Crisis Work and Diversion

Doing justice: Luke’s Family Group Conference   02/04/2010
Of Personal Protection Orders and reflective action   03/12/2010
Working within people's own lifeworlds   23/10/2009
Jeffry’s story   31/07/2009
Operating in the’either/or’ mode   29/05/2009
Finding the balance in child protection work   30/01/2009
The humility to see through our work   19/12/2008
Seeing opportunities in crisis situations   07/11/2008
Kaye’s story   22/08/2008
A balanced approach to child protection   23/05/2008
Supporting people to help themselves   09/05/2008
Child protection and family work   24/01/2008
Restoring justice through diversion   03/10/2007
Working with choices and alternatives   11/08/2007
Youth and the criminal justice system   22/07/2007
Sentencing and restorative justice   16/03/2007
Sense and Sensitivity   07/07/2006

Doing Justice: Luke’s Family Group Conference  02/04/2010

The Easter message of ‘new life’ came to us yesterday in an email. Luke, 17 years old sent a colleague an email informing her that he had just returned from the police station with his parents. The police had given him a conditional warning for an offence he had committed last December. Luke was very thankful for the chance to start anew and to get on with his studies. Perhaps, because of our secular status, Luke wrote “Also, hope this is not offensive in any way, but God Bless you and I hope the Lord will shower you with his blessings for all the time you're sacrificing to help youths to turn over a new leaf, giving them a new lease in life and I also hope He will look over you and protect you wherever you may be.”

Last December, Luke’s wooing of a girl went awry when his efforts invaded the girl’s privacy. Feeling intimidated, the girl spoke to her mother who then went straight to the police. Luke only realised the gravity of the matter when the police came to his home with a warrant and seized his computer for investigations.

Thankfully after much discussion and consideration, the investigation officer decided to allow for a family group conference to be convened. The victim came with her mother and she spoke about the strong sense of betrayal she felt. She had always regarded Luke as a very good friend and never thought that he would harm her in any way. Luke came to the conference with his parents and his elder brother. They had earlier given the victim a written apology but at the conference the entire family apologised once again to the victim and her mother.

To demonstrate his remorse and sincerity, Luke presented his plan to put things rights. He would spend the next 3 months volunteering at a Learning Centre near his home that served disadvantaged children. He pledged to serve at least twice a week. Also, during weekends, he would stay home to help his mother with household chores. Perhaps, Luke’s proposal was not terribly impressive but his sincerity impressed the victim and her mother. When the Conference Coordinator asked her if there was anything Luke could do for her, she shook her head but said that it would please her very much to see Luke concentrating on his studies and doing well.

It was obvious that the victim and her mother were rather uncomfortable coming to the conference where they would come face to face with Luke but as the conference progressed, both families were discussing Luke’s plan respectfully. When the conference ended, the victim had a quick private word with Luke before leaving with her mother. We believe that the way she saw it, justice was done and both families could start anew.

May you experience much recreation this weekend.

Easter is not a passport to another world; it is a quality of perception for this one.
~ W.P. Lemon

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Of Personal Protective Orders and reflective action  03/12/2010

A grandmother sought medical treatment for her 8 year old grandchild for bruises on her arms. Grandma explained that the bruises were caused by the child’s mother who pinched the girl. When grandma added that mother had a mental health condition, she was immediately advised to help the child file a Personal Protection Order (PPO) against her mother.

Grandma was still furious with the child’s mother for her harsh discipline methods and was inclined to do so but she had a nagging feeling that it was not quite the right thing to do. Grandma then asked us to explain to the child’s father and herself how a PPO works. We explained that mom would most probably be mandated for anger management counselling and if she breaches the order by ‘hurting’ her child again, the police could intervene. Grandma and father reflected on what we said and realised that mom had never intended to hurt her child. She probably could not cope with the stress of managing her 3 children on that particular day as no other adult family member happened to be home with her. They also reckoned that such an order will drive a wedge between grandma and mom as well as mom and her 8 year old child. “Why do we have to stab ourselves?’ they asked rhetorically. “Of course not but you have to find a way to support mom and to protect her children” we responded.

They listened as we described the support in the community they could tap on and after some discussion among themselves; they decided that mom should go back to work immediately. They had observed that her mental health condition was less of a problem when she had a job. As for the care of the children, they asked for our assistance to place them in appropriate day care programmes and father will pick them up in the evening for dinner with mom and grandma.

Grandma then informed the medical centre of her family’s care and supervision efforts and they let the matter rest as there was enough community support around the 8 year old and her family. A personal protection order is for life unless withdrawn and while it is a protective factor for the child, it may have destroyed the child’s family which is also a protective factor as wisely perceived by grandma and father. In working with families, we need to be constantly aware that what we do will always have an impact on a child’s future.

Enjoy your weekend.
You ask me what it the most important thing in the world and I will answer you. It is people! It is people! It is people! – A Maori oral narrative

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Working within people's own lifeworlds  23/10/2009

Our colleagues who were supporting Gina (AWB - 0941) were a tad disappointed when she was suspended from school again.A classmate who had been caught for glue sniffing claimed that Gina was with her but got awayjust before she got caught.Considering Gina's track record it was a highly plausible scenario. When we tried todiscuss the issue with Gina, she simply stormed off but after a while, she agreed to meet usatour youth centre around lunch time the following day.

