Every child deserves an equal chance – no matter his or her background or living circumstance. Sometimes, intervention is needed to level the playing ground, and in the case of the Circle of Care programme, this has certainly succeeded!
What is the Circle of Care?
The Circle of Care is a local interdisciplinary pre-school-based intervention programme created in 2013 which aims to provide help for children from low-income families. Run by Care Corner Singapore, together with the Quantedge Foundation and Lien Foundation, the Circle of Care is made up of a skilled team of professionals.
A study of the programme has demonstrated promising results – the children have shown improvements in health-related quality of life for over a year. Components such as physical and school functioning have shown marked improvements in particular, with the children exhibiting better capability to have independent participation in activities, and better levels of class attentiveness.
The study was launched in 2018 by the National University Hospital’s Khoo Teck Puat-National University Children’s Medical Institute. The study analysed 147 children that are under the Circle of Life programme, as well as around 300 of their peers attending the same schools. The programme helped with the early detection of health and developmental issues, as well as with keeping parents duly informed.
Results of the study showed that children from low-income families seemed to be getting poorer quality sleep, less time spent outdoors, poorer dental health, more screen time, and less healthy eating habits, as compared to their peers.
Why is this a concern?
A study has shown that poorer nutrition, in particular, tends to manifest further behavioural problems. Conducted by a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS), the study has shown that poorer eating habits could lead to issues such as anxiety.
This study was led by Professor Jean Yeung, founding director of the Centre for Family and Population Research at NUS, and examined around 5,000 children of varying ages. Elaboration of the data collected showed that children from low-income families did not have access to as much nutrition as compared to their peers, and also had a higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, processed foods, as well as fast foods. Naturally, research has also shown that children with healthier eating habits have less inclination towards becoming obese and, in turn, achieve better academic performances.
A separate paper done by Dr Yeung and Dr Xuejiao Chen concluded that food insecurity correlated with problems such as anxiety, depression, delinquency, as well as aggression. Food deprivation naturally placed higher stress on parents, resulting in their children receiving lesser ‘parental warmth’, and a higher level of ‘harsh discipline’.
Why is early intervention crucial?
Intervention is also needed when there is lack of action on the parents’ part – indeed, there has been a significant decrease in follow-ups regarding health issues. Reasons for this included parents finding it too much trouble to make additional trips to the clinic, or parents who were uncontactable, or felt that their child did not have any issues.
To help low-income parents meet their children’s needs, perhaps more childcare leave is imperative. This was highlighted by Dr Chong Shang Chee, the head and senior consultant of Khoo Teck Puat-National University Children’s Medical Institute at the National University Hospital’s Child Development Unit, who acknowledged that parents of low-income families may not have access to childcare leave in their nature of work. This hinders their ability to take their children for follow-up health check-ups – not because they were unwilling but simply because they were unable. Other obstacles include a lower priority allocated to their children’s health, as compared to earning a steady income to continue putting food on the table.
The Kidstart programme, helmed by the Early Childhood Development Agency, helps to fill in this gap by providing families with the skills and knowledge to better nurture their child’s early development. Those running the KidStart programme visit homes personally, and work directly with the families to help them along on this journey. In addition, they also collaborate with community and corporate partners to ensure that all families receive the sponsorship or help they require.
Stronger collaboration between screening programmes and health professionals, as well as childcare professionals, was deemed to be beneficial in the long run. Professionals that interact with the children should also receive the appropriate training, and attain the required knowledge to better help the children.
Indeed, such a collaborative and participatory approach is necessary to help families – both parents and their children – lead happy, nutritious, and fulfilled lives. Here’s to a better future for all our children!