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Choose to Seek and Celebrate the Good – By Rachel Fong

Choose to Seek and Celebrate the Good
By Rachel Fong

A precious meal – a tray of toy food – prepared by the author's children for her

“My child has made me a better person.”

This seemed like a simple line yet it spoke so much. When I heard this from a caregiver of a child with special needs, I was touched, inspired, and grateful.

We serve our dependents everyday, pouring our time, effort, care and love into their lives to support them and make them better. How precious and humbling it is, to see it from a different perspective, that our dependents have made us better, just by their presence in our lives and our journey with them.

Every day may not be good, but there is good in every day. In tough seasons of caregiving when we are struggling and exhausted, the mindset of gratitude and appreciation can make a difference in our personal wellness and relationships.

I can choose to remember the meltdowns, the mess, the mistakes, the cries and screams, the demands and chaos, or I can choose to remember the tray of toy food that my young children prepared and served up to me with big smiles, just as I finished whipping up a quick meal for them in the midst of a million other things I had to do.

Thank you caregivers for your resilience, for always choosing to seek and celebrate the good in the midst of everyday challenges.

– Rachel Fong, Program & research executive (CAREbuddy & CAREwell), and caregiver of two children

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While the Path is Less Travelled, You Never Have to Walk Alone – By CAREchampion Lead Tan Pei Cheng

While the Path is Less Travelled, You Never Have to Walk Alone –
By CAREchampion Lead Tan Pei Cheng

CAREchampion Lead Tan Pei Cheng with CaringSG (first 3 photos), and her family (bottom right)

Many of us, as caregivers, have had our fair shares of emotional coaster rides.

As a working mother of 3 boys, my second son was diagnosed with moderate autism when he was 3 years old. Since then, I have been on a journey of discovery, learning, coping with feelings of disappointment, denial, anger, hope and many more. In the initial stages, I remembered vividly the loneliness and helplessness, often taking the easy way out of putting the blame on “fate”.  For a long time, I did not know how to process my emotions.

A simple act of joining a mother’s network group organised by my son’s pre-school opened my eyes. For the first time, I felt that I was not alone. There were other parents, struggling and learning just like me. I saw the challenges they faced and the fighting spirit in each of them, driven by the love for their children. I learned from them that only through acceptance, would I be able to give my son the support he needed. The sharing opened my heart, and the empathy and listening ears from them gave me courage to go on with the demands of daily life.

This is exactly why, when I met Dr Lim Hong Huay through my husband 2 years ago and knew about CaringSG, I offered to be a volunteer as I was inspired by CaringSG’s vision. Before volunteering at CaringSG, I had limited knowledge of the challenges and difficulties of caregivers, especially adult PWDs in Singapore.

I started as a CAREconnect lead with a rudimentary understanding that “I will do outreach and call caregivers for events.” Then, this role was to me was a simple connecting of people together and providing them the opportunity to form a network of support. I thought I was contributing to help, but little did I realise how it would benefit and enrich me too!

In the 2 years with CaringSG, I have always been supported by the lovely folks of CaringSG and feel very welcomed. It was fun to plan the events with the CAREkakis, CAREchampions and the Grassroots leaders. It was very rewarding to get to know caregivers through the activities.

At the beginning, when my calls or follow-ups to caregivers were met with silence, I was disappointed and even felt it hilarious when I was suspected as a scammer (LOL!). The silver lining came when caregivers acknowledged my messages and actually took the effort to show up. Slowly, some caregivers shared photos of their children spontaneously, and sent words of appreciation and greetings that I never expected. My moment of glory came when one of the photos I took for a CaringSG event was featured in The Straits Times! 😊

I benefitted personally with the strong network in CaringSG. Last year, my son started displaying aggressive behaviour as he entered teenagehood. I was disheartened with my inability to handle his meltdowns and outbursts. This, to an extent, affected me at work too. Fellow caregiver Edward Chan and Dr Lim gave me contacts to seek professional help for him, and since then, he has improved and so has my quality of life.

As caregivers of PWDs, we have a lot to offer and to share in our experiences, especially to younger parents who are going through this journey and do not know what to do or where to seek support. 

