By Mr Tan Khye Suan, Executive Director

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the impending challenges that we were likely to face in 2020.  The impact of Covid-19 was huge.  It affected the whole world.  As a Social Service Agency (SSA) in tiny Singapore, we saw how our clients, the children and youths, were affected in their education, in their co-curricular activities and in their interactions with friends and family members.  This was especially bad during the Circuit Breaker period in April and May 2020.  In the last ten months, the way we lived our lives have evolved significantly.  Half of our time was spent working from home.  We wear surgical masks whenever we go out of our home.  We frequently wash our hands and use sanitiser.  We attend webinars instead of physical conferences.  We have meetings using virtual platforms.  We use e-signatures for documents.  If we happen to meet each other outside, we no longer shake hands.  We fist bump or elbow nudge.  We could hardly make out if we are smiling to each other.  This is the “new normal”.

Financial Needs
The impact on our economy meant that some families were affected as breadwinners had their income reduced or had lost their jobs.  Moving forward, this is expected to worsen as businesses struggle to find their footing.  Although safety management measures are gradually relaxed so that some economic activities can resume, some businesses would have already suffered irretrievable damage and will have to be shut down permanently.  There will be new business opportunities.  But these new opportunities will require new knowledge, skills and approaches.  Some older workers may find it difficult to adapt and may require more time to adjust.  Hence, unemployment is expected to rise for a while until a new economic equilibrium is reached.  Epworth Community Services will have to support families of clients who have been economically impacted by the pandemic.

Family and Individual Needs
The repercussions are huge!  There will be more stress in family relationships: between spouses; between parents and their children; and, between siblings.  With relationship stress comes individual stress.  Hence, more support for families and individuals are needed.  There is already an increase in family squabbles, disputes and violence.  Children and youths will face the brunt of these family fallouts.  They will not just be physically abused, but they can also be deeply scarred socially, emotionally and psychologically.  Epworth Foster Care and Epworth HomeSweetHome will have to support more cases and more intensively so that families can be successfully re-integrated.

Learning Needs
The needs are greater for the children and youths that we work with.  They are usually from the lower strata of the community with limited means.  Apart from family breakdowns, their education is affected.  The support we give to those with learning disabilities through Epworth Literacy may be disrupted if we do not provide more financial support to them.  If such supports are disrupted, they will fall behind their peers significantly!  Then they will feel even more inferior and this will lead them down the path of delinquency.  There is always a potential for a second wave of Covid-19 infection.  Then we will relaunch our online learning support programme.  In the Circuit Breaker of April 2020, we found out that some of our clients do not have computers for them to benefit from our online programme.  Some parents are not computer literate and cannot provide the necessary help to their children.  In the new year, Epworth Literacy will have to do more for this group of children and parents.  This will be through new and innovative approaches.  We will also have to provide more subsidy for them.