, announced that unwed mothers whose babies arrive from early next year will be given the same 16-week maternity leave that married mums get.
Their children will also qualify for the Child Development Account (CDA), which helps pay for childcare and healthcare needs. They will also be included in the S$3,000 CDA First Step grant.
"We are doing up the legislation and system enhancement for this to kick in, likely for children born from the third quarter of this year," he said.
He also announced that a new Early Childhood Development Centres Act will be introduced this year to regulate kindergartens and child-care centres under the same framework, to promote higher and more consistent standards across the sector.