SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will invest around S$60 million a year – a 30 per cent increase from the current S$45 million – to provide two new early intervention programmes and make fees for early intervention services more affordable, it announced on Monday (Jan 28).
With the new programmes, it hopes to better customise and tailor its support for children with developmental needs.
Speaking on the sidelines of a visit to an early intervention centre, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee described the current early intervention model as “one-size fits all”, regardless of the child’s age or developmental stage.
According to MSF, children with mild developmental needs are supported by the Development Support (DS) and Learning Support programmes in a preschool setting, while those with moderate to severe development needs are supported through the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) at 21 centres across Singapore. These centres are run by 10 voluntary welfare organisations.
These children receive the same model of EIPIC intervention across different ages and needs.
But Mr Lee described the enhanced framework as more targeted and customised, with the support tailored to each child’s individual needs.
“We believe that with good and affordable early intervention, these children stand the best chance to improve their developmental progress in an all-rounded way,” he said. “These children and their families need all the support we can provide.”
From July, two new programmes will be introduced: EIPIC Under-2s, which is meant for children under the age of two with moderate to severe developmental needs; and DS Plus, which is for children who have made progress under EIPIC and now have mild to moderate developmental needs. DS Plus aims to help the child adapt to a mainstream preschool setting.
MSF will also increase its subsidies for early intervention programmes and broaden the income criteria for these subsidies so more families can qualify. As a result, out-of-pocket expenses for early intervention services will be lowered for most income groups, with reductions averaging between 30 and 70 per cent.
After subsidies, fees for children who are Singapore citizens will range from S$5 to S$430 a month, as compared to the existing range of S$5 to S$780. These changes will take effect from April, and MSF said it would continue to work with early intervention service providers to extend additional financial support to families who may need more help.
At least 4,500 children each year are expected to benefit from the enhancements, MSF said.
EIPIC UNDER-2S: PARENTS’ INVOLVEMENT REQUIRED
The launch of both programmes follows a two-year pilot involving about 700 children from three early intervention centres.
Parents, caregivers and preschool teachers who were involved gave positive feedback on the improved support provided to families, and the greater inclusion of children with developmental needs in preschools, MSF said.
The EIPIC Under-2s programme will require the children to be accompanied by their parents or caregivers, who will receive training to carry out intervention strategies in the child’s daily routines at home.
Speaking to the media, Mr Lee said that the active participation of parents and caregivers is an “integral part” of the programme.
“At that age, having the speech therapist, occupational therapist ... interacting with the child is important, but it is equally important to empower and equip the parents and caregivers with the skills and practical tips that enable them to bring learning back home,” he said.
Currently, voluntary welfare organisation AWWA’s EIPIC programmes require parents to be involved. But not every EIPIC centre has this requirement, explained AWWA’s deputy director for children and youth disability Tan Peng Chian.
She also stressed the importance of parents being involved with their children from young.
“When this bonding happens, parents will want to do more with the child, interact with and provide the child with the stimulation that they need,” she said, explaining that children with disabilities tend to need more stimulation than their typically developing peers.
“The parents also get attuned to the child’s needs, and when the child is happy, emotional needs are met, and the child can learn faster.”
Parents Zulfadhli Abdul Rahman and Nurhuda Ismail enrolled their son Haziq in the Under-2s pilot programme at AWWA when he was just four months old.
Mr Zulfadhli explained that they chose to do so as the family believes in the importance of early intervention.
“0 to 2 years old is a very important time frame for the kids to absorb as much as they can,” he said. “That’s why we decided to go at the earliest available date.
He added that since Haziq, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and is now 23 months old, joined the programme, they have seen “drastic changes”. Learning from the therapists also equipped him to teach and guide Haziq at home.
“At first, he was not very good with his leg strength,” he said. “So the teachers taught us how to train his legs better, such as by taking the flight of steps at home, and teaching him to squat more.”
“He actually managed to walk within the milestone period.”
DS PLUS: A STEP IN OUR “JOURNEY OF INCLUSION”
Meanwhile, the DS Plus programme will allow children who have made sufficient progress in the programmes at the EIPIC centre to transition to receiving intervention in a preschool setting. Currently, they receive continued intervention at their EIPIC centre until they are ready for primary school.
Mr Lee described the programme as “another step in our journey of inclusion”.
“Effectively, what it means is that many more mainstream preschools will be much more inclusive, enabling them to cater to children with a variety of developmental needs,” he said. “This will of course benefit children who fall along the entire spectrum who will grow up interacting with children at all levels and all stages.”
Mrs Isabelle Toh, whose seven-year-old son Jayden took part in a pilot of the DS Plus programme from January 2017 to November 2018, pointed out that his being in a childcare centre the whole day allowed him to make friends with his typically developing peers while being supported by therapists at the same time. Jayden, who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, is now attending Primary 1 at Pathlight School.
She added that prior to his transition to the programme, Jayden attended childcare for half a day, before heading to an early intervention centre in the afternoon.
“When he was in the centre, I could only work for half a day because I had to bring him for early intervention,” she said. “But with DS Plus, I can work the whole day, which helps me financially as well.”
The enhanced early intervention programmes will be rolled out in phases, with 13 of the 21 early intervention centres providing these services by July, and the remaining eight coming on board by early 2021.