“We are not alone” – One family’s experience with the CAREwell Community Support Programme
This article was contributed by the Teys and the CaringSG CAREwell team.
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.
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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