Published: 11 December 2020
Commissioner of Prisons, Ms Shie Yong Lee,
Chairman, Yellow Ribbon Singapore, Mr Chng Hwee Hong,
CARE Network partners,
Ladies and gentlemen,
1. A very good morning. I am very honoured, very happy, to be able to join you at this very significant milestone for the CARE Network. I would like to begin by acknowledging the strong support from our CARE Network community partners, volunteers, employers and sponsors through the years. As we celebrate the CARE Network’s 20th Anniversary, we want to recognise and sincerely thank all the people who have made very important contributions through the development of the CARE Network. Your good work has been instrumental to the CARE Network’s success.
2. The CARE Network was set up in May 2000 by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and SCORE, as Yellow Ribbon Singapore or YRSG was known as then. The objective was to bring together agencies in the aftercare landscape, to develop a coordinated approach towards supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders, to help them transit back into the community as contributing citizens.
3. The CARE Network started with seven founding agencies. Today, it has grown into a network of more than 100 community partners, including voluntary welfare organisations, religious groups, schools, Family Service Centres, halfway houses and grassroots organisations.
4. Over the years, the CARE Network has spearheaded several initiatives. There are so many, but I will only highlight two this morning:
a) One, the Yellow Ribbon Project or YRP, is a community engagement campaign launched by the CARE Network in 2004. This initiative seeks to raise awareness of the need to give second chances, generate acceptance of ex-offenders and their families in the community, and mobilise community action to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders into the society. The notion of giving second chances to ex-offenders was considered unconventional then, yet the project succeeded in capturing the public’s imagination, and has been able to sustain high public interest and support since.
b) In annual public awareness surveys conducted, the public awareness of YRP has consistently remained high. Over 90 per cent of those surveyed are aware of YRP, which attests to the wide reach that the YRP has in Singapore. Beyond our shores, the YRP has also become a model that other countries such as Australia, Czech Republic, Malaysia and Fiji have adopted. So, this is something that we have done good and well, and people beyond our shores are recognising it, seeing it and want to try it in their jurisdiction. And I think this speaks very well, because this is not only work that’s being done by the Government. It is work that’s being done by our community and our people together, in caring for one another.
c) Another core initiative, the CARE Network Children Support Programme, was launched in 2017, to coordinate efforts to meet the needs of offenders’ children aged between three to 12 years old, and to develop their cognitive and socio-emotional skills. To me, this is very critical. Because, as you know, when there is incarceration of any family members, it will certainly affect the children. We are moving in the right direction, to see how we can support and help them. In 2017 alone, the programme supported 96 children through reading activities, tuition and educational support. Parental incarceration impacts children on many levels, and initiatives such as this can help to break the cycle of intergenerational offending.
Efforts During COVID-19 Pandemic
5. This year, we faced challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. During times of crisis, the needs of ex-offenders and their families can be easily neglected. The CARE Network has continued to show support and commitment to the cause of helping ex-offenders reintegrate back into the society, by innovating to overcome the constraints presented by the pandemic. I will share examples of how this has been done. I have visited quite a number of organisations and partners since I joined the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). There are many innovative ways, how our partners have been handling it, to make sure they don’t lose sight of what they want to do – that is, to care for ex-offenders and their families. I will share a few examples, and I want to thank all the partners for making all these efforts to care for all the people.
6. First, the Industrial & Services Co-operative Society Ltd (ISCOS) is one of the CARE Network partners that supports ex-offenders and their families through programmes and services that enhance their skill levels, connect them with supportive employers, and provide social support during the reintegration process. As ISCOS’s Centre was closed during the Circuit Breaker, ISCOS called the beneficiaries individually to ensure that their needs continued to be taken care of. It’s wonderful.
7. ISCOS also continued to engage the families of offenders by visiting them and wishing them well on their birthdays. This gesture means a lot to the families. It conveys a sense of sincere, genuine care and concern for them. Besides attending to their socio-emotional wellbeing, ISCOS distributed 105 care packs which included items such as necessities, vouchers and storybooks, to support beneficiaries who did not have employment during the Circuit Breaker period, and to meaningfully engage children of the beneficiaries.
8. Another example is the Yellow Ribbon Fund or YRF. The YRF has been instrumental in supporting ex-offenders and their families, as well as families of the incarcerated. During the COVID-19 period, YRF set aside more than $400,000 to support beneficiaries in need of help. In particular, the Yellow Ribbon Emergency Fund was enhanced by increasing immediate short-term financial assistance from $350 to $500. More than 120 ex-offenders and 13 families have benefited from this initiative.
