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Social Work in Children and Youth Services

In the late nineteenth century, the British colonial government in Singapore recognized the need to treat adolescent offenders differently from adult offenders and instituted the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Ordinance for the detention of boys under 16 years old. When the immigrant population in Singapore stabilized in the early twentieth century and there were more children in the population, a Children's Ordinance was enacted in 1927 to protect them from acts of cruelty. Another related problem during that time was the purchase of young girls, some as young as 4–6 years old, from China to be brought up as mui ts'ai or bond servant girls in Singapore. While it was argued that the mui ts'ai was not a slave but usually a poor relation who might have died in poverty in China, the colonial government felt it was within its duty to protect these young girls until a suitable marriage could be arranged for them. Early legislation to protect these female relatives was not very effective until the 1949 Children and Young Persons Ordinance. By then, the communist government in China was established and the movement of mui ts'ai to Singapore virtually stopped. In addition to statutory interventions, many missionary societies also provided welfare and educational services for needy children in the early twentieth century as a supplement to limited state provisions (Wee, 2004).

Important changes came after World War II. A Social Welfare Department was established in 1946 with a more coordinated set of welfare services including the protection of young girls and the protection and rehabilitation of children in need or care, or who were in trouble with the law. The pre-war focus was to try and abolish the mui ts'ai system but given a changed social context, the post-war regulations and legislation for the welfare of children were focused more on protection and
caregiving practices for children born locally. Although the earliest provisions were mainly for the protection of children from China, the beginning of a multiethnic population after the war meant that the services focused on Chinese welfare were no longer appropriate. Although early post-war interventions were mainly devoted to meeting basic human needs such as feeding malnourished children and housing orphans and those without family support, the high crime rate after the Japanese surrender revealed the need to work with juvenile delinquents. In 1951, the Probation Offender's Ordinance was instituted and was the beginning of a series of changes that provided intervention options for juveniles and young persons found guilty in adult courts.

Traditionally, a child is considered to be the property of the father and is under his care and control until marriage. In the context of present Singapore, children are to be nurtured and protected not just as an asset to the family but also valued in their own right. According to Khoo (2004: 127), 'Child welfare has to do with the legislation, policies, programs, and services that promote children's holistic development, protect children who are at risk from harm, and rehabilitate children if, and when they become a threat to themselves and to others.'

As such, from the perspective of human development in an ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), services for children cannot be focused on the child alone but equally important is the focus on the family and community within which the child lives and develops. Varying official definitions of a 'child' and 'youth' exist in Singapore in accordance with the purpose of the different pieces of legislation. For example, under the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA), Cap 38 (2001), a child is a person below the age of 14. A 'young person' is aged 14 but below 16, while a juvenile is someone between seven and 16 years of age. The Adoption of Children Act, Cap 4 (1985), defines an infant as a person under the age of 21 years. Under the Women's Charter, Cap 353 (1997), which governs matters related to maintenance, custody, and marriage, a child is defined as any person under the age of 21. Singapore is signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and accepts its definition of a child as someone below the age of 18. The Inter-Ministry Committee on Youth Crime, Singapore National Youth Council, 1999 defines youth as persons between the ages of 15–30 years of age (Nair, 2004).

Children are valued as the transmitters of traditional values and customs, as links between the past and the present. In a cosmopolitan and open society, children are also increasingly being valued for who they are, independent of family roles and responsibilities. Today, a child in Singapore is not only perceived as a family asset but also a national asset. Child well-being is now not just the responsibility of the family but also that of the state and the community. Therefore, child welfare provisions in Singapore include a variety of measures to improve family and community functioning and well-being as means towards nurturing and protecting the best interests of the child. In keeping with the many-helping-hands approach to social welfare, both the state and the community are involved in preventive, remedial, and developmental services for children and youth. Social work is
State
Remedial and

Developmental Preventative and Developmental
Community

Fig. 8.1 Child and Youth Services in Singapore

engaged in the provision of such services using a systemic approach where the three traditional divisions of social work methods are integrated and the service holistic. Singapore's provisions to enhance child and youth welfare and protection and the corresponding roles of social work in the current context can be conceptualized

in the framework shown above.