To my fellow caregivers, instead of passively waiting for things to get better, step forward to give and you will be rewarded with the least expected.

“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves” ~James Matthew Barrie

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Be the Writer of the Lives We Choose to Live By – By Diana Lim

be the writer of the lives we choose to live by - By Diana Lim

Diana is working at CaringSG as a volunteer management and events support executive. She has 2 lively boys who are currently studying at Pathlight School.

“Only we ourselves, can be the writer of the lives we choose to live by. As a special needs caregiver, I choose to embrace it with an open mind and a willing heart.”

When my elder son was born, the entire family was practically on cloud nine as he was the golden grandson, the precious one. Any hint of suspicion that this precious boy might be facing any developmental delays or falling out of “range” was brushed aside. However, as the issues persisted, the instinct to quickly start speech therapy, occupational therapy and customized educational program took over. Imagine doing all this while holding a big tummy with number 2 in tow…

I would never have imagined that I would be blessed with not one, but two special needs children!

For many of us who often questioned why our child is so different from other special needs kids, take it from me when I say that autism is indeed a broad spectrum. With the same home and school environment, same parenting style, the two brothers were polar opposites when it came to their tolerance level to schedule changes, learning preferences, cognitive abilities, and many others.

I’ve since then learned to unlearn the so-called correct ways of handling autistic challenges. To put down my expectations as a mother so deeply invested in their well-being. To let them be themselves so they can gradually carve their unique identity as special individuals in spite of their neurological impediments.  To have a willing heart, and an open mind.

These are some pointers that I can share as a caregiver, someone who has been blessed with good spousal and family support, practical and emotional resource pool, as well as a great network of people who simply understands.

  • Always look for the simple things to be thankful for despite how the day or ‘night’ has turned out to be.
  • Learn from others to see if their strategies are applicable to our children/dependents at their current stage. At other times, be ready to let go of things which do not fit into their psyche.
  • Find several support groups that can serve various needs – it can be like-minded friends, parents support groups, playdate groups, hangout groups, etc. And just like friendships, they may come and go as our seasons of life change. It’s okay; be open to forming new ones.
  • It’s okay to not be okay. It’s absolutely normal to feel vulnerable. By being able to rough out bad times and reach out to lifeline help available to us, we are in turn building our own emotional resilience. Imagine what a good real-life experience it would be when we share how we coped and learned from our past experiences with our special needs loved ones!

As special needs caregivers, conquering the day is not always about this amazing feat or that significant improvement. It is more often than not, being able to achieve some form of peace in the never-ending daily noise and action.

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The Strength and Spirit of Caregiving – By Chris Lim

The Strength and Spirit of Caregiving – By Chris Lim

Chris & his 10 year old son, Gabriel

This message was contributed by Chris Lim, IT & Comms Manager


     .
Dear CaringSG members,

As a caregiver of two, I understand that caregiving can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. On some days we feel like on top of the world, and on others the weight of the setbacks can feel like the heaviest of weights.

But here’s what I’ve realized: it’s on the stormiest days that we discover our true strength.

Let’s not forget that what we do is extraordinary. Every single day, we make a significant difference in someone else’s life. No act of love, no matter how small, ever goes unnoticed.

We are not just caregivers; we are life-changers, warriors, unsung heroes.

So right now I wish to say thank you. Thank you for your tenacity and your selfless love. Each one of you is a beacon of hope and a pillar of strength for the ones you care for, and for the entire community.

Let’s keep leaning on each other, learning, growing, and most importantly, CARING.

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“We are not alone” – One family’s experience with the CAREwell Community Support Programme

“We are not alone” – One family’s experience with the CAREwell Community Support Programme

CAREwell
The Teys (from left): Rachel (7 years old), Mrs Tey, Mr Tey, and Ryan (13 years old)

This article was contributed by the Teys and the CaringSG CAREwell team.

The Teys

When our CaringSG CAREwell Keyworker, Lee Xiuhua, first met the Teys at their home, they were overwhelmed with their son’s, Ryan’s, behaviour and worried about his future.

“Ryan was climbing all over his mum, he tried to burn food with a lighter, he drank water from my water bottle and kept trying to snatch my pen, among other behaviours. I could see that Mrs Tey was at a loss as to how to manage his behaviour,” says Xiuhua.