The next day Gina did not show. Some youths at the centre who had common friends with Gina told us that she was seen hanging out at Tampines Mallwhich was a long way off from where we were. Gina remained uncontactable and we wondered if she had decided to run off and to live by her wits once again. However, that evening Gina sent us an SMS telling us that she will be back soonand will explain once she met us.

Gina told us that she needed time tothink through her situationand that's why she did not want to talk to us. She told us that there was no way she could have been glue sniffing with herclassmate as she was with us when the incident allegedly took place. She realised that given her record, she would most likely not be believed anyway. So she decided to problem solve herself.

She was at Tampines visiting the mother of her classmate. The mother was initially furious with her but decided to verify the facts and eventually came to the conclusion that Gina had no hand in her daughter's glue sniffing. Then, as a gesture of reconciliation, she cooked dinner for Gina. This mother also called the school to explain thesituation and the school will now meet with Gina and her guardians to resolve issues.Gina also arranged for this mother and her daughter tomeet us so that we could also offer them our support.

Gina is only 13 but she has certainly shown us that she is the "expert of her own life world." Granted that at 13, many of life's challenges will be overwhelming for her and adult support will be necessary. But even then, there is a lot moreto those we serve if we can hold still and notlet all thedirt thatalways seems to flutteraround them get into our eyes.

Enjoy your weekend.

The greatest friend of Truth is time, her greatest enemy is Prejudice, and her constant companion Humility. - Charles Caleb Colton

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Jeffry’s story  31/07/2009

As far back as Jeffry could remember he always had to be the strong for his family. He hated it every time mom and dad had a fight. Following which, he would always comfort mom by promising to protect her forever. Jeffry is now 18, in Polytechnic and sees himself as the head of a household where he resides with mom and 3 other siblings. I remember Jeffry as a 6 year old proclaiming to anyone who cared to listen how he saw it as his duty to protect his family. Back then, Mom was quite concerned about Jeffry’s anger and sought our support as she addressed it with him.

As Jeffry attended our programmes, we were near enough to observe how he grew. I would say that he never forgot the promise he made to his mother and played the role of a big brother to a T. It appears that at 6 years old, Jeffry had decided that he would be his family’s protector and as he got bigger, he just got better at it. Jeffry was not a bully and he would never pick a fight but he will be no push over if you push any of his family members around.

This week, we shared his mom’s relief as the judge called for a pre-sentencing report from the probation service. It is not over yet but there is now a possibility that Jeffry does not have to be incarcerated or have his studies disrupted. A few months ago Jeffri got into a fight with a group of youths who were taunting his younger brother. At that point, he could not see the implications of his actions and was just reacting like the family protector he had always been. Protecting his family was his reality; it was his default setting that blinded him from seeing the reality that the law had to be respected. Hence, if probation is not recommended, Jeffri will be sentenced to a 4 year spell at the Reformative Training Centre.

To improve Jeffry’s chances of probation, we need to ensure that the care and guidance plan which his family had put together does not breakdown. For a start we have to help them hold steady or express their emotions in way that does not prevent them from working together for Jeffry’s benefit. The plans also have to be something that Jeffry’s family can realistically achieve and we must be able to rally enough support from others to fill in the gaps. In the care plan, we also have to address how Jeffry can keep his default setting from blinding him to other realities.

There will be a lot of learning needed from Jeffry, his family and us as we attempt to lead them out of their predicament. I had only listed starting points but the work will really be more than that as we move along. It is much effort and so helping professionals are tempted to just let the system take its course and simply wish the ‘Jeffries’ of the world good luck. All I will say is that juvenile delinquency is a complex issue and if we take the effort to explore its complexity, we will never get bored as each person comes with a different life-story. As long as we remain sincere, it will not be more of the same and we will have no reason to become jaded.

Enjoy your weekend.

It is not the leader’s role to play judge and jury, to punish people for bad behaviour. In the first place, punishment does not effectively control behaviour. If the leader tries to act as a judge and jury, he will discover that the instrument of justice cuts both ways. Punishing others is punishing work. – Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

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Operating in the’either/or’ mode  29/05/2009

3 of our colleagues had to prevent a father of 4 children from climbing off a parapet in his distressed state of mind. His wife has filed a Personal Protection Order against him and he felt that his whole world had come crashing down. Thankfully, our colleagues managed to contact his parents who succeeded in calming him down. Another team was with a 25 year old mother who was crying continuously in the privacy of her own home when she learnt that she was not allowed to be reunited with her 3 year old son who was in foster care. In a brief moment of empowerment, she questioned rhetorically, “How am I going to put into practice what I have learnt when my son is not allowed to be with me?”

In both situations we needed to offer hope but what is hope? I would say that we bring hope when we are able to convince those we support that we have a story of their lives that they believe is a lot more attractive then the one they currently experience or believe in. However, I would like to emphasise that ‘story telling ‘is not about having a glib tongue or a repertoire of pat answers. It is about discovering the assumptions and values among stakeholders that maintain the problem and finding ways how these stakeholders can help create a possible story that brings hope to the distressed. In other words, we need to have the ability to describe how a present problematic situation can turn out satisfactorily in the near future and to bring together the appropriate partners, resources and support to get there.

