ASIA PACIFIC, SINGAPORE — 28 APRIL, 2021 — In 2020, TOUCH Community Service (“TOUCH” or “触爱社会服务”) saw a 58% increase in calls related to mental health issues and seven times more calls related to family violence during the Circuit Breaker. These callers were mostly young adults and parents with Secondary School children. Some were working adults anxious about a return to the workplace, or overseas students who had their studies and lives disrupted. It was found that some teenagers were crying at home or being upset without reason. Calls were also received from caregivers for the elderly and people with special needs who required help to access care and support. These caller profiles highlighted some of the stressors that affected various members of the family during the Circuit Breaker.
Family stressors have always existed, although these were brought to the fore by the pandemic. As families adapt to the new normal and a changing landscape, it has become pertinent for the community to discuss and identify the stress tolerance levels and resulting breaking points of each family. The inaugural TOUCH Family Conference serves as this platform for the community to discuss existing and emerging issues affecting families and facilitate capability-building amongst social service practitioners.
The two-day hybrid conference was held at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre and live-streamed to some 350 registrants. The conference was graced by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, covered a keynote address; a panel discussion which featured Minister of State for Social and Family Development, Ms Sun Xueling; and 17 breakout sessions presented by renowned experts from the social service, education and healthcare sector.
The conference theme, ‘At the Heart of Every Family’, sums up how TOUCH’s work begins with the family, the basic building block of our society. In the organisation’s nearly 30 years of multi-service work with children, youth-at-risk, vulnerable families, persons with special or healthcare needs, and seniors, topics that are at the heart of every family form the conference focus. With an emphasis on family stressors, family resilience, and family social capital and assets, these include topics such as cyberbullying, mental wellness, parenting in the digital age, ageing, the juggling of multiple roles by married women in Singapore, marriage and singlehood, building the social capital of low-income families, and more.
In her keynote address, Associate Professor Irene Ng, from the National University of Singapore, referred to four major theoretical concepts that shaped family stressors and resilience, and how these concepts have real-world implications in the design of social services and programmes for families.
Some low-income families have struggled to stay digitally included. The challenge they face includes a lack of access to resources (both hardware and capabilities to navigate it) and strong support networks in general. With digital inadequacy a major stress point for vulnerable families, TOUCH created Digitally Ready Families (“DRF” or “科技家庭我最行!”) with support from long-time partner Facebook to holistically address the digital gap by providing devices and empowering low-income families with skills to navigate the digital space in today’s new normal.
The conference saw the launch of the second pilot of DRF through a logo unveiling by TOUCH, programme partners and funders comprising Facebook, Microsoft, and the President’s Challenge 2021 (details in Annex A).
Mr James Tan (陈錦耀), CEO of TOUCH said, “In TOUCH’s multi-service work with children, youths, families, seniors and persons with intellectual disabilities, technology is a key enabler empowering our beneficiaries to age well and to learn better. We are glad to announce the launch of the second DRF pilot involving Facebook, Microsoft and the President’s Challenge 2021. We are grateful for the collaboration amongst corporate and community partners to ease digital adoption for vulnerable families, and in strengthening community support.”
54-year-old Mr Mohamad Roslan Bin Palil, a participant of DRF shared, “I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in DRF. The communication skills I’ve learnt have helped me to better manage my daughters’ device use. I have also learnt how to navigate websites and research for information, which allows me to find resources and courses online. In addition, I am now able to identify online scams, and am more confident in navigating the digital age safely.”
A two-part pilot (details in Annex A) involving some 60 families has been scheduled from November 2020 to May 2021.
Backgrounder on Digitally Ready Families By TOUCH Community Services
DRF is a digital-readiness programme that aims to provide low-income families with essential Digital Life Skills.
Through DRF, workshops and engagement channels are made available to both parents and their children, equipping them with skills to use basic digital platforms and cyber wellness resources to effectively manage their use of digital platforms. The programme, with modules designed by TOUCH Cyber Wellness, also focuses on parent-child communication which plays an integral part to good management of the child’s device use.
The DRF is one of the programmes supported under the President’s Challenge 2021, with its focus this year on ‘Building a Digitally Inclusive Society’. The programme has been supported by partners, Facebook and Microsoft, in the first phase of the pilot. Apart from funding the pilot, the staff of Facebook and Microsoft have been involved in facilitating the programme as volunteers.
In support of enabling more children and youths to use technology actively and harness the full potential of home-based learning (HBL) for Singaporean families, Facebook has committed USD46,000 (SGD60,000) in support of DRF. This is an extension of Facebook’s work with TOUCH since March 2020, when Facebook sponsored USD250,000 (SGD350,000) for 1,000 laptops that are distributed to children and youths from low-income families. In June 2019, Facebook also partnered TOUCH to introduce a community programme for seniors, aged 50 and above, who would like to learn more about using digital services. The programme, “Digitally Ready Seniors” (DRS), which comprised three modules, was conducted in English, Mandarin and local dialects. It guided seniors on the functions of essential digital services such as transport apps, e-payment modes, as well as cyber-related knowledge to manage false information and scams.
As a strategic and trusted technology leader in Singapore, Microsoft aims to enable future-ready talents for the digital economy and empower communities and social sectors to leverage digital innovation for a more inclusive society. Through the Digitally Ready Families program, Microsoft has offered resources to support digital skills training and preventative cyber wellness to ensure that families in Singapore are part of the nation’s digital transformation. By helping parents support their child’s home-based learning and proactively managing risks like cyberbullying, family members of all ages will be better included in our digital world.
Keeping with safe-distancing measures, the programme is currently conducted online by some 30 trainers and facilitators comprising TOUCH staff as well as volunteers from TOUCH, Facebook and Microsoft.