Community support – key to successful probationer rehabilitation

Toh Yue Sen, a 25-year-old Sports and Exercise Science student at Republic Polytechnic, hopes to get a degree after completing his diploma. A decade ago, pursuing an education was the farthest thing from his mind.

Back then, as a teenager, he had committed theft and robbery and was ordered to reside in Singapore Boys’ Home for two years. A few years later, he was remanded in prison for acting on behalf of an unlicensed moneylender.

During the prison remand, Yue Sen met Selina Yeo, his Investigating Probation Officer. Guided by Selina, he re-looked at where he was headed and took stock of his life prospects.

“I cried because I was touched when she talked about my family, my sisters,” he says. He realised how his incarceration would affect his loved ones and was relieved when he was placed on probation by the Court.

That was just the start of his rehabilitation. Supported by MSF’s Probation and Community Rehabilitation Service, Yue Sen started to make positive changes to his life.

He performed community service at a welfare home at Pelangi Village where he befriended elderly residents. He viewed his time there as “a gift” instead of a mere assignment, thanks to the friendly staff and residents. Yue Sen’s parents told Selina that he became more patient after serving at the home.

Yue Sen’s class advisor, Cass Lim, in ITE College East also played a crucial role in his rehabilitation. She recommended him for various courses and worked closely with Selina to guide him. With their support, Yue Sen became a role model in his fitness training course at ITE, where he was selected to be the class discipline master. He was also awarded the National Youth Achievement Award in 2018 for his leadership qualities and exemplary conduct in school.

This network of coordinated care across organisations is a key focus in MSF’s community rehabilitation efforts. To support probationers in their rehabilitative journey, MSF collaborates with many corporate and community partners to provide them and their families with diverse types of support. Strong community and family support were key factors that supported a high probation order completion rate of 84% in 2018.

Yue Sen shared that his parents played a big part in his rehabilitation. His father began taking an active interest in his boxing hobby, and supported him during a competition in July 2015. This helped to bond the family together.

Selina says Yue Sen’s parents acknowledged and supported his efforts to change himself, which improved their relationship. Yue Sen shared that he is now able to communicate openly with them without worrying that they may end up arguing or disagreeing with one another. He added that poor family communication could be the reason why some probationers struggle.

“Successful rehabilitation really starts with the family,” adds Selina. Recognising this, MSF is collaborating with Functional Family Therapy LLC to implement Functional Family Probation that focuses on the involvement of everyone in the family to strengthen support for the probationer.

Selina says some probationers do not succeed in rehabilitation because of the lack of family support and unconstructive engagement. “If the probationers are able to focus on developing better relationships with their family and commit to being constructively engaged in their studies or at work, it will encourage them to make amends and be more responsible.”

Yue Sen is committed to staying on the right path. He says he leads a “normal” life, going to school and working part time in the Food and Beverages industry.

His teenage follies and time on probation have taught him about the consequences of wrong decisions, and he is determined to stay out of trouble.

“It’s not worth my time.”

A youth caseworker’s reflections

The rehabilitation of youth offenders may begin in the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes, but it should not and does not stop there. Once they are discharged from the Homes, the youths face the sometimes daunting task of reintegrating into their schools and families.

Guiding them in this transition is key to keeping them on track in their rehabilitation journey. This is where caseworkers like Ms Lim Li Min play a pivotal role. Having served as a caseworker for seven and a half years in MSF, Li Min’s job entails conducting individual and family counselling, helping youths gain new skills, and linking them up with opportunities in the community, to address the risks and needs of those under her charge.

Ranging from displays of anti-social behaviour and violent tendencies to estrangement from family members, the challenges the youths face are increasingly complex. “Caseworkers need to be agile and resourceful to support them in personalised ways so they can have a good re-start in our community,” says Li Min.

Currently, youths are given post-care support for two months after they are discharged from the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes. After assessing that some of them continued to feel lost after the two-month period and unable to approach someone they could trust for advice, MSF will extend post-care support to one year. The pilot with about 15 to 20 selected youth will commence this year and will be progressively expanded in 2020 to include every youth discharged from the two Homes.

Under the initiative, MSF will work with appointed Voluntary Welfare Organisation partners to assign post-care workers to journey alongside the youths in the community. The post-care officers will engage the youths at least six months before they are discharged from the Singapore Boys’ and Girls’ Homes. Caseworkers like Li Min will then have a longer time to partner with these post-care officers to work out discharge plans and facilitate relationship building between the youth and their post-care officers. This will ensure a smooth reintegration and sustained rehabilitation.

Jervin Tay, now 19, is one of the youths counselled by Li Min. In 2017, after a rioting case, he was ordered by the Youth Court to reside in the Singapore Boys’ Home for 12 months. With the help of his parents and Li Min, Jervin turned his life around and even completed a barista programme.

Li Min helped Jervin to better communicate with his parents. Since his discharge in July 2018, Jervin has committed himself to making the best out of his life. He is currently in National Service and hopes to complete his ‘O’ Levels and get a diploma in the F&B industry.

Rehabilitation is not always smooth sailing, and Li Min says schools, employers and families should be prepared that these youths may “require a lot more support in the community” than in Homes.

“Building rapport and a relationship is key to being able to support a youth effectively”, she says. Only then will caseworkers be seen as “trusted adults” by the youths. “This gives them some motivation to change and move forward with their aspirations in life, knowing that they are safely anchored in someone who believes in them and whom they can fall back on.”

And relationship-building will continue to play a key role as caseworkers, and in the near future post-care officers, work hand in hand to support our youths.

 

 

Using policies to bridge gaps in society

As a policy officer, Shermain reviews and formulates policies within the Rehabilitation and Protection Group to help protect and support vulnerable individuals and families.


At the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Rehabilitation and Protection Group (RPG), officers deal with the care, protection, and rehabilitation of individuals to create a safe and nurturing environment for children, young persons and families.

But while frontline officers are the more visible ones on the ground, there is a complementary group of officers working behind the scenes on the policies that help fill in gaps and needs in our society.

Shermain, a policy officer with the Rehabilitation and Protection Group, analyses data, reviews legislation, and engages stakeholders on a typical work day.

The process of coming up with a policy usually starts with identifying a gap or need. “Gaps or needs may be identified as part of a legislative or policy review. We would then seek to formulate or amend a policy to bridge this gap or address this need.” said Shermain.

She recognises that it is often difficult for her to fully understand the situation on the ground. “We work a lot with our key stakeholders in formulating policies. While we try to ensure we are as well acquainted with the operations as possible, our operations colleagues will always be more informed of the intricacies of the operations. We therefore tap a lot on their expertise to help us understand the operational needs and implications of our policies” said Shermain.

Breaking cycles of abuse, neglect, and offending is something that Shermain believes in strongly. “Working in RPG, you definitely have to be someone with a passion for people, especially for the vulnerable. If you want to be a policy officer, you should be someone with an eye for identifying gaps and needs in society, who appreciates Singapore’s societal and operating context, and sees the importance of collaboration with the different stakeholders.” said Shermain.

“Sometimes, the sheer magnitude of our policy reviews can be overwhelming,” Shermain said. “However, knowing that our work benefits people in society makes me hopeful and gives meaning to the work I do. Of course, it also helps a lot that our colleagues and bosses are super supportive, caring, and passionate.”


If you are interested to pursue a meaningful career at MSF, find out more information on our website or at Careers@Gov.