Come to think of it, whether it is the safety of a child or a failed family relationship, problem solving has to be more than an ‘either or’ decision. It is precisely an ‘either or’ thinking that prompted that father of 4 to attempt suicide. Sadly, ‘either or’ is a common mode of thinking that guides behaviour as it is neat and demands less work.

The Children’s Guild Inc in Baltimore speaks of the Principle of Courage that is needed in our work. They say that courage is “the act of making one’s self vulnerable enough to face the unknown and to be open to struggle. Courage is to risk making bad decisions.” A strong statement that needs to be pondered upon as our different teams go into their half-yearly programme review beginning Monday.

Enjoy your weekend.

“Good decisions come from experience and experience comes from bad decisions.” - An old adage.

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Finding the balance in child protection work  30/01/2009

Last week, our local media reported that there was an average of 93 cases of child abuse each year in the last five years. However, no clear trend seems to be emerging as the figures vary from year to year. Our government has said that the Healthy Start Programme is part of a framework that prevent, detect and support children who may be abused.

We have been operating the Healthy Start Programme since it began in 2002 and we do concur that this has given us the privilege of getting up close and personal with the struggles of families residing in the rental housing areas. Out of the 1000 odd families who have gone through the Healthy Start Programme, we have supported more than 100 families in ensuring that their children are safe and not neglected. This is not a large sample size but enough to humble us into recognising the immense complexity of the situation.

We will continue to learn and to gain insights but for now the picture that seems to be emerging from our experiences is that families and young people who are described as follows tend to get onto the radar of the Child Protection Service.

a. Over-stressed and Under-supported Families - Sometimes families who encounter a difficulty that disrupts their routine, find themselves with little support from extended family and friends. Difficulties such as the loss of a job or the sudden departure of a care-giver and so forth. The head of the household would plod on and execute solutions that become problems in themselves e.g. he may instruct his children to wait for him at the playground while he returns from work. Should a child sustain a serious playground injury, the situation could spiral downhill from there as he would be seen to be a neglectful parent.

b. Parents and Children in Conflict - A child resentful of the discipline imposed by his parents may at the spur of the moment make a wild allegation just to win an argument, spite the parent or force the adult to back off. Understandably authorities will have to act on the allegations and when that happens, the situation will have a life of its own which the child or the family no longer have any control over.

c. Children and Youths Who Hurt - Some young people with sad lives find much comfort in the care of helping professionals. We had a boy who had spent half of his young life in institutional care. When he was reunited with his mother and step father, he could not adjust and found ways to get back into the System. He checked himself into a hospital one evening and claimed that his family had kicked him out. With his history of institutional care, this boy was taken seriously and he was cared for in the hospital while his parents were being investigated. Anyway, if you must know, after 6 months of support where progress was a roller coaster ride, he is now quite happy living at home.

d. Families in Conflict - Here would be the children who are caught in a crossfire. Care-givers may be too caught up with their fights to realise the hurt they may be causing their children. However, they are usually remorseful when they realise the harm they could be causing their children.

Child Protection is an issue that elicits strong reactions. However, there is usually more than meets the eye and our challenge will always be striking a balance between Protecting Children, Preserving Families.

Enjoy your weekend.

The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears. - Francis Bacon

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The humility to see through our work  19/12/2008

Often when parents are overwhelmed by the non-cooperative behaviours of their child, they lament that they have given the child everything the child had asked for and yet they get no respect. We would then suggest that maybe they should stop giving and the one thing they should not give is to give up on their child.

A father was not exactly impressed with the way we framed our suggestion but he took it all the same by agreeing to hold off going to court to file a Beyond Parental Control Order against his child. His wife and he were at their wits end and going to Court appeared to provide some relief from the anxiety and disappointment they were experiencing. As we continued to find ways how to reach his child, this father summed it up for all the parents when he expressed in a rather tired voice “I just want some hope.”

We believe that it is in children’s best interest to be cared for and supervised by their families. As long as families are committed to the care of their children, it is our role to support them, build on their abilities and help them succeed. Children and their families no matter how challenging have strengths that can be built on to help them develop into well-adjusted individuals and nurturing environments respectively.

At court this week it was rather heart-wrenching to see the parents of a 14 year old girl pleading with the judge to allow their daughter to fulfil her probation order at home. Their daughter’s offending was not something that pleased them but it provided the opportunity for them for sort out the relationship problems between them. The daughter responded well to her parents’ guidance and was really happy that her family, her neighbours and others in the neighbourhood were visibly concerned for her.

After her Family Group Conference, we received an encouraging note from her school counsellor expressing how impressed she was with the sincere effort and support from family and friends to care and guide this girl. However, it was judged that it would be in the girl’s best interest to be separated from her family and friends. We then had to calm one very confused and angry young girl who was upset that her family bliss was short-lived. We had to also warn her not to display this anger in her residential facility as that would only get her into more trouble.

Parents who have had their children removed from them initially fight hard to get them back but it does not take much for the System to overpower them. We then see resignation which is often observed by the system and professionals like us as nonchalance on their part. Our good intentions often weaken and even humiliate people.

