The MWS Family Services cluster supports families in distress through 4 MWS Family Service Centres, the MWS Family Development Programme which focuses on debt alleviation and asset building, and the MWS Family Support Programme that provides training and guidance for parents of pre-teens and teenagers.In addition, we care for at-risk youths through a community-based rehabilitative programme, and children through an after-school programme.
Families in distress often struggle with multiple complex issues rooted in financial insecurity. Contributing factors include low wages and levels of education, domestic strife, incarceration and chronic illness. 44-year old Miko Lew knows this full well.
"My husband left us in 2018. I had to quickly look for work to support my 3 children and parents inlaw. But seeing the debts mounting and having no savings and job, I became depressed," recalled Miko of those difficult days.
On a friend's advice, she approached MWS Family Development Programme (FDP) and met volunteer, Josephine Lim.
"Miko used to avoid opening her mail. She was afraid of seeing bills because she had no way of paying them. I worked with her to prioritise the ones to pay, and sought waivers wherever possible," said Josephine. Under the programme, every dollar of debt paid by Miko was matched by $2 by MWS. Gradually, Miko was able to clear $2,000 in debts within 7 months.
Miko began saving up for an emergency fund and saw how it made her feel more positive. "I'm so thankful for Jo who has become a friend to me. When I saw my savings grow from $20 to $1,000, I broke down with joy. I feel so much less stressed now and I can see a future, especially for my children. My eldest is enrolling into polytechnic soon and I hope to get him a laptop," shared Miko.
Miko's experience is a testament to how empowerment can bring about sustainable change.
The case of 28-year old Alina*, homemaker and mother of 6 young children also attested to that.
"I left my job even though my family was struggling financially because I wanted to take better care of my children. So my husband and I tried to be careful with our spending by prioritising the needs and education of our children," shared Alina.
It was challenging though, to rely on her husband's meagre income as a driver. Ben* was known for his sense of responsibility and a positive attitude both at work and at home. He shared his hopes of upgrading his skills to secure a higher income. However, the opportunity cost of attending courses without a steady income was too high.
"Ben was then diagnosed with a muscular condition which will lead to long-term organ failure. At that point, I felt so lost, and that's when I approached MWS," said Alina.
While Alina's situation is not uncommon among the clients who come through our doors, Edna Sim, Assistant Senior Social Worker at MWS Family Service Centre (FSC) – Tampines, did not see her as ‘just another case’. Applying the principles of trauma-informed care that MWS FSCs have adopted since 2019, Edna empowered Alina by paying close attention to Alina's unique strengths and needs.
"Poverty is a complex issue. As social workers, our good intentions and desire to see clients' situation improve rapidly can sometimes lead us to push certain plans without sufficiently considering our clients' experience, hopes and strengths," Edna reflected.
Initially, Alina was highly resistant to receiving community resources and intervention. Edna empathised with Alina's embarrassment in seeking support and recognised that it was important that Alina felt safe and heard.
Edna therefore explored with Alina her needs, strengths and hopes at a pace that was comfortable for her. This allowed Alina to gradually open up and agree to tap on community resources.
Subsequently, community partners jointly supported the family in providing meal deliveries during the circuit breaker and laptops to facilitate her children’s home-based learning.
After recognising the importance of clearing debts and saving up, Alina's family signed up for MWS FDP too.
With the person-centred support and resources received from the MWS FSC, Alina was able to work on improving her skills and employability.
She is currently undergoing a course with WSQ certification and is on track to join the early childhood sector upon her graduation.
As a result of the positive changes in their lives, Miko and Alina have a renewed outlook on life. Miko now proactively keeps track of her bills and has found a higher paying job as a receptionist.
Meanwhile, Alina's family has shown their resilience despite their multiple adversities, and have grown closer as a family. "Although life still presents difficulties, we feel better equipped to manage the stress more positively and calmly," said Alina.
As social worker Edna looked back on her journey, "I am greatly inspired by Alina's resilience and positive attitude. Her ability to take things in her stride is a great virtue. We simply came alongside to bring that out from her."
Recognising the complex issues that families in distress face, MWS collaborates with community partners, volunteers and churches to co-create a sustainable help network for clients.*Not their real names