Informal Child and Elder Care in Singapore: South Central Community Family Service Center

At ACCESS Health International, we like to feature good examples of community and elder care. A recent visit to the South Central Community Family Service Center in Singapore reveals a thriving space where different generations of neighbors visit, work, and play with one another.

The South Central Community Family Service Center is located in the southern part of Singapore. The Center is shown as a red dot on the map.

The South Central Community Family Service Center is located in the southern part of Singapore. The Center is shown as a red dot on the map.

The South Central Community Family Service Center is just one of many other Family Service Centers in Singapore. Family Service Centers are an important part of the “Many Helping Hands” approach of the Singapore government toward social services. The Many Helping Hands approach emphasizes the involvement of multiple sectors in providing for the social welfare needs of people. Family Service Centers are run by Voluntary Welfare Organizations and are supported by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the National Council of Social Services, Community Chest, or the Singapore Totalisator Board [1]. This is one way the government supports and encourages care provision by nongovernmental entities.

The South Central Community Family Service Center is unique in one respect. In January 2013, the Center became an independent entity with its own board of directors. The mission of South Central Community Family Service Center remains the same: to promote the wellbeing and self reliance of families. The main focus is supporting lower income individuals and families in the Bukit Ho Swee, Henderson, Redhill, and Indus Road neighborhoods. Between 2013 and 2014, the Center managed an average of four hundred cases. Casework involves counseling or referral to specialized services. For example, children from families lacking in basic necessities may face challenges in schoolwork or dealing with classmates. Center staff can counsel children or their parents on managing these problems. Where necessary, families are referred to other services, such as specialized psychiatric help or financial aid.

The entrance was decorated with cheerful cartoon sheep to welcome the year of the sheep.

The entrance was decorated with cheerful cartoon sheep to welcome the year of the sheep.

Besides casework, another focus of the Center is community engagement. To this end, Center staff organize events to involve nearby residents and create community spirit. As the Center is located on the ground floor of a block of residential flats, it is accessible and open to residents in the neighborhood. Our visit took place during the Lunar New Year period. As seen in the photo, festive decorations lining the entrance created a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

Outreach worker Erwin showed us around the Center. Erwin explained to us that a guiding principle for the Center and staff is community cooperation and participation. This principle is informed by the Asset Based Community Development approach to community work. This approach ensures sustainability because initiatives are driven by the residents themselves. Residents volunteer to help care for their neighbors’ elderly relatives or children. Residents worked together to plant a community garden full of useful medicinal herbs.

Residents take ownership of the community garden and bond while caring for the plants. (Photo: South Central Community Family Service Center)

Residents take ownership of the community garden and bond while caring for the plants. (Photo: South Central Community Family Service Center)

The Center is a collaborative environment. The community garden is a visible fruit of this collaborative environment. The garden had been an empty space in front of the Center. Center staff wanted to galvanize residents to work on a common project. Residents contributed ideas and voted for the winning project: a medicinal herb and vegetable garden. Because the idea came from residents, the garden has been adopted and cared for by residents.

Residents contribute ideas to keep the garden fresh and growing. Residents can vote for the next plant type by placing a marble in the respective bottle.

Residents contribute ideas to keep the garden fresh and growing. Residents can vote for the next plant type by placing a marble in the respective bottle.

In the picture above, one can see a board where residents can vote on the next plant type. At the time of visit, sweet potato leaf was the leading candidate. The board itself was constructed by hand by a resident who is a carpenter by trade.

The Request and Offer board matches community resources to areas of need.

The Request and Offer board matches community resources to areas of need.

Inside the Center hangs another board, where residents can request items or services they need, or post offers of items or services they can give. The platform helps match community resources to people who need them most.

Residents streamed in and out of the Center throughout our visit. Erwin pointed out a pair of young siblings playing games on the couch. Erwin told me the siblings come to the Center after school ends to wait for their parents to get off work. I also saw groups of elderly chatting with one another at tables and chairs. The open space created by the South Central Community Family Service Center helps with informal child and elder care as residents look out for and engage with one another.

Outreach worker Erwin, in gray, briefs volunteers on a house visit activity.

Outreach worker Erwin, in gray, briefs volunteers on a house visit activity.

Near the end of our visit, there was a briefing for a large group of about twenty five volunteers, both young and old. They were preparing to give out yusheng packs to shop owners and residents at the Lengkok Bahru neighborhood. This showcased lower income families and children as goodwill ambassadors as part of this “Lo Hei Outreach”. The yusheng salad is traditionally eaten during the Lunar New Year, and Lo Hei is the dialect term for tossing the salad. Family and friends gather to Lo Hei together, signifying prosperity and togetherness. The briefing was punchy and positive with the staff recognizing the contributions of volunteers.

The South Central Community Family Service Center is an example of successful informal community and elder care. The staff and volunteers have created an open venue where residents are encouraged to join community activities and contribute their talents. Can their model of community involvement and ownership be replicated elsewhere? For example, could elder care as a larger industry move toward being more community based and operated? Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment.


1. The Singapore Totalisator Board, also known as Tote Board, manages the surplus funds generated by Singapore Turf Club and Singapore Pools. They channel funds in support of various causes in Singapore such as arts and culture, social services, community development, education, health, and sports.

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About andrewphua

Andrew is a program coordinator at ACCESS Health International. He blogs about aging related news and issues.

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