This evening we will be holding our annual graduation event to recognise our young people for their achievements in school. A 12 year old who passed his PSLE has refused to come because we have been unable to persuade the halfway house who is currently caring for his mother to allow her to attend. “It would be too stressful for her” they told us.

Obviously no system or fellow helping professional would disagree with our family preservation principles and approaches but they may not have the resources or will to execute them. On Wednesday, Lyn John picked up a 2 month old infant from a foster family, jumped into a cab and brought the infant to her grand-parents’ home so that their access rights could be honoured. This has been a twice weekly routine the Safe Kids Team has been carrying out for the past month. The system picks up the cab fare so that means they agree with the importance of the family having access to the infant but then it would not have happened if someone like Lyn John was not available. Lyn John told me such inconveniences reminded him why we do what we do. Ferrying the infant was a very meaningful part of the job which made his day.

The message I would like us to take away from this email is that as helping professionals, we must have the humility to recognise that in our attempts to do good we can do harm. We are part of a system that can be clumsy, unresponsive and unkind. Hence, we must have the integrity to constantly reflect on our efforts and hopefully in the process; our actions harm less and help more.

Enjoy your weekend.

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Seeing opportunities in crisis situations  07/11/2008

A 13 year old got into a fight with her teen-age brother at home and the police were called in. Her uncle who is acting as her guardian was not at home at that time, so he called us for support. When we got there, the fight was over and the police had left after giving both brother and sister a stern warning. We learnt that the girl was unhappy with her brother over a fight that happened a couple of weeks ago and so she challenged him to another.

Because she 'initiated' the fight, her family felt that she was in the wrong and sought an apology from her for compromising the safety of younger children in the household. The apology though was sought by her uncle through a question "Did you hear your little cousin cry when you started fighting?" This girl refused to answer and what followed was an awkward impasse that lasted 3 hours.

As the professionals present, we felt an unspoken expectation that we could facilitate cooperation or at least elicit a response from the girl but I am glad we failed miserably. Imagine the sense of helplessness we would have inevitably imposed on the family had we succeeded. It was a painful experience for the family and sharing the pain was perhaps the best gesture of support we could offer.

The situation was resolved after midnight when her aunt took her aside to have a few words. After a few minutes, hugs and tears were exchanged and it was family as usual. We were relieved that the tension was defused and that we could head home.

On hindsight, we could identify various factors and positions taken by the uncle and the girl that probably contributed to the impasse. If we could relive that evening, we would probably be more skilful but then we may have suppressed the aunt's abilities as a harmoniser and peace keeper.

Enjoy your weekend.

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
- Jimi Hendrix

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Kaye’s story  22/08/2008

Kaye. 13 years old was picked up by the police last night but has just been released because they felt that Kaye was a ‘social’ problem and not a ‘criminal’ one. We are really grateful that the police have taken such a view as it means we are given yet another opportunity to help Kaye steer away from institutional care and remained cared for in the community.

Recently, we arranged for Kaye to be cared for by a well meaning family who was concerned for Kaye’s well being. Kaye had been on the run for more than 2 months, loitering at parks and bunking in with friends, some of whom he had just met. He was picked up by the police more than once for various misdemeanours. Kaye’s father has been incarcerated and his natural family support arrangements have broken down. Thus, we arranged temporary foster care for Kaye so that we could have some time to reconnect him to his natural family network. Now that he is not fully co-operating with his foster family, the risk factors on the street remain high but perhaps the biggest risk for Kaye is the view that professionals like us are likely to take in such a situation. We will have the tendency to subscribe to the view that it would be in Kaye’s best interest to be institutionalised so that his self-destructive behaviours can be managed.

This week, we were introduced to Systemic Constellation Work as a way of widening our perspective of ‘dead-end’ situations like Kaye’s. After identifying the key players in Kaye’s life world, the caseworker sought the assistance of his team-mates to represent each of these key players. The case worker then placed or ‘constellated’ these players around the room according to his view of the relationship distance between Kaye and them. Thus, the system of relationships in Kaye’s life world became immediately visual for the caseworker.

With Professor Heiko’s facilitation, each of these player’s elaborated on what they were experiencing standing in their position. Their perceptions, feelings or comments challenged the caseworker to embrace views that the caseworker had not heard before or had not been sensitive to. With each new piece of information, new ideas for action emerged and slowly it no longer seemed like a dead end. Of course, the pieces of information from the team-mates in role were only their construction of reality i.e. their truth and not the truth but they provoked positive action that would reduce the risk of Kaye being institutionalised.

As helping professionals, our logic no matter how well intentioned is not the logic of those we served. For example, it would not be uncommon for us to assess that Kaye’s problem is the bad company he keeps. His so-called friends with all their unhealthy habits will be the ruin of him. In the constellation assessment, the team-mate playing one of Kaye’s friend actually described how he saw Kaye being neglected or bullied by the adults who claimed to care for him and he felt compelled to pull Kaye away from all of them. He wanted to protect Kaye.

Hmm…didn’t I hear the case worker say that as well?

Enjoy your weekend!

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A balanced approache to child protection  23/05/2008

The Kids United Home had a farewell party for 4 residents yesterday evening and that means only 8 children will follow us over to our new premise at Admiralty Road East on 2 June. Being a place of safety and an approved home for children in need of care and protection, we had to ensure that our change of address has been announced in the Government Gazette before we could move.