In Quadrant 1 (Figure 8.1), the social workers' professional contribution can be demonstrated in the state's provision of remedial and developmental services for children and youth in the rehabilitation services provided under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court, the Family Court, and the Community Court system. One example is in the work of the probation service where social workers are called to oversee the custody and social care of the probationers under the Children and Young Persons Act. The act provides a wide range of options for managing juvenile offences and is the main tool for remedial and developmental services for the rehabilitation of youth offenders. The act recognizes the importance of the family in restoring the young offender into mainstream social life. Community-based rehabilitation such as the community service order (CSO), weekend detention order, and probation rather than institutionalization is therefore preferred.

The CSO, for example, opens the avenue for a value-added dimension to rehabilitation when youth offenders are provided with opportunities to carry out the CSO in projects such as wheelchair repairs, volunteering at eldercare services under the guidance of senior nurses, or painting community facilities. Such CSO activities may allow the youth offender to learn a skill or trade that may give them permanent employment after the CSO ends. Social workers providing professional services in such settings have many roles. They are accountable to the courts for social reports and recommendations that will help in sentencing or discharge, and
works with the community in the course of rehabilitation and development of the juvenile offender, such as coordinating the input of volunteer probation officers and collaborating with parents and other family members in ensuring adequate social care and support after the probation period is over. While the judicial services may be perceived as remedial on one hand, the outcome is perceived as developmental as reflected by the involvement of professional social work in the process of rehabilitation and aftercare.

In Quadrant 2, at the preventive and developmental level, the state provides a range of child-friendly incentives and services such as the Baby Bonus Scheme and subsidized childcare. Within such services, the state not only concerns itself with the remedial and developmental perspective of child and youth welfare but also has a longer term perspective through preventive and developmental measures focusing on supporting families and marriage. Singapore has a very comprehensive national child development program. For example, beginning from birth, there is the Baby Bonus Scheme first introduced in April 2001 and subsequently enhanced in August 2008. Under the scheme parents are given a cash gift by the state depending on the number of children. In addition, there is the Child Development Account where the state contributes dollar-for-dollar to an account opened by the parents for the child. This not only addresses the concern about the low national fertility rates but also addresses the very Asian concern about savings and having the long-term means to bring up children. Savings in the Child Development Account can be used for a range of purposes, from paying fees for approved childcare services to education and health-care expenses for the child.

In 1993 the state also started the Edusave Scheme to ensure that all Singapore children have opportunities to maximize learning and to motivate them to excel. The state automatically opens an Edusave account for every child from age 6–16 years in a government, government-aided, or government-supported special schools. Yearly contributions from the state will be made to the account and children can make use of the money for enrichment programs or other additional courses that can benefit them. Various scholarships and awards are also available under the Edusave Scheme to motivate achievers. These preventive and developmental services by the state show that child and youth welfare in Singapore is a prominent feature of nation-building and begins as soon as a child is born, not when the child gets into trouble.

Social work supports the state's financial provisions in enabling children to develop in a nurturing environment through the provision of children services from a systemic perspective. Social workers' roles in this quadrant are preventive and developmental and include marriage and family casework and counselling, locating necessary resources, empowering clients towards self-reliance, initiating community support, evaluating existing services, and conducting research or data collation for input into policy discourses and service development.

In Quadrant 3, preventive and developmental services are also provided by community agencies. One example is the Healthy Start program, which is targeted at young, very low income and at-risk families with newborn babies or
children aged six years and below. The program reflects the many-helping-hands approach to providing social services for children and youth that are primarily preventive and developmental in nature. The Healthy Start program was piloted by a voluntary welfare agency supported by state funding. As a result of the positive outcomes associated with the pilot program, the state expanded the Healthy Start program to include another five family service centres in the community. Social workers from these family service centres collaborate with hospitals and other community organizations to identify newborns from at-risk families and support them with parenting programs aimed at increasing parent-child bonding, marital relationships, and employment upgrading. In addition, Healthy Start also provides financial assistance, such as payment for kindergarten and childcare fees, to ensure that children of very low-income families can also benefit from these facilities. The ultimate goal is to give these children and the families the basic foundation for developing a low-risk trajectory for the future.

