SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will study the feasibility of an “Inclusive Preschool” model that enables children with special needs to attend preschool with other children, it was announced in Parliament on Wednesday (Mar 8).
At present, the only such institution in Singapore is Kindle Garden, which opened in January 2016 and is run by non-profit AWWA. The centre accepts children with mild to severe special needs, while MSF’s Inclusive Preschool model will cater to children with mild to moderate needs.
“Children with special needs growing up in such an inclusive setting will develop age-appropriate social and communication skills, motor and cognitive skills,” said MSF in a media release, adding that trained specialists will guide teachers in integrating the children through learning, play and other classroom activities.
“On the other hand, children who grow up alongside their peers with special needs will learn to understand and accept differences since young.”
The Inclusive Preschool model is among a slew of initiatives to strengthen support for people with disabilities, as unveiled by MSF at its Committee of Supply debate.
Over the next few years, it will also work with the Ministry of Health to form a network of touch points for early detection of developmental needs in children. This will include doctors at hospitals, polyclinics and family medicine practitioners; as well as preschool teachers, so timely intervention can be made.
MSF will also build up a 200-strong pool of “Learning Support Educators” over the next five years, to provide targeted intervention and support for preschool children with developmental needs.
SCHOOL-TO-WORK; CAREGIVER AID
The School-to-Work Transition Programme, piloted in 2014 for Special Education students, will also be expanded from supporting around 30 work-capable students last year to 60 a year by 2019. As announced at Budget 2017, the programme will also extend from covering those with mild intellectual disabilities and autism to include those with moderate and multiple disabilities.
"Employment is integral to enabling persons with disabilities to live independently and integrate with society," said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin.
He noted, however, that some special needs children graduating from the education system may not be able to enter employment, and would require longer-term care services.
"The role of a caregiver is physically and emotionally demanding, and really ... burn-out is very likely to happen," said Mr Tan.
The National Council of Social Service (NCSS) will thus work together with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to develop a network of support for caregivers. This includes the Disability Caregiver Support Centre as revealed by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at this year’s Budget; it will be set up in 2018.
"This will ... enable caregivers, importantly, to be able to care for themselves better, even as they care for their loved ones," said Mr Tan.
And to increase caregivers’ awareness on financial planning and making future care arrangements for people with disabilities, the Special Needs Trust Company will step up its outreach and engagement efforts.
Mr Tan also said MSF will work with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in sports, cultural, community and youth activities.
"Inclusiveness for the less fortunate amongst us should be an abiding value of our society," he concluded.