A Guide to the Financial, Social, and Emotional Support Available to Families Of Children With Special Needs
"Everyone plays a part in making our society an inclusive and caring one. Let us exercise empathy, especially during this difficult time. The community can also help look out for persons with disabilities to support their needs" - MSF
theAsianparent recently featured the story of Karen, a mother who is battling to raise two children under the age of 6 who have both been diagnosed with autism, while having to deal with a neighbour who is allegedly applying undue pressure on her small family, often cursing for her children to die. In our attempts to raise community awareness on empathy towards families with special needs children, we reached out to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) about the various avenues of support for families with autism, that is currently being implemented in Singapore.
Support for families with autism
Regarding Karen’s specific case, the MSF spokesperson said: “It is indeed challenging for Karen to care for two children with autism while facing disputes with her neighbour. Karen and her family are receiving support for their social and emotional needs, as well as financial support from MSF and our community partners. These include Early Intervention professionals and social workers. These professionals will continue to work closely with Karen and her family to mitigate the family stressors.”
“MSF Social Service Offices (SSO) have been supporting the family with Comcare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance from April to December 2020. The family is also supported by a Family Service Centre near their home, which provides counselling support and advice in managing the family’s relationship with their neighbour. Both children are attending the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC). They attended weekly online classes with Karen during the Circuit Breaker period,” the spokesperson further added.
In the article about Karen’s ordeal, she said to have felt depressed to the point of suffering from very dark thoughts as the situation had become unbearable for her. The disputes with her neighbour added to the general stress that parenting brings—and that of raising children with developmental needs, in particular.
MSF shared that while it is challenging for families like Karen’s who are dealing with a myriad of difficult situations, there are a few avenues of help offered by government programmes that they can take to avoid being over-burdened and receive targeted help specific to their cases.
“We encourage individuals and families facing social and emotional challenges to reach out to their nearest Family Service Centre (FSC), which are based in the community and staffed by social service professionals. Alternatively, individuals and families could reach out to any social service touchpoints and we can make the necessary referrals to the FSC,” MSF noted.
A list of the nearest FSCs in your locality can be found here.
The National CARE Hotline (1800-202-6868) is a further venture set up recently to provide 24/7 round the clock emotional support and psychological first aid to those feeling stressed and distressed. “The hotline also provides emotional reassurance, a listening ear, or practical coping tips. The CARE Hotline is open to all and complements existing phone or online counselling platforms,” MSF noted.
“If callers need help beyond what the volunteer counsellors of the CARE Hotline can provide, they will be linked up with agencies, healthcare institutions and community partners for more support,” MSF further added.
Below are lists of various hotlines, including the National Care Hotline, and that of community partners offering targeted support for families in distress.
Support For Families with Autism: Educational Support for Children with Special Needs
According to MSF, families in similar situations can benefit from Government-funded programmes that provide early intervention support for families with autism, through a range of professionals, from learning support educators and early intervention teachers; to therapists, psychologists and social workers. The early intervention seeks to maximise a child’s developmental potential.
“[Programmes like] SG Enable supports families with children with developmental needs and provides referrals to relevant services. Today, children under the age of 7 with developmental needs can receive intervention through Government-funded Early Intervention (EI) programmes. Children with mild developmental needs are supported by the Development Support (DS) and Learning Support (LS) programmes, in a preschool setting. Children with moderate to severe developmental needs can receive intervention through the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) at EI centres,” MSF stated.
The range of early intervention programmes can be found in the infographic below:
The EIPIC programme saw a recent revamp to make it more flexible and customisable to the varied needs of children. Fees for Singaporeans have been lowered to make the programmes more affordable for families of children with developmental needs.
“Since April 2019, MSF has enhanced EI subsidies and broadened the income criteria for means-tested subsidies so that more families qualify. As a result, out-of-pocket expenses for EI services have been lowered across all EI programmes for most income groups, with reductions averaging between 30% and 70% depending on the EI programme. After subsidies, fees for Singapore Citizen Children range from $5 to $430 per month (fees prior to enhanced subsidies ranged from $5 to $780 per month),” MSF noted.
More details on government-funded support programmes for children with developmental needs can be found here.
Financial and Social Support for Families with Autism
It is a particularly challenging time for persons with disabilities, their caregivers, and families, being in the midst of a global pandemic that has severely restricted normal daily activities.
While many families were unable to access usual rehabilitation and care services in the usual manner during the circuit breaker, all disability services are gradually reopening in Phase 1, according to MSF.
“Our disability services continue to maintain regular contact with clients, and connect them to customised assistance as needed, including supporting caregiving,” MSF added.
For more detailed information on the support available for families of persons with disabilities, caregivers can refer to the Enabling Guide (www.enablingguide.sg) by SG Enable, which is a valuable resource hub for persons with disabilities and caregivers.
“It includes information on emotional and financial support, such as the various financial assistance schemes, grants and funds that persons with disabilities or [their] caregivers can leverage—be it to defray the cost of disability support and assistive technology, secure their financial future or fund their education,” MSF noted.
The website also carries a curated set of specialised resources on support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Those in need of financial support can apply for the various help schemes at www.supportgowhere.gov.sg, contact the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000, or approach their nearest SSO,” MSF also noted.
A list of SSO offices in different localities can be found on the MSF website.
“Everyone plays a part in making our society an inclusive and caring one. Let us exercise empathy, especially during this difficult time. The community can also help lookout for persons with disabilities to support their needs,” MSF added.
SG Enable may be contacted at 1800-8585-885 or [email protected] for individuals who need disability-related support.