These days we are working effectively with MCYS Child Protection Service. Through ongoing dialogue, concrete plans for residents to be reunited with their families are being endorsed by the Child Protection Service. As we move over to the new premise, we will be aiming to reunite children with their families within 6 months instead of 1 year as it is now.

A community approach towards Child Protection is relatively new in Singapore. Since 2005 when we first begun, we have been working closely with MCYS to keep alleged victims of child abuse safe and cared for in the community wherever possible. Overtime, the Child Protection Service at MCYS and us have defined our roles in a manner that complement each other and provide for a balanced approach towards Child Protection.

A balanced approach takes a longer term view while responding immediately to the safety of the child. It does not only stop an undesirable situation but concurrently works at building a desirable one. Hence, this also means a continued engagement of the parents who have had their children taken away. We need to see beyond their strong emotions and find ways for all concerned to acknowledge that there is a problem which can be solved if we all chipped in responsibly.

Sometimes strong emotions prevent us from assuming personal responsibility for our role within a problematic situation. This is normal as the emotions protect us from moving into unfamiliar territory. Basically strong emotions also have the effect of keeping things as they are. As a helper then, we have to be able to use the strong emotions as a motor for change so that change can occur. Change is always unfamiliar territory and emotions will get stronger as one continues to stay the course. People drop out when they can't handle the emotions. So by helping them ride the emotions, we keep them on course and eventually we help them assume responsibility. To do so, we too have to ride into the storm.

Our work can be difficult but I assure you that if we stay the course we become stronger not just professionally but personally.

Enjoy your weekend.

Conflict cannot survive without your participation.
Wayne Dyer

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Supporting people to help themselves  09/05/2008

Shocked by the swells on the face of her 4 year old girl, a 26 year old mother called us asking for help. The swells were a result of her boyfriend's attempts at disciplining the girl but she was rightfully furious with him. We accompanied mother and child to the hospital and as the child was warded for observation, the police stepped in to investigate the matter. Immediately, this mother started accusing us of interfering in her life. Not only was she totally uncooperative, she was also shouting at the police and at us.

At that point, she was not doing herself any favours as she was coming across as an unstable person who would be unfit to mother. However from her viewpoint, she must have seen her whole world crashing down when the police stepped in. She realised that her children may be taken away and her boyfriend on whom she depended on, going to jail. Her anger and her display of non-cooperation gave her a sense of power as she struggled to deal with being in a powerless situation.

She felt that she was being pushed into a corner and the best thing we could do was to give her space. We walked away, reorganised our thoughts as a team and took her out for tea the next day. We consciously refrained from problem solving but spent time listening to who this mother really was. We learnt that she was an abandoned baby, abused child and as a teenager, spent time growing up in an institution. Her marriage ended abruptly when her husband left her after 2 years. Today she is a single mom, trying to ensure that her children received the education she never had.

Despite not having any formal education, she speaks English, Mandarin and Malay. She also understand Tamil although she cannot speak it. She explained how she broke down words into smaller parts so that she could remember their meaning and sound. She also proudly declares that she lives within her means and is not in debt.

Perhaps when she realised that we were not pushing her to decide one way or other, she started to act on some suggestions we gave her a few days ago. She registered her daughter with our Child Development Centre and she also keeps the other child close by her side. She was thinking rationally about her children's well being and acting on it.

The challenge ahead is to help this mother to help herself. It is her life and she is the one who has to make the difficult decisions about boyfriends, her children's safety and other aspects of her life. Every decision she makes will have its own set of consequences and the most helpful thing we can do is to respect her as a sensible person who would not make reckless decisions if she had the appropriate support. With the cards life has dealt her, it is not difficult for us to understand why she feels she is frequently being pushed into a corner.

Enjoy your weekend.

"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” - Saint Augustine

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Child protection and family work  24/01/2008

After 2 weeks of intensive work beginning 2 days before Hari Raya, Baby G left the hospital on Wednesday and reunited with her parents at home. Baby G came to our attention when a Child Protection Officer contacted us because her father refused to allow Child Protection to send her into foster care. The family had previously been associated with child neglect and Child Protection felt that the baby's safety would be compromised should she go home.

On the eve of Hari Raya, we presented Child Protection with a care and supervision plan that the family had come up with but they needed more assurance. Understandably, the parents flew into a rage as it was really important and significant for them to have their new born home with them during Hari Raya. The father could not fully comprehend what was going on and out of desperation, he called in the police. It was high drama at the hospital and I remember sitting where I am now trying to write the Another Week Beyond and speaking with our colleagues at the hospital over the phone.

Baby G spent Hari Raya at the hospital and her parents were furious with us as they were under the impression that we advised Child Protection to keep her there. We could not understand their fury as we were really working hard on their behalf. Later we realised that as the Child Protection Officer left the meeting room to consult her supervisor on the phone, one of us followed her out as she requested. Upon returning to the room, she announced that the baby could not go home. Our action of leaving the room was construed by the parents as a 'betrayal'.

