SINGAPORE: In a move to advance social mobility among lower-income families, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong unveiled an array of enhancements to the ComLink scheme at the Social Service Office’s (SSO) 10th anniversary at the Kreta Ayer Community Centre on Thursday, October 19.
Central to these enhancements under the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is the specialized training of ComLink officers as family coaches. These professionals are set to work more intimately with families, offering guidance tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. “They will … play a stronger role to work with every family to determine the customized support each family needs. This will ensure ComLink families receive the right support at the right time,” Mr. Wong articulated.
Currently, the ComLink programme serves around 14,000 families, with a dedicated force of approximately 110 staff operating out of Social Service Offices, bolstered by some 1,400 volunteer befrienders and community partners across various Housing and Development Board towns, as per the information provided in a parliamentary reply on October 4.
A separate parliamentary response in March highlighted that ComLink engagement officers and volunteers have reached over 6,800 families, successfully engaging with more than 3,800 to comprehend their unique needs, desires, and goals. Through these interactions, the officers identified immediate needs ranging from food to health concerns, promptly linking these families with relevant government agencies and community resources.
Amid these developments, Mr Wong announced prospective support measures linked to specific, co-developed action plans between family coaches and the participating families. “We can consider a higher quantum of support or even longer-term support to families that make progress in areas like staying employed, saving to buy a home, or ensuring their children attend preschool regularly,” he stated, without divulging details of the support.
The Deputy Prime Minister stressed the importance of this additional support in motivating families: “Family coaches will be able to use this additional support to encourage and motivate the families to work towards success.”
Plans are also in place to alleviate the short-term financial burdens these families face, assisting them in navigating towards more sustained, long-term objectives. These enhancements are part of a broader strategy under the Forward Singapore exercise, about which Mr. Wong assured, “We will release a report soon, and you will get a sense of the broad range of recommendations.”
Reflecting on the social challenges ahead, Mr Wong acknowledged the increasing complexity, particularly for lower-income families whose struggles significantly impact their children’s development. The ComLink programme, fully operational across all HDB towns with rental flats, offers “intensive support” from employment assistance to child development.
Despite the progress, Mr Wong recognized the deepening signs of social stratification, with more young families inhabiting rental flats for extended periods. The Forward SG exercise focuses significantly on this demographic shift.
Continuing to fight income inequality remains paramount. “We have been ’tilting’ our policies in favor of the lower-income groups and will continue to do so. More than that, we want to ensure that no family in Singapore gets trapped in a permanent underclass,” Mr. Wong affirmed.
He appealed for more volunteer befrienders and donors to step forward, contributing to the ComLink families’ upliftment. He highlighted the role of corporations like DBS and OCBC in this communal effort, offering programs and volunteering in support of these families.
Mr Wong emphasized the nation’s path forward: “The direction for our road ahead is clear: we want to see a fairer, more equal, and more inclusive Singapore. Together, let’s make this vision a reality.”