Mrs Tey was a foreigner at that time. Not only did she feel isolated in Singapore, she also did not feel confident enough to navigate the healthcare system nor engage with Ryan’s teachers confidently. Ryan, 13, has autism, and was attending Grace Orchard School (GOS) but Mrs Tey was unsure as to how much she could lean on the school for professional support and how to gain access to it.

At that time, Mr and Mrs Tey were also in a dilemma as to what to do for the future. Should they live in Vietnam or Singapore? Ryan appeared to fare better in Vietnam but Mr Tey worked here in Singapore. The Teys also preferred their younger daughter, who is seven years old, to be educated here.

Mr and Mrs Tey’s relationship was also a little strained as Mr Tey as the sole breadwinner, was stressed about the high cost of hiring private psychological support for his son, and Mrs Tey felt that she was unable to manage Ryan who was growing bigger and stronger every day, especially when he became aggressive and hit back at her.

By Caregivers, For Caregivers

As a caregiver herself, Xiuhua was able to deeply connect with the Teys and understand their struggles. They felt that they were not alone in their journey of caregiving.

One particular concern shared was Ryan’s persistent negative texting to Mr Tey. Ryan expressed he is a bad student and always disappointed his teachers or parents. Xiuhua explored Ryan’s texting habit and checked with GOS’s psychologist to find out what the underlying reasons could be.

After some discussion, it was related to Ryan’s developing self-awareness that he had let down his teachers or parents when he was unable to meet their expectations. Ryan would ruminate on the negative aspects of his behaviours and wander around the neighbourhood roads alone which posed a safety concern. This was Ryan’s way of indirectly seeking his father’s approval, affirmation, and unconditional love.

With this in mind, Mr Tey was more aware of Ryan’s emotional needs and connected with him by replying to his texts with words of affirmation and love. This has helped reduce Ryan’s negative texting, habit of wandering the streets, and improved their father-son bond tremendously.

“(We) often find it comforting to share our journey with someone who understands how tough caregiving can get…the support getting from CAREwell help the parents especially cope with our emotions and experiences and show us that we are not alone.” – Mr Tey, father of 13-year-old Ryan

Professional Care and Guidance

After doing a thorough needs analysis, Xiuhua was able to better understand the Teys’ daily struggles, existing strengths, and dreams for the future. She then guided the couple to develop a few key functional goals which they could immediately work on together.

1. Expanding and deepening the Teys’ ecological system of support

A top priority was to get Ryan’s behaviour under control at home. To this end, Xiuhua worked quickly to put the appropriate services in place, expanding and deepening the Teys ecological support system.

For instance, she guided them on how they could obtain a subsidized psychiatrist’s appointment to assess Ryan for his impulsive and aggressive behaviour. She also connected the Teys to several parent support groups and shared online resources with them to improve their mental and emotional well-being.

2. Empowering Caregivers to optimise available community resources

A monumental shift, however, would take place at multiple levels when a joint home visit was made with Grace Orchard School whose team consisted of a Psychologist, Social Worker, and Ryan’s Form Teacher.

Firstly, with Xiuhua’s encouragement and support, Mrs Tey felt empowered to share candidly about Ryan’s behaviour at home which was greatly at odds with how he was behaving in school. This was a big step for Mrs Tey who previously felt self-conscious of her English language proficiency and lacked the confidence to engage closely with school professionals.

Secondly, the team from GOS listened carefully and shared behavioural management strategies with the Teys that were tailored to Ryan’s needs. Both Mr and Mrs Tey felt heard and well supported emotionally and professionally during this joint visit. Empowering the Teys and facilitating the joint home visit enabled the optimization of resources that were previously available but untapped on.

Thirdly, following the joint visit, the Teys felt confident enough to implement some of these strategies at home. For example, in the past, Mr Tey would pamper Ryan and give in to his demands, but this made things hard for Mrs Tey who could not then enforce boundaries with a growing teenager who could easily overpower her. Nowadays, Mr and Mrs Tey agree on and enforce boundaries as a team. “This way, Ryan knows that he can’t outplay his parents,” Xiuhua explains.