In Quadrant 4, at the remedial and developmental level, social workers in the community are involved in the provision of student care, youth guidance, and a range of services for individuals with disabilities. These include services for children and youths who are either in trouble with the law or are at-risk of trouble with the law. These community services are both remedial and developmental in nature and often work in conjunction with other state initiated remedial services. One such example is the wide range of resources available under the National Committee on Youth Guidance and Rehabilitation, whose primary aim is to identify and reach out to at-risk youths in the community. Among the developmental services provided under this national platform are those that help to strengthen families in their role of providing guidance and discipline to young members of the family, supporting other community agencies working with at-risk youths to reduce delinquency, and to intervene when delinquent behaviours are first detected.

An example of a community-supported program is the Youth Guidance Outreach Services (YGOS), a faith-based agency using local church communities to fund and support staff and services. Social work is focused mainly on reaching out to youths who have dropped out of school, and, youths with problems who are at risk of dropping out of school. In addition, this agency provides guidance services for first-time juvenile offenders who are caught for minor offences such as shoplifting. Such offenders are first given a police caution and put on a six-month voluntary guidance program with appointed community-based youth agencies. The program, through individual counselling and group activities, is aimed at helping such youths develop better self-control and to acquire life skills that will enable them to take responsibility for their own actions. The incentive for youths to stay on the program is that if they complete the program successfully, they will not be charged by the police for the offence. The Streetwise program has similar objectives but is targeted at youths with gang connections.

In Singapore, services for children and youth with disabilities are primarily provided by community-based agencies with some subvention of programs by the state. These services for persons with disabilities are initiated by and funded primarily through public donation with some state funding for educational
programs. Social work in the field of disability is concerned with the long-term care of the person with disability from a life-course perspective, from birth to ageing. As such, apart from helping families with the day-to-day care and development of the child with the disability, social work is concerned with permanency planning issues for the time when the parents of the child with the disability can no longer take care of the child (Ow, 2004). In recent years, social workers are also increasingly aware of the need to address the double burden arising from disability and ageing (Chung, 2010).

Within this matrix of services provided by the state and the community is the strong national inter-agency collaboration by the state and the community in the management of child abuse. In addition to provisions under the Children and Young Persons Act, Women's Charter, and the Penal Code, Singapore is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995. Every child therefore has the right to protection from abuse and neglect by parents and caregivers and appropriate treatment for recovery and social integration. Child abuse is defined as any act by a parent, guardian, or caregiver that endangers or impairs the child's physical and/or emotional well-being.

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports documented the National Standards for Protection of Children (MCDYS, 2002; NSPC, 2002), which sets out the framework for the management of child protection in Singapore to ensure good practice. Collaborative tasks of the legal system, the police, child protection agencies in the community, the schools, the private and voluntary sectors, the health-care agencies, and the public in child protection are emphasized. Although reporting of child abuse is not mandatory, the public is encouraged to report to the relevant authorities if they have knowledge that a child is being abused so that investigation by the police can proceed. The Child Protection and Welfare Officers at the Ministry who are trained in social work practice act as the case managers. They ensure the follow-up of all cases through regular case conferences with the child abuse and protection team consisting of a range of multidisciplinary professionals from government and community agencies to the hospitals.

Social workers involved in the work of child protection must work in a multidisciplinary context with professionals from the other care systems such as the hospitals, the courts, the police force, schools, community social service agencies, policy makers, the media, and the public. The process of child protection and prevention of child abuse is placed within the centre of the matrix related to social work with children and youth because this area of social work practice requires active and clear collaboration between the state, other professional systems, and the community involving all the elements of preventive, remedial, and developmental work in the child's ecological environment.

 
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