Reach Out

The social worker who walked in their shoes

Apr 2014    
Ms Cindy Ng (right) began the Family Development Programme out of her passion to help her clients clear their debts and pull themselves out of poverty, which she has personally experienced.

Ms Cindy Ng is a social worker who knows first-hand what it feels like to be poor. Now the Assistant Director of Covenant Family Service Centre (FSC), Cindy remembers that at one point, her children almost qualified for the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, which doles out $55 to $120 for school-going children from households with income of less than $450 per capita.

These days, she is focused on fighting poverty with her clients, with whom she has a special affinity. “If God were to put me in my clients’ shoes, given their lack of resources and circumstances, I might have made the same decisions they made and gone through the same pain and helplessness. It would be too simplistic to blame the poor for being poor,” she said.

“Issues of social injustice always had a huge impact on me. I have also always been interested in human behaviour. That led me to be heavily involved in volunteer work from the beginning. I think it’s the natural path for me to take (to become a social worker),” she added.

Her own brush with poverty has fuelled her passion to advocate for those in need. In her work at Covenant FSC, Cindy developed a scheme – the Family Development Programme (FDP) – that has helped her clients get out of the red.

 

“They feel empowered now to take charge of their family financial situation and they become more committed and confident,”

The seeds of the scheme were planted when she was pursuing her Master of Social Work during a two-year hiatus to take care of her two young children.

While researching on the United States’ Individual Development Account, which helps the poor build up savings, she thought, “If dollar-for-dollar matching can be done for savings, why not for debt payments?”

Upon returning to Covenant FSC after completing her Masters, she developed the FDP to match every dollar that the client earns to clear his or her arrears, not including the current month’s bills, coupled with credit counselling workshops.

For example, a client had arrears of $500 with Singapore Power and the current month’s bill was $70. If he paid $80 to Singapore Power, $10 would go into clearing the arrears. The FDP would provide a matching subsidy of $10 to help the client further whittle down his debt.

The FDP ultimately aims to help clients reduce their debts and build up sufficient savings to ride out some of the rougher storms they may face such as loss of income or unexpected illnesses.

Six clients were chosen for the pilot run of the FDP and after just eight months, the programme has seen promising results. All six clients made progress in reducing their arrears, mainly with Singapore Power and the Town Council, while two of them cleared their debts completely. While encouraged by the improvement in the financial state of her clients, Cindy was more thrilled at the psychological impact of the programme.

“They feel empowered now to take charge of their family financial situation and they become more committed and confident,” she said.

The nascent success of the FDP has led to its extension to other Methodist Welfare Services’ FSCs, namely Daybreak FSC and Tampines FSC.

Cindy is currently working on improving the programme by monitoring and studying the progress of the clients to find out which components make the programme tick.

She notes: “Taking charge of debt is the beginning of recovery. It motivates them to take care of the rest of their lives.”

Picture courtesy of Methodist Welfare Services

 

DONATE *towards the Family Development Programme to help families in need break out of debt.
Email Methodist Welfare Services at fr@mws.org.sg or call Ms Bernadette Sandra at 6478-4709.

By the Communications team at Methodist Welfare Services.

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