Today, the family is happier and feels equipped with the appropriate strategies and support in place. That has made a lot of difference to the family environment at home and Mrs Tey no longer fears for her safety nor is overwhelmed by Ryan’s care. In fact, she is so inspired by the service she has received that she shared that she would like to train to become an EIPIC special needs teacher in the future!

“Everyone gets knocked down sometimes; only people like you (Xiuhua) get us back up again and keep going. Absolutely excellent in all ways. The care was exemplary. My family really appreciated the support and assistance given to my son, your kind and caring always very helpful to parents who seem to go the extra mile for their children in need. Everything would be better if more people were like you. A big thank you to all the staff of CAREwell team. [sic]” – Mr Tey on the support his family received from our Keyworker, Xiuhua.

From left: Caregiver Mrs Tey Phan Thu and CaringSG CAREwell Keyworker Lee Xiuhua

Xiuhua’s reflection

It has been an honour and privilege to journey with the Tey family as their assigned keyworker. Getting to know both Mr and Mrs Tey and hear their story shared so openly, encouraged me to draw out the resilience I saw in them and give them the encouragement they needed to continue their caregiving journey.

Their humble self-reflections, concern and love for Ryan was evident at each touch point and interaction. The Teys committed to the 6 touch points as planned and agreed goals could be worked on in a timely and efficient manner. I enjoyed witnessing the beautiful bond they had with Ryan and am also inspired in return by how they have grown closer during the past 6 months.

Working with families often require trust and open communication which was evident while working with the Teys and for that, I am thankful they put their trust in me to journey with them in the CAREwell Community Support programme.

I was also encouraged by Ryan’s SPED school (GOS) for the open collaboration to hold the joint home visit. Having a conducive and caring special needs school environment did help Ryan develop well and address the parents’ concern promptly. I would like to acknowledge the hard work and professionalism of GOS team. Kudos to all professionals working tirelessly in the special education sector!

What is the CAREwell Community Support Programme?

The CAREwell Community Support (CWCS) Programme is a six-month programme consisting of at least six touch points. Each family is supported by a Keyworker who is typically a trained professional in social work, healthcare, special needs, or other related professions.

Keyworkers support families by providing transdisciplinary and multi-layered services which may include but are not limited to therapeutic and informational counselling, family support plan development and service coordination, navigation, and integration of cross sectoral services.

Applicants to CWCS are screened for suitability before being enrolled into the programme. For more information, please visit https://caring.sg/CAREwell/

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CaringSG Community Events In May 2023

CaringSG Community Events In May 2023

The month of May was another eventful month for CaringSG as we had lined up exciting events and talks for our caregivers from Boon Lay, Kampong Glam and Telok Blangah.

6 May 2023 Massage Therapy for Caregivers (Telok Blangah Community Club)

We understand that caregiving is a tiring task and caregivers do need some “me” time and respite along the journey. In order to help caregivers to relieve tension and enhance their well-being, CaringSG organised a massage therapy for caregivers on 6 May 2023.

They were treated to a rejuvenating massage session by skilled therapists while our volunteers helped to engage their dependents with simple games and activities. 

9 caregivers and their special needs dependents turned up for the therapy session from 10am to 12pm. Light refreshment were also provided for all participants.

This event was supported by 1 CAREkaki, 3 CaringSG staff and volunteers, 1 CAREchampion, the Enabling Lives Initiative (ELI) Grant funded by Tote Board and managed by SG Enable, Temasek Foundation and Telok Blangah CCC.

13 May 2023 Deputyship and Special Needs Trust Talk (Boon Lay)

The next caregiver engagement event (talk) was held on 13 May 2023 at Boon Lay Community Club from 2pm to 4pm. The talk focused on providing caregivers with practical knowledge on the requirements and process on applying for deputyship. Our speakers also shared the relevant information on how to set up a special needs trust.

4 caregivers turned up for the talk and we were glad that all of them had a better and deeper understanding on Deputyship and Special Needs Trust after interacting with our speakers and other caregivers.  This event was supported by 3 CAREkakis, 3 CaringSG staff and volunteers, 1 CAREchampion, the Enabling Lives Initiative (ELI) Grant funded by Tote Board and managed by SG Enable, Temasek Foundation and Boon Lay CCC.

