My immediate thoughts after reading The Pride’s story about the negativity directed at the mother of the dead Ang Mo Kio girl were that there’s too much finger-pointing, and not enough compassion and problem-solving, in our society today.
My heart broke for the little girl, but I couldn’t help wondering if there are ways in which we can better support parents who have no other childcare options, especially on the eve of public holidays, when their childcare centres close for half a day. Some people simply don’t have the option of taking leave, or parking their child with neighbours or family, or paying extra for nannies.
Personally, I’d like to suggest a sort of volunteer network that could reach out to such families in the neighbourhood on public holidays and on their eve, and give them the option of leaving their kids with us, or if the kids are older, allowing us to drop by their homes to check on the children.
I understand that it can be hard for people to ask for help when they don’t know who to trust – there’s always a fear that one’s child will be abused. Conversely, volunteers may fear that their help would be abused, so perhaps a tie-up with welfare agencies – where they can assist in matching genuine cases to volunteers who match certain criteria – might be the solution here.
At the moment, I do help keep an eye on the kids in my neighbourhood, especially if I see them alone. If possible, I’ll wait until their parents turn up, or talk to them to find out if they’ve had any prior arrangements with their parents.
Another thing that struck me was how, if anyone who saw or heard the child in distress for those few hours had bothered to check on her, she might still be alive today. Her mother may have “failed” her, but then, perhaps so have her neighbours. So, how can we close this gap, so that no child will be left alone through lack of choice?
I think in that regard, we could all be more proactive in offering help to our neighbours, especially because, as the Chinese proverb goes: 远亲不如近邻 (neighbours nearby are better than relatives who are far away).
Think about how taking just five minutes to check on a neighbour could prevent a life-changing catastrophe. If you reach out to someone when you hear or see something unusual, you could be saving their lives in an emergency, for instance.
We worry too much about being rejected for offering help. But even if we are called a “busybody”, taking the initiative to offer assistance is the right thing to do.
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