Making a Difference: Empowering Families to Stay Resilient

Exoddess and mother

Exoddess growing close with mother Ms Eve Lai after attending CareNights


Jul 2021
Temasek Holdings


As evening falls, most children in Singapore will start winding down after a long day of classes and co-curricular activities. However, for primary six student Exoddess Lim, the evening marks the beginning of the second half of her day.

The 12-year-old attends CareNights, a free evening care programme, every weeknight from 6 to 10pm. Her mother, who is divorced from her father, works long hours as a manager in a beverage distribution centre, and is unable to take care of her at night.

The CareNights centre is nestled among the housing blocks of Bedok North and is a stone’s throw away from her flat.

She has dinner there with other children, aged between 6 to 14 years old, and does her homework under the supervision of staff and volunteers for an hour. Study time is followed by enrichment and recreational activities like drawing, singing and learning about current affairs.

The night ends on a reflective note with the children penning their thoughts down in journals before they head home.


Balloon Sculpting

Balloon sculpting helps the children to express their creativity through arts and craft activities


Providing a Safe Environment for Children

Launched in November 2016, CareNights@Morning Star is a free evening care programme in Singapore for children from families with a monthly household income of less than $4,500.

It is among some 200 programmes supported by Temasek Trust’s oscar@sg fund, anchored by a founding gift of S$10 million from Temasek and was launched in April 2020. The fund supports ground-up initiatives that serve the needs of vulnerable communities in Singapore affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

CareNights is run by Morning Star Community Services, a registered charity and Institution of a Public Character that offers support programmes for families in need. Funding support from oscar@sg has been channelled to cover the operational costs of running CareNights. Morning Star also received funding from Temasek Foundation to launch the first CareNights centre that started as a pilot programme in 2016 in Bedok. Since then, CareNights had been expanded to three more centres in Bedok North, Sengkang and Toa Payoh. Over the years, about 180 children from about 120 families have attended the programme.


A Growing Need During the Pandemic

Designed as a six-month programme, CareNights provides interim help to time-strapped parents with caring for their children at night. However, some children like Exoddess stay on in the programme longer if their parents require more support to care for them over an extended period.

CareNights staff observed that since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, more parents are seeking help to care for their children in evenings. Some parents have lost their full-time jobs and are taking up odd jobs with irregular hours such as working as private-hire drivers and food delivery riders.


“More parents could be working late nights to make up for income loss during the pandemic. CareNights serves the growing demand for such services. This has been exacerbated by the financial instability wrought by COVID-19. The oscar@sg fund supported the programme to ensure that families get the support needed to get through these challenging times.”

Cheo Hock Kuan, CEO of Temasek Trust


The pandemic has also caused more stress on some of the children who stay in rental flats. One of the challenges they face is having to spend long periods of time indoors in a small space.

CareNights provides the children with a safe and conducive space to learn and play. The centres, which are located at the void decks of housing blocks and at a social services hub, are spacious with designated areas for study and recreational activities such as games and watching movies.

Each centre is run by two full-time staff who are trained in child management skills as well as to care for children with special needs. The staff conduct enrichment activities in arts and craft, music and dance, and work with volunteers to facilitate recreational activities such as documentary and movie screenings.


Building Confidence and Social Skills

CareNights staff also observed that some children were shy and lacked social skills when they first entered the programme, but came out of their shell gradually.

Through activities such as card and ball games and chess, the children get to interact and bond with one another. They also learn how to be patient, work with others as a team and express themselves confidently.


Card Games

Card games help the children build social and decision-making skills


“We have seen the older children develop a sense of responsibility over their younger friends where they are seen guiding them in games, homework, and even during mealtimes. This life trait is important because it provides a sense of purpose for themselves and within the society.”

Jagdeep Kaur, programmes manager of CareNights


Ms Lai, 37, observes that Exoddess is more outgoing and confident now.

“Art and music activities run by CareNights have helped Exoddess to become more confident about expressing her individuality. I find that she is more ready to share her opinions and feelings with me,” said Ms Lai.

Exoddess CareNights

Exoddess bonding with her mother over a game of Connect Four


Other parents agree that their children have grown happier.

Madam Tong Xiao Fang said her son Lim Kai Jie, 8, became withdrawn when his father fell ill last October. Kai Jie also had to spend many days at home alone while his mother accompanied his father for frequent hospital checkups.

However, Kai Jie’s spirit has lifted after attending CareNights.

“Now, he is a lot happier and always says that he enjoys all the activities and lessons at the centre,” said Madam Tong, 43.


Adapting to the New Normal

CareNights has also adapted to the pandemic. The centres introduced safe distancing measures when in-person sessions were allowed. When in-person sessions were suspended, the programme moved online.

Virtual lessons in subjects such as Math, English and Science were conducted once a week. Educational games such as Hangman and storytelling were also conducted to pique the children’s interest about the world around them. Weekly activities like Friday movie nights were organised in which the children and volunteers watch movies online together and discuss their thoughts on the movies over Zoom.

Parents said they are appreciative of the efforts of CareNights staff and volunteers.

“I have to work longer hours due to the pandemic. Thanks to the dedicated staff and volunteers at CareNights, I have a peace of mind knowing that my daughter is safe and happy,” said Ms Lai.



This article was originally published in Temasek Review 2021

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