20 May 2023 Purple Outing to SEA Aquarium (Kampong Glam)

The last activity for the month was a Purple Outing to S.E.A Aquarium on 20 May 2023. S.E.A. Aquarium is one of the world’s largest aquariums and it is home to more than 100,000 marine animals! Caregivers and their dependents had the opportunity to get close-up with the vast array of aquatic life and participated in the various learning journeys available at the aquarium to better appreciate the importance of preserving our oceans and its marine animals.

A total of 16 caregivers and 10 of their special needs dependents turned up for the event and it was supported by 14 CAREkakis, 2 CaringSG staff and volunteers and 2 CAREchampions. It was really heartening to see both caregivers and their dependents enjoying themselves during this outing. 

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The Heroic Spirit Of Caregivers – By Board Member Sylvia Lim

The Heroic Spirit of Caregivers – By Board Member Sylvia Lim

This message was contributed by Board Member Sylvia Lim

Dear CaringSG members,

“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” – Maya Angelou

In my eyes, this quote encapsulates the heroic spirit that caregivers embody every day. What they do may go unnoticed but takes incredible strength, resilience, and compassion.

CaringSG is set up with the overarching objective to support, enable and empower caregivers of special needs in our community. At times when these caregivers feel like no one else understands what they are going through, they can draw strength from this community, knowing that they are not alone in this journey. They can lean in for support, share resources, exchange ideas and uplift one another.

In the words of Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

By coming together, we at CaringSG hope to pave the way towards a more inclusive community for the special needs and their caregivers. To continually encourage and inspire caregivers because they are so pivotal to making the world a better place for those who need care and whom they care for.

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Celebrating Courage, Persistence And Love – By CAREwell Volunteer Dr Tang Hui Kheng

Celebrating Courage, Persistence and Love – By CAREwell Volunteer Dr Tang Hui Kheng

This message was contributed by CAREwell volunteer Dr Tang Hui Kheng. 

 

Dear CaringSG members, 

If we focus only on the black, we may miss out on the possibilities of other colors. 

Journey with fellow caregivers allow us to catch a glimpse of how different colors can be used to form a beautiful picture, often in unexpected ways. 

In the process, also finding out the colors we already have, mixing colors to create new ones. 

And together, all forming a collage of masterpiece celebrating courage, persistence and love.

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Every Parent Should be Able to Enjoy and Love Their Child – By CAREbuddy Dylan Lau

Every Parent Should be Able to Enjoy and Love Their Child – By CAREbuddy Dylan Lau

This article was contributed by CAREbuddy Dylan Lau, a 41-year-old engineer and proud father of a wonderful son attending Pathlight School. He is pictured above (right) with Frieda Chan (left), his CAREbuddy trainer, and Yvonne Tai, a fellow CAREbuddy.

The journey of being a caregiver to a child with special needs can be both rewarding and challenging. Over the years, I’ve learned the value of resilience, adaptability, and the importance of a strong support network.

I was first introduced to the CAREbuddy program by fellow caregiver Edward Chan, who posted about it in the CASPER PSG Facebook group. The idea of giving back to the special needs caregiver community appealed to me, especially since I had previously attended CaringSG webinars that offered valuable insights on supporting my child. Motivated by this, I decided to join the CAREbuddy training program, which took place from February to March 2022.

The training program was an enriching experience that helped me gain the confidence to approach fellow caregivers seeking support. Experienced trainers like Frieda and Anand equipped us with useful techniques and tools. I remember Anand telling us at the end of the training, “We just want to help. To give other caregivers hope that they can competently and confidently parent their child and lead them to enjoy and love their children.” This resonated with me, as I believe every parent should be able to enjoy and love their child.

Supporting different caregivers with their unique challenges has broadened my perspective. I learned that we are all on the same journey, albeit at different phases. Sometimes we may feel helpless, but we are never alone. It’s essential to check in with caregivers around us to ensure no one falls behind or gets lost.

As a caregiver and CAREbuddy volunteer, my mission is to support and encourage fellow caregivers in their journey of raising children with special needs. I truly believe in the power of community and the difference we can make when we come together to share our experiences, insights, and love for our children.

