The Circle of Care (CoC) is a four-year project of Care Corner funded by the Lien Foundation. The project involves two of its child development centres: one catering to the masses while the other has more children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The CoC project aims to integrate relevant services to serve both children and families under one roof.
Whatever happens to the child in the home environment (for example, lack of stimulation, poor nutrition, absent parents, neglect) and to parents (poor health, disability, unemployment, financial hardship) will inadvertently affect the child in the short and long term. When these issues are addressed in a holistic manner, children and their parents can be better supported and these children will stand a chance of faring better in school and later on, in life.
The proposed model is based on the ecological model. There are potentially four circles of care: the first circle is the family, which provides food and shelter, safety and protection, love and guidance; the second is the centre, which provides holistic care, development and education in a safe and appropriate stimulating environment with nurturing, well-trained teachers. The third circle is the community, which provides safe play areas, friendly neighbours, services for children and families. The fourth is the circle comprising government policies and services that support children and families in terms of affordable health and child care, social services, education, financial support, housing and so on. The two child development centres in this CoC project work with the three other circles to enhance children’s care, development and education, especially to those needing it most.
A Good Start
The CoC project aims to give children from two months to six years, especially those from disadvantaged families, a good start by providing affordable quality care and education, integrating both internal and external network of support and resources for children’s holistic development. It also aims to support and engage families. In essence, the project works on collaborating, partnering, engaging, communicating and building capacities.
Internal Network: From Social Workers to Educational Therapists
The CoC taps on Care Corner’s various services, particularly its Family Service Centres (FSC) and its Educational Therapy Services (ETS). Social workers from the FSCs work with children with behavioural and social-emotional issues and their families. They use play and other social-work interventions and make home visits to involve parents in the care, development and education of their children. They may also help families with their own personal issues, either directly or indirectly, through referrals to relevant agencies. Parents coping with basic survival and other needs are often stressed. When help and support is available, they are in a better position to support their child.
The educational therapists help kindergarten children with learning difficulties prepare for Primary One. The social workers, therapists, teachers and principals confer and consult with one another about the children so that in the process, they themselves gain a fuller understanding of the child and intervention becomes more holistic.
External Network: Music & Massage
CoC engages the external network when internal resources are unavailable. For instance, from the private sector, the Massage in School Programme was introduced as many of the children were observed to be restless and disruptive in class. Trainers taught children how to give each other massages, with the permission of the recipient. The programme helps to calm restless children for lessons and other activities.
An initiative with Wheelock College involved weekly visits by degree students in early childhood education who read, tell stories and introduce literacy activities to engage the children in small groups. A private sponsor made available music lessons for the children, something they enjoy immensely. As many of the children would not be able to afford the otherwise additional fee, this enrichment programme exposes all children to another level of music expression. Another external resource, the National Library Board, helps by providing bulk loans so that the centre can make available books for children to bring home over the weekends.
The first year was both challenging and rewarding as three different professions teamed up to collaborate for the first time – the early childhood educators, social workers and educational therapists. Shares Isaac Tan, Head of the Educational Therapy Services, “After one year, we have gotten to know the other team members better. This will enable us to work even more efficiently and effectively in the second year.” Patricia Tham, Principal of Centre B, notes that, “Teachers are more confident when handling challenging parents and children. The project makes it possible for us to hold hands and work as a team. No one is left alone to face challenges."
Preliminary observations and social workers’ case studies reflect beginning outcomes for children and parents. Absenteeism rate and late attendance have improved as more children attend the centre more regularly and punctually, too. Attendance for parent-teacher meetings has also increased from one parent in 2012 to 30 parents in 2013 for a single centre.
Says Joslin Koh, Principal of Centre A, “With the collaboration of a multi-disciplinary team, the children are observed to be calmer, have better attention span and are better mannered.” And from the social worker’s perspective, Geraldine Foo adds, “CoC allows us to intervene with the family upstream. Usually parents seek help when their children exhibit behavioural problems in late primary or secondary school. It’s good to gain an early entry to work with the children and parents through the childcare centre."
The work started in the first year will continue in 2014, especially in the area of engaging parents and different stakeholders in the circles of care. The focus will extend to the younger children, including babies. There will be more capacity building for social workers and teachers, and a review of existing curriculum. Potential external partners include role models from the neighbourhood and suitable institutions will be sought. The health sector will also be engaged to strengthen the health and nutrition of children who need it. Year 1 has set the foundation for this project. The team now moves forward with more confidence and great enthusiasm.