Fellow Singaporeans, supporters of the Workers’ Party, voters of Aljunied GRC, a very good evening to all of you!
My name is Koh Choong Yong, I am the Worker’s Party candidate for Sengkang West SMC.
Please allow me to start by addressing a local concern in Sengkang West. In the last few days, there was a commonly asked question by residents. They asked me: there is an Integrated Community Facility promised by Dr Lam to be built on the site of the previous Fernvale Point. If they vote me in as MP in Sengkang, will that be taken away?
My answer to the residents is, you can ask Dr Lam these two questions if you see him.
First question: the people are expecting a hawker center and a wet market there. The building is called an “Integrated Community Facility”, so I asked the resident to ask Dr Lam, can you call a spade a spade? If it is a wet market, call it a wet market. Don’t call it an Intergrated Community Facility, and end up building a community center there.
The second question to ask Dr Lam: is it a government project? And will the decision to build it be based on their votes?
And now, on to the rest of my speech.
In our community, there are a number of vulnerable groups that could easily fall through the cracks:
the disabled, the mentally-ill,
the single-parents, the elderly that live alone at home,
people with special needs, and more.
Tonight I will touch on one of these vulnerable groups which is close to my heart: people with special needs.
On the rally a few nights ago at Punggol Field, Chairman Sylvia Lim did an introduction of me, and mentioned that I have a 7-year-old boy who is a special needs child.
My boy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and global development delay from about 12 months old.
Today, he still has no speech, cannot walk independently, and he still cannot call me papa.
He is largely dependent on my wife, his full-time 24-hour caregiver, for almost all of his daily activities. But he is a cheerful boy and is mostly happy.
Immediately after the rally that night, when I checked my emails, I saw an email from a supporter. The subject was “A word of encouragement” and I quote:
“As someone with special needs, more specifically cerebral palsy, I can sympathise with your plight to seek treatment for your child, seeing that my parents have done the same for me before. Beyond that, however, it is even more important that you encourage your child, to see beyond his limitations, and instead turn whatever that may limit him into an advantage, to empower himself and inspire others around him.”
Yes, people with special needs can and will be able to contribute meaningfully to the society.
Awareness of special needs children has increased over the years. Most people would understand a little bit about Autism but the general public might not know that there are also a spectrum of special needs conditions other than Autism.
This includes Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, and there are others’ who conditions are so rare there is no single term for their condition.
Some kids are high-functioning, so they can attend mainstream school with the help of Allied Educators.
Some kids are high-support, they need the attention of people to help them, and they need to attend special schools catering to them.
That is why addressing issues on Special Needs is such a complex topic that sorely needs attention.
It is not easy to take care of a special needs child.
If it is financially straining to take care of a normal child,
Then it is financially draining to take care of special needs kids.
We have a number of proposals from our Manifesto 2015 that can help lighten the load of parents of special needs kids. Allow me to highlight a number of them and illustrate how they can help families with special needs children.
My son had to go through various expensive medical examinations when he was initially diagnosed with his condition. MRI, EEG and more, and each of these takes up a few hundred dollars.
Long term medication for kids like him can cost up to a few hundred dollars a month. And it just keep going.
There are not enough trained therapists in the special education schools, and it is common for students to queue up to a few months before they get allocated a therapist to help them.
The alternative, is to seek help outside from private therapists, and each of them will cost you $180-$200 per hour.
It is a great financial strain for us.
We managed to tide over this financial strain as I had some savings, but for families with no savings or low income, it will be a very huge burden.
The current practice for Child Development Account (CDA) is for the government to provide a dollar-for-dollar matching of the deposit parents place in the account.
The problem with this approach is that low income parents will not be able to enjoy the full benefits, as it is less likely for them to be able to fork out the extra cash for the matching.
Our Manifesto proposes to enhance the Child Development Account such that $10,000 is allocated to the child up from and no matching is required.
Parents can still opt to top up the CDA up to $10,000 to earn higher interests.
This will go a long way to help with the financial strain the parents may face.
Enhanced Childcare Leave
On helping the parents balance between their work commitments and their need to be with their child during medical situations, there are many different medical appointments parents have to bring their special needs child to. And to some parents frequent hospitalization is a norm rather than the exception.
A classmate of mine also has a special needs child. He frequently updates his Facebook page with photos of his son. And it is not uncommon that we get the news that his son was admitted to hospital for one reason or another again and again.
Despite the fact that this presents a strain on him and his wife, who are both working, my classmate retains an optimistic outlook to life.
For working parents, such scenarios are a huge challenge as they end up using their annual leave to bring their kid to the medical appointments or to take care of their child during hospitalization, leaving them with no leave at all for themselves.
We propose to extend the current 6 day childcare leave to 12 days, for parents of children 12 years and below.
Caregiver Support Scheme
Caregivers providing care for the special needs children should also not be forgotten.
During the East Coast Rally a few days ago, I was sitting on stage and I could see a young boy with his mother among the first few rows in the crowd. I recognised the boy, a boy with Down’s Syndrome. I knew the boy from previous encounters and was glad that his mother brought him to attend the rally.
His mother is a full-time caregiver for him and does some part-time work from time to time.
The boy has a talent in painting and his mother has put in a lot of effort to develop this talent, staying at home to look after him full time, and in the process sacrificing her time and her work.
Our manifesto calls for yearly CPF top-ups for full-time caregivers, and this will also help this mother to save up more in her CPF in preparation for her retirement in future.
Awareness, acceptance, integration
The manifesto suggestions I listed above help lighten the load of parents of special needs children, but it is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of helping them.
We need to integrate people with special needs into our community.
To do this, we need to raise awareness of the various conditions, do enough public education to foster acceptance, with the aim of eventually integrating them as part of our society.
Allow me to end my speech with another quote from the same email earlier.
“If you were to be elected as an MP, I do hope that you can turn the worry that you have for your child into strength, to serve the segment of society that include people with special needs and their caregivers, by championing for the concerns of persons with such needs.”
And I hope I can do that.
Friends, special needs children is only one group among the many vulnerable groups. I am sure you or someone close to you will have a friend with a special needs child.
We need to care for every segment of the society, give them the care and concern, and provide them with help to develop them to the fullest.
Do we want to see Singapore become a more inclusive society?
Do we want to see a Singapore where every child’s full potential can be reached?
Do we want to see a Singapore where no one is left behind?
If the answers to those are yes, then on 11 September,
Vote Workers’ Party, Empower Your Future!