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Meet Our CAREwell Community Support (CWCS) Programme Staff!

Meet Our CAREwell Community Support (CWCS) Programme Staff!

Pictured (from left): Reynard (CAREwell Triage Coordinator), Shari (CAREwell Keyworker), Xiuhua (CAREwell Keyworker)

This article was written by Shari Tan. 

CAREwell is the professional arm in CaringSG that supports our work with Caregivers. Today, we put faces to this program and hope to answer some of your burning questions!

First up, we have Reynard. He is our Triage Coordinator who is a trained Social Worker. If you are referred to CWCS, you would most likely hear from him first!

Reynard, tell us a little about what you do?

I am usually the first point of contact for the caregivers that are referred to us. The caregivers are generally very forthcoming when I get in touch with them. They will share quite freely.

Sometimes as they share about their family situation, they will feel sad and down so in that moment, my role is really just to listen to them, empathise and try to accurately capture what their needs are at that point in time because often, there would be different competing needs at the same time. I will try to crystallise what these needs are and to prioritize them.

Could you share a memorable experience with us?

One of my memorable experiences was when this caregiver – after she shared about what she was going through – shared that she felt much lighter at the end of a call. She specifically said that she felt 20% lighter! I have never had anyone give an accurate value to how they felt and her response just stuck with me. She felt good to be listened to and commented that it had been quite a while that someone had actually listened to her.


Next up, we have Shari, one of our two Keyworkers in CWCS! Shari’s background is in Speech and Language Therapy and Psychotherapy.

Shari, could you share about what you do and some of the challenges you face as a Keyworker?

Our caregivers are often highly resourceful and may have access to many services and be connected to multiple professionals. However, often these services are uncoordinated and unintegrated resulting in caregivers feeling drained not only emotionally but also financially, and yet unable to see the outcomes they want for their children.

We come in as keyworkers to assess the needs of the Caregiver in relation to the dependent’s and family’s needs and journey alongside with them to meet their personal and family goals. We prioritize the caregiver as we realise that they are the lynchpin in the whole family unit and their well-being is absolutely critical.

One of the challenges is that most caregivers tend to prioritize others in the family. The focus is usually on their child with special needs.  As parents, we naturally want the best for our children and we will pull out all stops for them but often, we neglect ourselves and our spouses.

As keyworkers, we thus try and redirect caregivers back to themselves while crafting out a customised family support plan that integrates social services, healthcare and family life. While this model of care is well established overseas, it is still relatively unknown here in Singapore. This poses a challenge to our work too. We hope in time that the role of keyworkers and caregiver well-being would be better understood and supported.


Last but not least, we have Xiuhua whose professional background is in Nursing.

Xiuhua, could you share with us what you find fulfilling about your role as a Keyworker?

I feel fulfilled that we are able to empower caregivers to advocate for their child’s needs. For example, I had one caregiver who was totally lost as to what to do after her child graduated from special school.

At that time, she was running between polyclinics, different hospitals and struggling to bring her child to all of these appointments which she was recommended to go for. She was exhausted mentally and physically but yet unable to access the right services that would meet her and her child’s needs.

I got to know her, understood her needs and helped to connect her with SG Enable. I modelled to her how she might share her needs with SG enable and other service providers and provided lots of encouragement to her. At some point, she gained enough confidence to take over and begun advocating for her child more effectively! Being able to witness her transformation and being a part of her journey was extremely fulfilling!


As is evident in the sharing above, a caregiver’s challenges are multifaceted and often, a lonely and confusing journey. Navigating the social and healthcare system is complex and what we seek to do in our team is to provide the necessary emotional support and service ordination to our caregivers.

It is truly rewarding when we see our caregivers transforming from struggling and overwhelmed to being empowered and resilient in their caregiving journey. To see a whole family uplifted and thriving is what keeps us going!

About CAREwell

CaringSG’s multidisciplinary team of CAREwell professional staff and volunteers are poised to support caregivers in navigating the complex services to better access care and services via our CAREwell Community Support (CWCS) Programme.

Learn more about CAREwell here.

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