Chloe Liew has been in social service for nine years where she serves clients with special needs through various roles. On this journey, she’s also watched her clients grow alongside her – inspiring her to continue making a positive impact in the lives of others. This is her story.
A Change of Course
I’ve always wanted to teach. I believe that a child’s early influences play a big part in shaping their future.
It was with this conviction that I volunteered to work with children for two years while studying for my diploma. After graduation, I took on a temporary job in the educational sector assisting in administrative matters.
Little did I know, the tides were about to turn.
During that period, my interest was piqued when a colleague shared stories with me of her previous vocation in social service. I had never considered working outside the education sector. But my colleague’s inspiring anecdotes of how a programme she kickstarted brought her fulfilment spurred me to consider a role in social service.
Embarking on a Future of Social Service
After my temporary stint, I applied for a job as a Lifeskills Coach with TOUCH Community Services (TOUCH). Lifeskills Coaches are mentors who plan lessons to teach independent living skills and enrichment programmes for adults with intellectual disabilities. I was based at the TOUCH Centre for Independent Living (TCIL) Ubi – a day activity centre that offers competence-based training programmes for adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities, to provide them with functional
knowledge and daily living skills so that they may live independently in the community.
I was thrilled when TOUCH offered me the role, for it encompassed both my desire to teach, and make a difference in the lives of others.
As a Lifeskills Coach, I worked with clients, their caregivers and families, conducting classes on daily living skills such as money management, community living skills such as travelling on public transport, personal social skills, character development, arts, sports and community involvement activities. Individuals with special needs may sometimes struggle with activities of daily living, such a preparing a meal or communicating with people. These classes simplified these tasks by listing out the steps, enabling my clients to learn and use them in life, so that they may be independent in the community.
During that time, I also chose to pursue a part-time Degree in Social Work to deepen my understanding of social service work and later, serve as a springboard for a new role that was offered to me – a Social Worker.
After five years as a Lifeskills Coach, I was keen to venture into a new post where I was able to work with clients on a more individualised level. This included supporting and counselling them on their well-being and future care needs. The role felt more personal, as I was now working directly with each client, and giving them focused attention.
The opportunity to become Centre Supervisor at TCIL (Ubi) was presented to me after two years of hard work and insight into the lives of our special needs clients. Excited about learning and taking on new responsibilities – I accepted the role and the challenges that came with the job.
As a Centre Supervisor, I took on an overarching, more “big-picture” role. My duties shifted from working directly with clients, to managing a team of Lifeskills Coaches, a Social Worker and Administrators. I also liaise with key partners, volunteers and colleagues from other units of TOUCH, ensuring the smooth implementation of our programmes.
My previous roles as a Lifeskills Coach and Social Worker certainly gave me insights into my clients’ needs, and the foundational knowledge and empathy to manage my staff.
An often cited challenge that anyone working with individuals with intellectual disability encounters, is understanding and managing their behaviours. Clients might “act out” and prove to be a handful, but through experience and my training in social work, I learnt how to work with them professionally, and with care.
These experiences have allowed me to relate better with my colleagues, and as Centre Supervisor, I’m able to give them both the emotional and organisational support that would help them serve our clients better.
Stories of Hope
It’s been nine years since I joined TOUCH. As part of my professional journey, I’ve had the privilege to see the development and growth of many of our special needs clients.
For example, I met John* when he was 19. I was a Lifeskills Coach then. John has mild autism, and intellectual disability. He’s a dynamic individual, but struggles to express himself, and sometimes this results in tantrums.
Over the years, through training, care and support provided by TCIL, John’s condition and behaviour has improved significantly. Having played a small part in John’s development constitutes a large part of my job satisfaction at TOUCH.
Today, John listens patiently when spoken to, and is able to follow through with his everyday tasks in a co-operative manner. He has also developed an increased ability to make observations of himself and others. Just a few weeks ago he recounted that he had called me “mother duck” a few years ago, because I would constantly turn around to check on my clients when leading them out for mobility training, much like how a mother duck would look after her chicks! I was heartened by John’s observation because he’d developed a keen sense of noticing others – a trait he did not have previously.
Apart from John, I’ve also seen other clients assume independence and integrate successfully into society. One particular case I recalled was a client who started work as a part time server in the food & business industry. Over time, he increased his shifts at work before finally transitioning to a full time staff. That was a huge achievement to accomplish because it had taken much time and hard work to develop the skills and discipline required for the progression.
Integrating special needs clients into society can be a challenging task, but it is a challenge that I relish and find meaningful. As much as I want to impact the lives of my clients, they’ve impacted me as well. Despite their differences, I’m always touched to see them show their sincerity, care and acceptance for one another, and this is a key motivating factor which drives me to do what I do.
Finding Family in Social Service
It’s been almost a decade since I joined social service and it’s like a dream come true. My career has allowed me to spread my wings, learn invaluable lessons and give back to the community meaningfully. TCIL at Ubi has also become a second home for me, where I feel deeply connected to both my colleagues and clients. I believe in making each day count by taking small steps with great love, for these little steps build success, and in due time, will amount to something great.
* The client’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.
Planning for the client's lunch menu