"CONGRATS ON YOUR DREAM COME TRUE!"
(Missing our IT Engineer who is based in Malaysia.)
"Congrats on your dream come true!" one of my friends greeted me enthusiastically as she presented me a bouquet of flowers on Summer's Official Opening two Saturdays ago.
My response? "Oh! Opening a center has never been my dream."
My friend was taken aback. Yup, that's right, I had never desired to open a physical center, and so this 'milestone' is not a 'dream come true'. And here's why...
Reasons Why Opening a Center was Never a Dream
A Love for Home-based Therapy
First and foremost, I love home-based therapy. The comfort and security of the home brings out a different side of the children and their caregivers. I also get to see the real deal, of how a child behaves (or misbehaves) in his/her territory and how parents respond. Besides that, at least one caregiver will be around during the sessions, making debriefs, demonstrations and follow-up much easier. So, even though home-based therapy may be more tiring because of the travels, I still prefer home-based sessions over center-based sessions, which can be rather clinical, rigid and 'artificial' at times.
An Increase in Fixed Costs
Opening a center adds to our company's overheads, i.e. fixed monthly cost of rental. And what are the implications of having higher fixed costs?
First and foremost, have you heard of some companies' policies such as 'cancellation fees chargeable', 'no cancellation within 12 hours', 'deposit/advance payment is required' and 'one month's notice is required for termination of services'? Currently, Summer's do not have such policies; last minute cancellations are accepted without charges and no deposit or advance payment is required. And parents can terminate our services anytime since we are paid by per session. For the past five years, Summer's can have such non-binding policies because we have low overheads being a full home-based company; we do not have high monthly fixed costs (the biggest expenditure is cab fares for travels between homes).
(It is a conscious effort to do away with all those policies because it is not easy having a child with special needs and cancellation/rescheduling of sessions is inevitable. The child may have a night of bad sleep, the child may have a stomachache, the child may throw a tantrum. Therapy sessions are not the cheapest thing in town; if the child is unlikely to benefit much from it, then why push ahead, causing stress to the child, families and even our therapists! The parents feel bad enough to have to handle such situations, so why add on to their frustration by charging them for last minute cancellations?)
Besides the need to implement the above-mentioned policies, an increased fixed costs also imply that Summer's needs to generate more income. And one of the ways to do it is through having my therapists run more sessions. Currently, for home-based therapy, we schedule three or four sessions a day - this gives my therapists adequate time to take a breather between each session so that they can give their best to each child. With increased fixed costs, the pressure is on. There is a possibility of my therapists having to run six or seven sessions a day, back-to-back. Will they have enough mental and physical energy at the end of the day, or throughout the week? I have great fear that they will become 'therapy-generating machines', just like how I had been when I was working in the community sector, seeing up to 120 children a week.
Reasons for Opening a Physical Center
So you may ask, "Then why did you still go ahead with a physical center?" My answer, "It just happened." Don't get me wrong; the center was not without plan, and it was not without purpose. Just that it was not my dream, my end-goal. It is a part of the Summer's journey. You can say that it is a milestone, and of course, I am very proud of this milestone.
A Home for my Mobile Therapists
So... Back to the question of 'why a physical center?' The most important reason is building a home for my 'mobile' therapists. Before the COVID situation, when there were four of us, we used to gather at a café (or at my house) for our fortnightly meeting. It was precious 60 minutes of seeing one another physically and catching up with one another. Now we are a team of five Speech Therapists and we are all out there in the children's homes. We hardly see one another. It is difficult to grow together, both at the personal and professional level with this arrangement. As such, when our newest therapist, Yvonne, signed the Letter of Employment in April, just before the Circuit Breaker, I knew that it was time to have a home, a physical center where all of us can gather more regularly. (The girls indeed love the center like their own home; they designed the layout, shopped for the furniture and even build them themselves, painted the walls, decorated the place and now, keeping it neat and tidy everyday!)
|So thankful to have the girls with me to set up the center from scratch.|
A Place for other Forms of Therapy
Social group: Yes, that has been something on my mind for the past one year. When I first started the company in 2015, many of the children were only aged two years plus. They have little/no words. Their goals were to start talking, to communicate their basic needs and wants (think critical communication skills). And after starting their first words, they were soon speaking in sentences, and now they can narrate simple sequences, tell simple stories. And then, what is next? Interaction with peers! This is absolutely crucial for success in school. Logistically, it is not easy to plan for social groups in home-based therapy. I have had organised playdates for a couple of families in my own house, but not quite therapy-focused social groups. As such, I am really excited for the opportunity of having social groups at our new center. In fact, we have started a small group of two children on Saturday mornings and many more parents are enquiring. Glad to be able to fill this need.
Parent training: Yes, that has been something on my mind for a long time too. I have had the experience of doing parent training for small groups of four to five mothers at my previous work place. It was such a cosy space where parents can ask questions about each of their own child and also to share tips with one another. No one has better tips than parents of children with special needs themselves! They also form a support group, where there is no judgement, but only empathy and empowerment. Some mothers also told me that it was such a respite to attend such groups! Killing two birds with one stone - learn speech and language tips while taking respite from daily hassles!
A Location for Internship
Another reason for a physical center is a location for internship. I have been doing consultation, supervision and training work in several neighbouring countries, particularly Myanmar and Bangladesh. The professionals there are very keen to learn how therapy is conducted in Singapore. Will it not be awesome if they can come to Singapore for internships, shadowing our therapists and experiencing it for themselves? Such internships are difficult to organise for home-based services whereby permission has to be obtained from families for the therapists to enter their homes. However, if it is at our center, it will be much easier for the therapists to sit in the therapy sessions. Therefore, one of the reasons for having a center will be the ability to offer internships to our counterparts in the countries that we serve.
|The Speech Therapists at Inner Circle, Dhaka, Bangladesh, during my last trip there. How I miss my travels! |
In conclusion, while having a physical center may increase the burden on the company and some of my believes, I trust that it is now the time to expand our services and fulfil the needs of our children, families and fellow professionals. Do keep this physical center in prayers, that we will use it well and continue to be a blessing to those we work with.