We certainly had a very hard time re-establishing trust after that. They were nice enough when we visited them on Hari Raya but following that, they blew hot and cold with us. We struggled to convince them if they could attend to the safety concerns of Child Protection, there was a good chance Baby G could return home. Eventually, with the assistance of the police officers whom the father trusted, we managed to convey our message in bits and pieces.

It pained us to see the gamut of emotions that these parents were experiencing. We could see how their feelings of helplessness, anxiety or insecurity could have come across as unreasonable anger that further undermines their ability as parents in the eyes of others. Despite their angry outbursts whenever we visited, the fact was these parents were actually really trying as we noticed that they acted on our suggestions for making their home environment more conducive for a baby.

We now have responsibility for ensuring that Baby G's care and supervision plan is followed through. The work is even more important now as an infant's safety can be compromised if we fail in our duty. The work we did over the past 2 weeks may have felt like a fight but it was really just 2 arms of our Child Protection System holding up Baby G. It is only safer to lift a baby with both arms; the Child Protection Department is one arm while SafeKids our community response programme is the other. When Child Protection and us play our roles well, vulnerable children can be kept safe. Well done, Ailine, LJ & Pascale for helping Baby G reunite with her parents. It was difficult work but reading your sharing which I have copied below, it must have been worth it.

update of yesterday's visit.. =)

Mother and father were very excited to see the baby! We were supposed to meet them @ 5.30pm; MSW said that they were 1 hour early, so i went to the ward to see them. When I saw mother, she was very happy, almost hugged me haha like a child expecting a gift from mommy! quite refreshing to see her in a very good mood.. Father and auntie seemed quiet, i just talked to them about fishes (aiyoh, i dun know anythin about fish).

I would like to end with a passage from Confucius that a good friend shared with me. It seemed quite appropriate for reflecting about this whole episode. It is definitely not meant as a criticism of Child Protection but for us to reflect a little about how our world works.

A Government may be functioning well or badly
What matters however,is preventing the need for Government involvement in the life of the people.

A Government must ensure 3 things for its people: food, safety and trust.
If it cannot produce all three; the first to go is safety, the second is food.
However the third can never be given up.
When people feel no more trust in their Government,
It is not a Government any more.

Child Protection Departments around the world concentrate on safety by protecting children from their own parents. In a sense, they play a policing role. As members of the community, we need to convince them that with the help of government resources, the community can offer the child protection. As seen in this episode, a policeman who acts as a resource actually earns trust.

Enjoy your weekend.

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Restoring justice through diversion  03/10/2007

It has been Children's Day Week and our kids at the Healthy Start Child Development Centre have been celebrating with children from other Centres. Last week they were at the Creative O Pre-schoolers' Bay and today they were with the Carpe Diem Group at Punggol. The Carpe Diem Group sponsors the educational expenses of some of our children at our Healthy Start CDC and they have also offered to share their resources with us on an ongoing basis.

Their facility at Punggol has a flying fox, swimming pool and lots of open space near the sea which our kids really appreciated. It was also very thoughtful of them to celebrate the birthday of an infant who is sponsored by them. Interaction with their peers from the mainstream helps our children hone their social skills. Events like this are also a sampling of what primary school-life out of the classroom could be like.

It was a 'big' event for the organisers and we did our part by contributing manpower to help out. Much thanks to those from Family Services for helping out.

The Streetwise Programme is into its 3rd week now and as we were planning for the intake, we decided to be consciously more intentional about our Restorative Practices. From Day One we emphasized to the participants that we are here to help them and we are not here to punish them.

This week, as the participants were discussing a 'problematic' situation, there was a moment of awareness about the meaning of personal responsibility. As the group of them discussed consequences for 'misbehaviour', some spontaneously suggested punishment. 'Punish me lah!' is really more an expression of resignation rather than an invitation.

The facilitator reminded them of our position and pointed out that the punishment approach was ironical because when they misbehave or are irresponsible, the staff have to get to work by dishing out the punishment. Won't it be more appropriate for the person who made the mistake to assume the responsibility of putting things right? Participants did ponder the comment seriously. These youths are smart people and it definitely was not a 'duh' moment for them

Like always, not all participants on the Streetwise Programme are on the ball and Anne-Marie and Jerry are having lots of calls from concerned parents and caregivers. I am really appreciative that both of them are trying their best repairing the relationships that matter. Below is the Ladder of Restorative Discipline as explained to the participants and it may give you a better idea of the approach we take at the Streetwise and all our other children and youth programmes.

We are here to help you. We are not here to punish you.
This is how we go about it:

1. Repairing Relationships that Matter
When we make a mistake, we are not the only ones affected. Our family, friends and others who care about us will be concerned and disappointed. So the first thing that we will help you with is to heal these relationships so that the people who care for you can continue to do so.

2. Problem Solving
Together, we need to find ways to get rid of the reasons that get you into trouble. We will work with the people who care for you and want to support you.

3. Learning From Consequences
Sometimes we learn by experiencing the consequences of our actions. Together, you and us will decide on some consequences for actions or attitudes that are not helpful.

4. Punishment
When all else fails we may have to punish to settle the matter and to begin again. Punishment does not always help us learn but may be necessary if you do not respond to 'tender loving care'.

Enjoy your weekend.

