Income

Many low-income parents struggle to give their children a good start in life. How can Singaporeans help them?

June (pseudonym) is a health worker in the social services sector and the main breadwinner in her household which includes four young children under the age of six.

Unskilled and inexperienced, she struggles to find a better paying job to support her family. Balancing work stress and financial constraints constantly wore her down.

Although she would love to care for her children and spend quality time with them, June often finds herself unable to have the time or energy to do so.

She cares deeply for her children, but doesn’t know what she can do to help them grow and develop well.

June’s story is one of many I have come across as the leader of a home-visiting program under KidStart, a government initiative that supports children aged six and under from families in low income.

The Home Visiting Program provides ongoing in-home support to low-income pregnant mothers and families with children from birth to age three.

Our KidStart practitioners, even those with prior experience in the early years and social service sector, must undergo extensive training prior to deployment.

Depending on the needs of the family, they maintain regular visits and engagements with the families.

Many of these parents, like June, may lack the resources to support their children due to multiple challenges such as unstable employment and income and lack of caregiving supports.

Yet June and many other parents in the program have moved us at KidStart deeply, with their persistence in striving to do the best they can for their children and their resilience in overcoming obstacles.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Like all Singaporean parents, those who participate in the KidStart program radiate joy when their children take their first tooth, take their first steps and say their first words.

They yearn to be good parents. Some, having had difficult childhood experiences themselves, are determined to do more to ensure that their children grow up well and are protected.

Juggling the needs of growing children in Singapore can be difficult for any family, and even more so for those with fewer resources. Some work in jobs that pay by the hour or work irregular shifts in order to be with their children during the day.

There are also many who brave bad weather and work through the night delivering food to earn extra income for their families.

I have also known many fathers who work two jobs, preferring not to ask for financial assistance. This is not pride, but rather a desire to provide for their family.

My colleagues at KidStart and I applaud these families for their courage and resilience in wanting the best for their children, and will support them to cover some of their practical needs such as diapers or groceries.

We also guide them on how to enhance the growth and development of their children by leveraging parents’ existing knowledge and skills, highlighting opportunities for them to interact with their children, and sharing strategies that enable them to be confident caregivers.

As KidStart practitioners, we understand that parents can sometimes feel frustrated with their children.

This can be particularly stressful for single parents, as they play a dual role and find it even more difficult to find respite if they do not have adequate family support.

Often struggling with their own mental well-being and health issues, parents still cling to their aspirations to create a nurturing home environment for their children.

Faced with the additional challenges posed by Covid-19 and the lack of income because they have no paid medical leave, they persist with the belief and optimism that their lives will improve.

In June’s case, she was very successful in getting her family enrolled in the KidStart program, despite her initial hesitation about receiving support from outside agencies.

With the support and help of a KidStart home visitor, June has learned to better engage her children and is able to communicate better with them, which greatly reduces her frustrations. She now encourages others like her not to be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

I am always amazed at the efforts parents make for their children using the strategies shared by KidStart home visitors.

No matter how small the effort, it had a huge impact on their children.

Some parents set aside a corner in the room with books and developmental toys for their children to explore and engage in parent-child bonding times through play and reading.

Some intentionally reduce their television and other screen time in order to encourage their children to do the same, and instead spend more time on conversations and activities together.

They told us how they now talk more with their children as part of their daily activities, whether it’s washing their hands before meals or changing clothes, as daily routines have become moments of meaningful interaction for parents and children.

I remember how KidStart encountered a child with borderline communication issues which we assessed due to lack of interaction and communication with parents as they felt that talking to a young child who had not learned to talk was unnatural; preferring to rely on gadgets to engage the child instead.

With the encouragement and support of our home visitor, they became more comfortable talking to their child while carrying out daily activities, and the child’s language skills have since improved.

THE ROLE OF THE COMMUNITY IN A CHILD’S GROWTH

Beyond the efforts of parents and programs such as KidStart, the community at large can play an important role in supporting low-income families as they strive to be their best for their children. .

As neighbors, we can perform small acts of service, including buying groceries and meals for their families while parents and caregivers are busy at work, helping send their children to school, and lend educational materials they may need, such as laptops, especially during periods of home learning.

We can also begin to teach our children empathy, encouraging them to befriend children from all walks of life and educating them to be sensitive to people’s situations.

KidStart also welcomes public support in its volunteer efforts and outreach to eligible families. Additionally, the public can make regular contributions to the Growing Together with KidStart initiative, which garners community support for KidStart children.

As we like to say at KidStart, it takes a whole village to raise a child.

I hope Singaporeans can gain a deeper and more empathetic understanding of the hard work – and heart – that low-income families undertake to raise their children, cheer them on and support them in their efforts to give their children a good departure in life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ng Wei Chern is Senior Deputy Director of Home Visiting Program at KidStart Singapore Limited.