Published: 05 March 2021
Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether the Government undertakes systematic preventive measures to engage the children of drug offenders in programmes that aim to mitigate the risk of these children becoming drug offenders themselves in future; and (b) if so, what criteria or metrics are used to evaluate the effectiveness of such programmes.
1. Mr Speaker, I thank the Member for the question. First, we need to be clear on what the primary causes of the drug problem are, which lead to children being affected.
Focus on the upstream
2. The Member’s question focusses on measures to engage the children of drug-abusing parents, to prevent them from becoming drug offenders themselves. Looking at this narrowly from that perspective will not give an accurate picture.
3. The primary issue is the trafficking and pushing of drugs in society. If we do not deal with those issues upstream before the harm is caused, then there will be serious consequences to the lives of people and lots of children. We have to focus on deterring and disrupting the supply of drugs. If we do not do that properly, the children will suffer neglect at best from their families and many will face the risk of getting into a life of crime and drugs.
4. Downstream efforts to help the children will really be like fighting against the tide in such situations. We are very concerned about the children, and the other people affected by drugs. That is why we take a tough approach on drugs.
5. I will ask the Member: if he agrees with the tough approach we have taken on drugs; the approach to severely punish the traffickers and suppliers responsible for this problem? If we are concerned about children, then I assume the Member will agree with us.
Individual responsibility, family responsibility
6. Let me give an example. A five-year-old boy, I do not want to name him, died after being scalded with hot water in 2016. Every year, I can name you a case of such a child. Five years, four years old, with parents affected by drugs.
7. The court heard that his mother, who had thrown the hot water on him, told the IMH psychiatrist that she had abused meth for years, and that she was probably suffering from withdrawal symptoms in the days before the boy’s death because she was unable to buy drugs from her usual supplier.
8. In such cases, I ask Members what could have been done to save the child – which is really part of the question that the Member is asking? What we have done is to save the lives of thousands of such children with our focus on preventing the widespread use of drugs through our very tough drug policies. We are probably one of only countries, if not one of the few countries in the world, that have dealt with this problem effectively. That helps to prevent such cases from happening in the first place. We have to identify the problem accurately if we want to find the right solutions.
9. I have tried to explain how we try to make sure we reduce, minimise the risks of the situations that the Member has been referring to, from even arising in the first place.
10. But, despite all our efforts and despite our tough laws and stance, there will be persons who will continue to abuse drugs and place their families and children at risk. In those cases, how do we help the children?
Working with community partners to help the children
11. The Government works closely with the community to help them.
12. Newly admitted offenders are encouraged to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP). Under the YRCP, volunteers reach out to the families of inmates through home visits, and link them up with various social support and community programmes.
13. They also identify vulnerable children of inmates who may require support in their education or who may require counselling and refer them to relevant community programmes.
14. There are now more than 1,200 YRCP volunteers, who have reached out to more than 15,000 families. This is real, hard work on the ground. It’s not glamourous, but involves thousands of people going down, spending thousands of hours helping.
15. Prisons will also refer inmates and their family members who require assistance to the Family Resource Centres (FRCs). FRCs operate from the Prison Link Centre in Changi. They render financial assistance, accommodation and social assistance.
16. Where necessary, FRCs will refer families to the Family Service Centres (FSCs) for further casework support within the community. FRCs have assisted close to 4,000 inmate families in the last two years. FSC social workers will try and review the family’s risks and needs, and coordinate intervention and support across different agencies. For school-going children, FSCs will also link up with their schools to discuss their needs – the types and level of support needed by the children.
17. Besides FSCs, we also have youth agencies which provide support services for children and young persons who have behaviours which put them at risk, or who require constructive engagement. These include mentoring programmes, interest-based activities and career coaching.
Building the relationship between the parent and child
18. Then there is the aspect of parent and child bonding. Prisons gets involved in that. It provides inmates with family-centred programmes, like the Social Skills Training Programme and the Family Reintegration Programme, to equip them with communication skills to engage their children and loved ones more effectively. In the past five years, Prisons has provided nearly 21,000 programme places to inmates for this purpose.
19. Prisons also works with various other community partners on programmes and services addressing or aimed at addressing the impact of the parents being in jail. These include counselling, tuition assistance, parenting programmes, and family bonding programmes, for example, run by The Salvation Army, Centre For Fathering and The Singapore Children’s Society. Over the last two years, 282 inmates and their families attended these programmes.
20. The Member has also asked about how we evaluate the effectiveness of these programmes. I think Members will agree that these have to be done. I cannot believe that any Member here will say we should not do any of these or should be cutting back on these. In terms of quantifying it, this is a very difficult area to study, because there are too many factors that are outside of Prisons’ control.
21. Let me name some. All of this, how a child grows up, how a child averts the risk of a life in crime and drugs depends on: the family circumstances of the children involved; the social influences on the children; the willingness of the family to be fully involved and engaged in the programs offered; how available of drugs are to the child or children; the susceptibility of the family members including the children to the attraction of drugs; I can name many such factors.
22. It is not an area that you can easily quantify, so you have to make an assessment and go ahead and do it, as we have been able to convince thousands of volunteers to do, together with Prisons officers and NGOs which see the benefit of doing these activities. While no specific quantification has been done, Prisons’ professional assessment based on their interactions is that the programmes have helped the families which have a positive attitude towards receiving such help.
23. Prisons generally looks at how the effectiveness of their various programmes can be assessed. When they next assess their programmes, I will ask them to consider again whether there are ways in which some kind of measurement can be done either now or in the future, because we are also talking about children growing up to be adults, so you are talking about 20 years or so.
24. Thank you, Speaker.