If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward then we are a sorry lot indeed.
- Albert Einstein

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Working with choices and alternatives  11/08/2007

We had sad news that a 16 year old boy with lower intellectual abilities whom we had previously assisted, was remanded at the Singapore Boys Home for a month because his care arrangements broke down. This boy came to our attention a couple of years ago because at least 2 concerned members of the public read a newspaper article about him loitering at a hawker centre. As the hawker centre was in our vicinity, the members of the public contacted us to assist him.

We coordinated a Family Group Conference, our very first actually and put in place a care-plan that served him well until 6 months ago. He attended school regularly and enjoyed it tremendously and did not wander off after school. On weekends, he was supervised by his mother and on weekdays, he was with his mother's brother who resided nearer his school. There was also a volunteer befriender who took him out on weekends.

6 months ago, we were told by an MCYS officer that he had run away from home and his mother had told the courts that he was Beyond Parental Control. He was remanded in the Singapore Boy's Home and the court ordered that he continue to be supervised in the community. Unfortunately, the 'running away' continued and this week he was remanded at the Singapore Boys Home again. His MCYS officer told us that he looked shaken and worried as he was taken away. We were told he was badly bullied the last time he was placed in remand. The irony though is that he was being placed in the Singapore Boys' Home for his protection because the streets were deemed too dangerous for someone with lesser intellectual ability.

There will always be service gaps and but this boy does not belong to the Singapore Boys Home, a facility for young people who have been on the wrong side of the law. The adults in his life were unable to supervise or engage him and unfortunately they sought the justice system for assistance. As we have often said, the justice system is not built for welfare and in this case, the system has utilised their resources to do their best for the boy. The system meant well but the assistance offered is arguably not in the best interest of the young person.

I am highlighting this case to remind ourselves that helping is not simply about utilising the available resources. When we help without understanding, we can end up doing more harm than good. It is a privilege to serve but it is also a responsibility that we cannot take lightly. In this case, the boy was not running away but wandering off to entertain himself and it is more of a care issue rather than one of protection or delinquency. It was not because he was 'beyond control' but because the adults in his life could not attend to his needs. Intervention should be addressing his care-givers ability to care rather than simply concluding the matter quickly by sending him to an institution.

The work is frustrating when situations appear stuck and we can be highly tempted to resolve issues quickly. I would say pause, take a hard look at our helping principles, reflect on them and speak with a team-mate or supervisor. We also need to have a fair understanding of the government systems to determine the impact or implications of our advice. Never say there is no choice because there will usually be alternatives if we are clear what we are trying to achieve and are prepared to see the job through.

Enjoy your weekend.

Hope is not arrived by a good argument nor need be lost by one - Anonymous

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Youth and the criminal justice system  22/07/2007

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending." - Carl Bard
June 22, 2007

On Wednesday evening, a 35 year old lady and her husband walked into the office looking for me. "Hi Gerard, remember me?" She looked familiar and after a few moments I did recall her name but lets just call her Carol. Carol beamed widely when I mentioned her name and she went on "It has been 19 years since I last stepped into this place and this is because I just wanted to leave it all behind. After I left here I decided to go back to school and now I am working in a stat board."

Carol was in the neighbourhood because her husband who is an interior decorator had to do some work with a youth whom she acquainted during her time here. I was touched that she decided to drop in just to see if I was still around. Actually, I had little difficulty remembering Carol. She was always zipping around on the back of a motorbike in the car park we used to have in front of our office. Without a helmet the wind was in her hair and as she shrieked and laughed at every turn, any passer-by could see that she knew exactly what a joy ride was all about. The knives that Carol carried with her were not meant for the kitchen and the Cantonese that sputtered from her lips could have come straight out of a classic John Woo movie that was made in Hong Kong.

Her husband listened intently as she rattled off in Cantonese what the neighbourhood was like, what Beyond did for her, and what she got up to. He didn't seem fazed and I guess he obviously was aware who he married.

Today at a case discussion we spoke about a 17 year old girl who coincidentally was called Carol too. Carol was sent to us because she had stolen a hand phone. She was not the most on-the-ball participant and dragged her feet when she was with us. Since she was on a mandated programme, we had the option of either sending her back to the criminal justice system or helping her to stay out.

The argument for sending her back to the criminal justice system was that she was exposing herself to at-risk behaviours and if she was out in the community, she would very likely reoffend. Our choice was obviously to see how we could continue keeping her out of the system. The system has a life of its own which can be very harsh.

Yesterday, a 17 year old boy who is under our care was sent to the remand prison for 3 weeks despite our very positive report of his progress with us over the last 3 months. He was in our residential programme, has just returned to school and was making plans to return to his family. What was supposedly a routine review turned out to be a nightmare and now we have 3 weeks to advocate on his behalf to keep him out of the Reformative Training Centre.

The justice system is not built to offer assistance or to attend to the young person's development. We have to be very mindful that when young people are sent to us, we are not an extension of the criminal justice system and it is our job to keep them away from it. Managing these young people is not as easy as simply setting restrictions for them because restrictive methods of management have the tendency to set the young people up to fail. And when they fail, it fuels the perspective that these 'young criminals' should have been locked up in the first place.

We are here to believe in them and to be hopeful about their futures. I thank the 35 year old Carol for reminding me that because I did not try to get her 'locked up' she had the freedom to find herself.

