An Exploration Into the Social Work Scene in Singapore

Hello, dear readers! It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’m afraid I was rather busy over the summer with an internship focusing on social work.

During my time there, I managed to gain insight into the social work scene in Singapore. I had the opportunity to hear from and work with multiple professional social workers, including my colleagues. From my experiences (and from the experiences shared with me by my co-workers), I left my internship with new insights and understanding of the Singapore social work scene.

After a long reflection on what I could write for my next article, I decided to share these insights with you, mainly because I believe that most Singaporeans do not have much knowledge of social work in general, and thought that I could shed some light on what to expect, particularly for social work majors.

With that in mind, let’s look at the pros of the current social work scene!

Social Work: The Good

Social work in Singapore has definitely come a long way, with the government and the community coming together to form varying agencies that can help vulnerable families.

On a community level, we have agencies such as Family Service Centers (FSCs) and Child Protection Specialist Centers (CPSCs), both of whom provide referral services, counseling services, and equipping of parenting skills. These agencies work with the entire family, and ensure the safety of children. We even have Social Service Offices (SSOs) who provide assistance for families in terms of job matching or family services. They also aid in finding ComCare Assistance for lower-income families and individuals.

For children and young persons, we also have implemented school counselors in every single school in Singapore, all of whom are government-trained (i.e. underwent MOE/external training). Additionally, there is also the Pre-School Outreach Programme and the KidSTART Programme, both of whom reach out and assist children from low-income families.

There is also the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). Under MSF, there are varying departments that ensure safety, protection, and preservation of the family unit. There is Child Protection Services (CPS), which focuses on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children and young persons. There is Adult Protection Services (APS), which focuses on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all adults. Finally, there is the Clinical and Forensic Psychology department (CFPS), which aids in psychological assessment of both children and adults.

For medical institutions, there are healthcare subsidies for those with lower income. Additionally, there are medical social workers that assist in providing psychosocial support to patients, and will work with other medical professionals to develop and implement a post-discharge plan.

There are other social compact policies and schemes, which can be found here. Regardless, it is clear that there are many social work agencies that actively support the community.

Social Work: The Bad

Although Singapore has come a long way in the social work scene, there is a general consensus that Singapore can do so much more.

During my internship, I was fortunate enough to assist on the frontlines and experience the hands-on fieldwork that is integral to social work. From these experiences, there were some things that I felt could be improved in the social work system.

First, there has always been a general consensus that social workers, much like the rest of the public sector, are ‘overworked and underpaid’. I can now confirm that this is, in fact, a reality for many social workers across Singapore. Social workers have to work long hours and are often doing overtime so that they can help their clients as much as possible. However, this can be quite tiring, especially when this becomes a lifestyle.

These long hours, accompanied with the low pay provided (given the hours), harms social work twofold: first, social workers easily become burnt out and are likely to leave the job. And second, it discourages any future applicants from applying for an occupation in social work.

This links to the second problem: the lack of manpower. Because social work is known to have long hours with relatively low pay, a lot of individuals with an interest in social work no longer wish to do it as a job. This results in a lack of manpower, which increases the workload of the current social workers, and the cycle continues.

Finally, there seems to be a lack of standardization across agencies in terms of criteria. Oftentimes, the definition of a ‘serious’ case can differ from agency to agency. This is likely due to the late start Singapore had in fortifying our nation. Since we only gained independence in 1965, we didn’t have a lot of time to grow in terms of social welfare. And although this has been improving over time with government efforts (e.g. having FSCs begin to offer counseling services), these efforts are still relatively new.

This results in some community agencies referring cases to other agencies (e.g. at the government level) despite the case being relatively less serious. Once again, this contributes to an increase in workload, and an increase in overtime hours.

Once again, I emphasize that the government has made incredible efforts to improve the current system. But there will always be something that can be done better.

Social Work: So What?

So, we’ve gone over both the good and the bad. Now what?

Well, for social work majors (or those considering a job or degree in social work), I hope this has made you more aware of what to expect, and has given you a broad overview of some of the places you can work in and some of the jobs you can do as a graduate.

And for you, dear reader, even if you don’t intend to have anything to do with social work, I hope this has made you aware of the problems that many social workers face – from frequent overtime to heavy workloads.

In the future, if there are any government propositions to change the social work scene (particularly the social work budget), I hope that you might consider seeing if those proposed changes really benefit social welfare in Singapore.

That’s all from me! See you next time!


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