The rain pelted the grounds, and lightning flashed dangerously. It seemed a gloomy start to what was supposed to be a day of celebration, highlighting the outstanding social workers who inspired others with their sterling contributions.  

But none of this could dampen the spirits of the social workers gathered at the Istana to celebrate the awards. 

And eventually their spirit won.  

Just before the start of the ceremony at 3pm, the rains cleared.  

The skies shone in its fullest light, with the sun gently peeking from behind the storm clouds.  

There couldn’t be a more apt metaphor for the impact of social workers over the past three years through COVID.  

A study led by Professor Seng at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) showed that close to 60 per cent of professional social workers were affected by anxiety and almost 50 per cent experienced depression during the peak of COVID-19 in 2020.  

With reports of burnout, long working hours, and ever-increasing demands for social services within the community, social workers had the odds stacked against them.  

Yet they prevailed against the tide and helped others to emerge stronger from the storm.  

These three social workers show us how they did it, but more importantly, why 

It’s an important question.  

Why should we care for the needs of others, when we have our own needs to care for?  

Flora, together with other colleagues from Care Corner (Image Source: Singapore Association of Social Workers)

Showing respect and having a responsibility to those around us  

What is our duty to those around us? Do we even have a duty to them?  

President Tharman Shanmugaratnam graced the occasion, with his opening address reminding attendees of the recently concluded Forward SG exercise, that aimed to forge a stronger social compact.  

President Tharman further elaborated on how “a stronger social compact will have to be underpinned by a growing culture of solidarity and respect for all”.  

With deeper respect for all and a deeper sense of responsibility towards others, we can grow our shared sense of solidarity, giving us the resilience to overcome challenges as a nation.  

Indeed, Ms Flora Tan, who won the Promising Social Worker Award, shared that despite the challenges of youth work, she enjoyed the difference she could make to the lives of these youths.  

Often as a youth worker, youths do not naturally walk into the centres. Sometimes, Flora would spend time walking through void decks, parks, and public spaces to talk to youths within the community.  

One group of boys she met and later befriended, had started skipping school. In her role as a social worker with Care Corner Youth Services, she spent time reaching out to them.  

Together with her team, she piloted programmes such as MindBlown and swiTCH-UP!. These programmes strengthen coping and learning capabilities among adolescents facing challenging situations. It also helps them reframe negative mental models such as ‘I am not good enough’.

One evening, one of the youths sent her a WhatsApp message, taking a picture of himself with a new shirt he had bought. In the message, he wrote,  

“I bought this shirt with my own hard-earned money. No more stealing!”  

Whilst it might seem small, it was a reminder to Flora that her work had impact.  

She said, “I want to help youths to remember that they are not alone on their own.”  

(Image Source: Valerie Chua, from the Becoming Better book)

It takes a village to raise (and keep) a social worker  

And as the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  

Much can be said of social work as well.  

It takes a village to raise (and keep) a social worker.  

Social work can be emotionally overwhelming, especially when the clients often come with complex needs that need quick and effective interventions. The room for error is also small, as erroneous decisions could potentially place people’s lives in danger.  

In the Child Protective Services (CPS), Ms Nisha Sanjay Verma, a manager at CPS, won the Promising Social Worker Award for her work in building up the professional capabilities of other practitioners.  

The Child Protective Services assesses children who are possibly at risk of neglect or abuse, intervening to keep children safe. 

Amongst many other initiatives, she also co-initiated the Child Sexual Abuse Practice Circle.  

This Practice Circle provided a safe, non-judgmental space for new Child Protective Officers to share knowledge and learn evidence-based practices.  

Often in doing difficult work, we forget the adage,  

If you want to go fast, go alone.  

If you want to go far, go together.  

In every initiative that we do for the community, one person can only do so much. It is when we come together that we are able to grow others, and ourselves.  

Nurturing supervision  

Recognising that social workers need good structures to grow within, Associate Professor Peace Wong, was given the pinnacle achievement of the Outstanding Social Worker Award, for her contributions towards social work supervision and education.  

A social worker’s supervisor plays a key role in educating, supporting and handling the administration of a social worker.  

Peace implemented initiatives like the Social Work Supervision Guidelines, supervisory competency domains, and training programmes for the Supervision of Supervisory Practice.  

By helping supervisors to get better, she amplified the impact social workers could make within the communities around them.  

(Image Source: Pexels)

Only human  

Outside, the sun finally breaks through the clouds, basking Flora, one of the winners, with a bright glow.  

She disembarks the bus that takes us to the main gate of the Istana, and heads home, with a new spring in her step, and a reminder that the work social workers do is important and recognised.  

But something else strikes me.  

She took the bus. She didn’t drive a fancy car.  

Even as these social workers provide a sterling light to what it means to make a difference in our communities, they also show us something simpler.  

That these social workers aren’t inhabiting a different stratosphere to you. They are living, breathing, everyday humans 

They ultimately decided to give what they had to the people around them, instead of solely thinking of what they would get from the work.  

But because they believed the communities around them should have someone journeying and walking with them through the sun, and through the storms.  

All of us can make change, if we want to.  

You, too can.