Enjoy your weekend.

P.s Join us tomorrow for the Milk Fund's 1st Hope Day.

Hope Day is a maiden attempt by MILK - a day to plant seeds of hope and resilience. In addition to group activities for the children, some of the older kids with chronic illnesses will share some of their experiences , life stories and provide inspiration to the younger kids. Time: 2-5 pm Venue: Gardenasia 240 Neo Tiew Crescent S 718898

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Sentencing and restorative justice  16/03/2007

"I have come to believe that one thing people cannot bear is a sense of injustice. Poverty, cold, even hunger are more bearable than injustice."
Fenwick, Millicent U.S.Senator (1910-1992)

The Straits Times and the New Paper covered the story of a 16 year old boy who had his 5 year jail sentence overturned by the High Court and he was sent for reformative training instead. Last November, this boy told the district judge to send him directly to jail as he was not interested in reformative training. To make sure he got his way, he even let swing a string of expletives in court.

It appears that the High Court took into consideration the tender age of the boy and the longer term impact of a jail sentence. Sending the boy for reformative training is also in line with the restorative justice principles of the Juvenile Justice System. The boy cannot be cared for in the community but at least reformative training will provide more opportunities for rehabilitation and education.

For us, this is really quite heartening as we have been championing restorative justice principles over the past 2 years. We had nothing to do with this case but over the past 2 years, we have taken various opportunities to share our views on restorative justice in a consistent fashion. We have spoken at focus groups, created a monthly email to school management, helped MCYS co-ordinate 'emergency' Family Group Conferences and submitted feedback to the Courts when invited.

For those who are new, here are the Restorative Justice Principles that guide us when we formulate Care Plans for young offenders:

Social problems are best resolved within the community and we avoid judicial proceedings where possible
Care plans must take the age of the offender into account
Care Plans for the offender must strengthen families
Care Plans must not be so restrictive that they set the offender up for failure
Victims should be given the opportunity to have their interests taken into consideration.
In all probability, restorative justice principles were already on its way to this part of the world but perhaps our little efforts helped certain segments of our community take notice of them. Our efforts listed above are examples of the quiet advocacy that we have built into our daily work and each of us working on the ground actually has a wealth of experience that can be put together as important information to shape our community. So your opinions and views are important and do continue to share them. Information for advocacy need not be loud but it needs to be accurate, consistent, relevant and measured so that people do not feel 'shouted' at but feel that they are respectfully spoken to or consulted.

Enjoy your weekend!

"To see what is right, and not do it, is want of courage, or of principle."
Confucius Chinese Philosopher (551-479 BC)

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Sense and Sensitivity  07/07/2006

This week the Family Service and Child Protection Department reviewed how they could play a more active role in supporting Beyond's mission to curb delinquency among children and youths from disadvantaged backgrounds. It started with the clarity that while we are a part of the National Family Service Centre Network, we are firstly Beyond's Family Service Centre. Since 1991, we have been operating an FSC in a low-income neighbourhood. The experience garnered from this programme gave us the confidence to branch off into specialised delinquency management programmes for children, youths and their families.

Today, the demands made on the FSC team are diverse and if we do not have a grip on the situation, we will end up a Tracy of all trades but a Master of none. Hence, the FSC team decided that they should firstly nurture core skills to help parents troubled by the delinquent behaviours of their children and the skills for the engagement of disadvantaged families. Over time, workers can increase their competencies in other areas.

I would just like to share an incident that happened on Tuesday that would explain why there is a need to develop a sensitivity or a skills set for the engagement of disadvantaged families. Jacinda and Ranga made their way to the home of a single mother who refused to allow her pregnant teen to be admitted into hospital. The teen was already dilated and this mother was adamant that the teen delivers at home. Prior to this home visit social workers from other agencies have been in touch with the family and they told us all sorts of horror stories about the mother who screamed at them and literally chased them out of the flat. This mother even SMSed the social workers an insult after they kindly left a bag of food rations at her doorstep.

When the mother met Jacinda and Ranga, she brushed them aside saying that she was really tired after work. However, after dabbing her face with a wet towel and composing herself, she sat them down and served them water mixed with a bit of evaporated milk. When she realised that they were from a different agency she started pouring her heart out and spoke for more than 2 hours describing how she had 7 pregnancies of her own and how 2 died during childbirth. She also described how she lost her temper when social workers opened her fridge, checked her rice bin when she asked them for $50 to tide things over.

This was a woman who walked 4 bus-stops to and fro work and tried her best to remain self-reliant. I would think that she has every right to be proud of herself. Asking for help must be a difficult thing for her and unfortunately in the course of our work, we social workers can be down right insensitive. A heavy caseload, rigid operating procedures and the lack of support take away the respect for human dignity that is supposed to be ingrained in us.

At Beyond, we provide our teams ongoing support through a series of in-house training programmes we call Journey Beyond. Besides imparting skills, it also serves to bring team-mates together in a supportive and nurturing environment fostering camaraderie. I am glad that our FSC Team will be embarking on an on-going journey to strengthen their connection with the low-income community and the problems of juvenile delinquency.

For the record, the pregnant teen is now safely cared for in hospital.


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