Outreach, Unity in Spirit

Nurturing those with special needs

Snigdho (left) interacts with a peer.

The Integrated Playgroup gives toddlers (18 months to three years) opportunities for early socialisation, hands-on learning and parent-child bonding

Snigdho*, 5, has Norrie Disease, an inherited eye disorder that often leads to blindness and causes developmental delay in motor skills such as sitting up and walking. He has never attended preschool and was quite withdrawn, until he attended the Intervention cum Education Programme. This one-on-one specialised intervention programme is provided and subsidised by presbyterian Community Services (PCS), where children with special needs can learn alongside their peers in a mainstream setting. Since then, Snigdho has learnt to feed himself, express some of his needs and is more willing to try different foods. His parents are also happy to note that he now enjoys going to school.

Forerunner in special needs education
This is just one of the many projects PCS runs, having identified a service gap in this area in the early 1980s. Some of their childcare centres offer an integrated programme for children with special needs between two to six years old, where they learn, play, socialise and grow alongside their mainstream peers. Most of these children are autistic or have delayed development issues. The Integrated Playgroup gives toddlers (18 months to three years) opportunities for early socialisation, hands-on learning and parent-child bonding. The Bee-a-reader Literacy Programme aims to give children from low-income families a head start in primary school.

PCS also runs Grace Orchard School for students who have been diagnosed with Mild Intellectual Disability and Mild Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), with an Intellectual Quotient (IQ) within the range of 50-70. This joint project between PCS and two Presbyterian churches allows these students between seven to 18 years old to receive special education.

Formerly known as Presbyterian Welfare Services, PCS was started as the social service arm of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore 40 years ago. Over the years, they have strived “to meet challenges and needs of the community in Christian witness to touch lives” – their mission statement. To cater for diverse needs in our population, they have expanded their scope of services to include infant care, pre-school education, student care, special needs programmes, a residential home for teenage girls, a youth-at-risk programme, and eldercare services.

Emergency Relief Scheme (ERS)
One such group PCS serves is those who have come under sudden financial difficulty. When Eric* met with a road accident shortly after getting married, he suffered multiple fractures and needed several operations. During his months of recuperation, PCS provided his family with short-term aid under the Emergency Relief Scheme. Through generous donations from churches and the general public, they have disbursed over a million dollars to individuals and families since the inception of the scheme. The timely aid has tided them over financial crises arising from sudden death, imprisonment or illness of the breadwinner, or abandonment of the family by a spouse or children.

Training and Research Academy (TaRA)
Another flagship project is the Training and Research Academy located at Jurong Point Shopping Centre (TaRA@JP), in partnership with the National University Health System. It is a hub for research and training of eldercare professionals in the care of elderly with dementia and depression. The Jurong Ageing Study, which targets a cohort of 2,000 elderly people in Jurong, aims to reduce the 10-year cumulative rates of depression and dementia through screening, early detection and intervention.

Other services
In fact, PCS started its first project, Heng Teck Centre, in 1974 – it included a playgroup and an outreach centre to the elderly staying in the Bukit Merah View neighbourhood. Their first eldercare project, Dorcas Home Care, started in 1992 with a meals-on-wheels service for the frail elderly living in Chinatown. Later on, they expanded the scope of their services to housekeeping, medical escort and personal hygiene assistance. Today, the home-help service covers the southwestern region of Singapore. PCS also runs Sarah Seniors Activity Centre (SAC) and Evergreen Circle SAC.

PCS also celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, and launched the PCS-Network as part of their celebration. The PCS-Network consolidates community services offered by various Presbyterian churches for greater visibility of the social services. Going forward, Executive Director Mr David Lim said: “PCS must continue to stay relevant, be perceptive in realising service gaps and be compelled by God to act with compassion and swiftness.”

*Not their real names

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Chia Hui Jun is Editorial Executive of Methodist Message and worships at Foochow Methodist Church. She put this article together with valuable input from Mr Tristan Gwee, Community Support Manager, Presbyterian Community Services.