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Speech by KidSTART CEO Mdm Rahayu Buang at the KidSTART Partners’ Townhall 2024 “KidsMatter: Transforming a Generation”

By KidSTART Singapore January 26, 2024

KidSTART CEO Mdm Rahayu Buang Speech at KidSTART Partners' Townhall

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Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Home Affairs

Mr Aubeck Kam, Chairman of KidSTART Singapore Board

KSL Company Members and Board Directors

Distinguished guests and partners

Ladies and gentlemen

1. A very good morning to all of you. It is wonderful to see such a full house today!  When KidSTART had its inaugural townhall in 2021, it was over Zoom with over 100 participants. Our second townhall in 2022 was in YWCA auditorium with 200 people.  Today, the third townhall is held in this ballroom that accommodates 400 participants.  We are indeed an expanding KidSTART community.

2. The townhall is an opportunity for all partners involved in the KidSTART programme in one way or another, to come together, get the latest updates on KidSTART programme, catch up and network with partners, and to celebrate the milestone achievements.  With us today are representatives from the 12 agencies implementing the KidSTART programme.  We also have representatives from 11 corporate partners, 32 family service centres, 18 social service offices and not forgetting the friends from MSF, ECDA, MOH, NCSS, Tote Board and Temasek Foundation, all of whom have been generous and supportive in our KidSTART journey.  Thank you all for being here.

Milestone Achievements

3. The KidSTART programme has undergone several stages of development.  It was first mooted and conceptualised in 2016 and piloted for 1000 children over 3 years.  We established the three KidSTART programme components – home visitation programme, KidSTART Groups and Enhanced Support to Preschools.  That first pilot had taught us a few important lessons which we carry till today.  Building relationship and trust with the families is the first and most critical role for a KidSTART practitioner.  It is only when trust is established, can we begin to work on the child development strategies. We also learn that every family has unique strengths, and we need patience to draw out their strength and work at their pace, to make changes happen.  This work is about journeying with the families. The third, and I believe this is something KidSTART agencies are already going through, to be continually nimble in adapting to service changes and programme refinements as we determine what works.

4. Learning from the initial experience, we embarked on our first scale up in 2020, a modest one, expanding from 5 SSO towns to 13 SSO towns, and targeting to support 5000 more children.  By March last year, we surpassed the target with 5200 children, that is 6200 children in total having benefited from the programme since the pilot.  As of January 2024, we have supported more than 8,500 children.  Excellent job, everyone! 

Landscape changes

5. In recent years, the landscape became very exciting.  GUSTO’s findings on maternal mental health, maternal sensitivity and early childhood became more publicly prominent, and directly relevant to KidSTART work.  The government also began signalling plans to provide more support to lower income families with young children to ensure social mobility.

6. In Nov 2021, Prime Minister Lee announced that KidSTART programme will be expanded nationwide.  The KidSTART enrolment goalpost suddenly shifted from just a measure on the number of children, to now aiming to support 80% of eligible children in every eligible birth cohort by the time they reach 6 years old.  It was also clear that the children should be supported as early as possible, antenatally and in the first 3 years after birth.  At the same time, MSF announced plans for ComLink to streamline common functions such as outreach, befriending and case support across multiple social programmes including KidSTART. This is to allow KidSTART to focus on what it does best, which is to guide parents in nurturing the early development in their young children.

7. These landscape shifts required us to think deeply about the adjustments needed to KidSTART programme, to work symbiotically with the larger social service ecosystem.  Last year was a tremendously trying year for all the implementing agencies who were not only busy with supporting the families in hand, but also busy in coming together for numerous huddles to prepare for the next phase.  We redesigned the KidSTART service model and planned for streamlined engagements with families to reduce bandwidth tax on them.  We reviewed and tested the KidSTART curriculum as we move away from the 3 programme components towards home visitation being the main mode of KidSTART intervention.  We tested the KidSTART-ComLink+ integrated service model on rental families in Jalan Besar and we tested the revised service transition from hospitals to KidSTART practitioners for newborns as young as 2 weeks old.  We also started enrolling siblings of the current KidSTART children, moving closer towards the goal of having one KidSTART practitioner supporting the development of all children under 6 years old in each KidSTART family. These are major shifts indeed.

Changes for the KidSTART expansion

8. Very quickly, almost one month has passed in 2024. Combining all that we have learnt from the past pilots, trials and evaluations, we now move into the phase of KidSTART nationwide expansion.  I would like to thank all staff in KSL and partner agencies who have been toiling hard (all those in the blue tshirts).  We all know KidSTART is the right thing to do; I am thankful that we also agree we need to do it right.

9. I would also like to make a shout-out in thanking our volunteers and partners under the Growing Together with KidSTART initiative for your continuous support in helping to meet the needs of our KidSTART families. Your generous support has provided much assistance and encouragement to KidSTART families.  The activities that you sponsored help us build a community of KidSTART families where they can develop genuine bonds and feel supported. 


10. KidSTART is not just a programme, it is our collective effort to build a Singapore society that envisions a good start in life for children.   The past year especially has been challenging and insightful, as we navigate change while ensuring targeted support for our families and service integration in the larger ecosystem. This will continue in the next few years. But if we are successful in our partnerships and in our interventions, we would be creating ripples that positively impact not just the families and children that we serve now, but eventually generations that follow. We are at an inflection point and it is exciting to see where this transformation will lead us. 

11. I’d like to end off with a video that encapsulates the reflections from some of us on the year that recently ended and the adventure that lies ahead.  Thank you.