9. As I said earlier, I had the privilege of visiting some of our partners and I am heartened by their commitment in continuing their efforts during the COVID-19 period. The religious teachers at the Family and Inmates Through-care Assistance Haven (FITRAH), for example, pre-recorded religious classes for inmates to watch, as you know, they were unable to conduct their regular face-to-face sessions in prisons. This actually helped the inmates to continue to be engaged and to grow in their faith. FITRAH also conducted volunteer training via Zoom for 50 newly recruited volunteers during this period. So, you did not stop your work in caring for people, despite the challenges that you faced. You continued because you recognised that this is a very important part of your work, and it’s very important for the ex-offenders and their families. You don’t want to lose any time, you innovate and find touch points to get it done.
10. When I visited the Singapore After-Care Association (SACA) recently, I met Mr Jeffrey Beh, who was actually running an ongoing online training session for about 20 volunteers. So, I went there, I photo-bombed, or video-bombed, the session. I sat behind the person who was managing the training and the participants were very surprised to see me there. I also acknowledged all of them for making the effort to be trained and also to up their skills in engaging and helping ex-offenders and their families. SACA has also continued to provide support and assistance to ex-offenders who have been released. I am pleased to see that the CARE Network partners are adapting their work processes so that they can continue to help ex-offenders and their families.
11. The CARE Network cannot succeed without the strong support of its volunteers. I want to highlight Vijay. Vijay is an ex-offender who founded the logistics and supply chain company called Bravehearts@SRM Services. Having personally experienced the struggles of making ends meet, Vijay now gives back to those in need, including the ex-offender community, by volunteering the services of his company. During the Circuit Breaker period, Bravehearts@SRM helped to deliver care packs that YRP had prepared, to 110 families of offenders. The company has also delivered food rations to migrant workers in a Ramadan project this year.
12. On behalf of all the CARE Network partners, I would like to convey my appreciation to all the volunteers that have supported the CARE Network’s beneficiaries this year. I want to sincerely thank all of you for making a difference. Some are very quietly working behind the scenes, but this is important work that we have to do, and we need to continue.
Looking Ahead to the Next 20 Years
13. As a result of the CARE Network’s continued and focused efforts, we have reduced the recidivism rate. The two-year recidivism rate for offenders released in 2017 was 24 per cent. This is a significant drop from the 40 per cent at the time that the CARE Network was formed in 2000. Congratulations and well done.
14. How can we continue to push the boundaries to do even better for the next phase of the CARE Network? Looking ahead to the next 20 years, the vision of the CARE Network remains the same: to provide hope, confidence and opportunities for ex-offenders, so that they are able to turn away from crime and find a new lease of life. The immediate years after an offender’s release are crucial. The real test of an offender’s transformation is not in prison, but in the community where he faces temptations and challenges, as well as difficulties.
15. With the overarching goal of further reducing re-offending, a review of CARE Network was initiated in early 2019. After nine months of extensive consultations with our stakeholders, the CARE Network has arrived at two strategic thrusts.
Advance the Capability and Capacity of CARE Network Agencies and Individuals
16. Firstly, it is about advancing the capability and capacity of CARE Network agencies and individuals.
17. The CARE Network is looking to advance these aspects of its work, whereby caseworkers and professionals can look forward to a new competency framework that takes into account specific aftercare contexts, which will enable agencies to better identify suitable and relevant training courses for practitioners. Two aftercare-specific training modules on “Criminal Justice System and Rehabilitation Landscape” and “Rehabilitation Theoretical Models” will also be introduced from 2021 by SACA and SPS to onboard new caseworkers to the sector. It is important for you to understand the landscape as well as look at different models, so that you can better adapt your approach based on the context, because every person, every family is different. With such knowledge, you will be better-equipped.
18. Volunteers can look forward to more accessible learning by leveraging online platforms for e-training. More than 100 volunteers have completed the e-learning module on “Risk-Need-Responsivity Approach to Offender Rehabilitation” run by SACA and the Singapore University of Social Sciences since it was launched in July 2020, and I understand that the course was very well-received.
Strengthen Throughcare and the Reintegration Journey
19. The second area of focus is the strengthening of throughcare and reintegration for offenders. Throughcare involves supporting the offender from the time he is in prison and continuing this after he is released into the community. The CARE Network will enhance service delivery by establishing a process for the handover of cases between agencies. This will help to ensure that the entire rehabilitation journey for the beneficiaries is seamless.
20. An example of this is the refinement of referral arrangements for ex-offenders. ISCOS has worked with CNB on structured referrals for supervisees based on their needs, and for a network of support for a continuum of care. Since January this year, more than 70 supervisees have been supported under this initiative. Supervisees are also recommended to participate in other ISCOS programmes to ensure that they receive comprehensive support.
21. Another aspect of strengthening reintegration is developing the prosocial desistor network. Ex-offenders need a strong social support network that can encourage them to turn away from crime and lead meaningful lives. CARE Network will be introducing a pilot programme to support existing desistor groups as an additional source of prosocial support to ex-offenders.
22. This pilot programme is built on the desistance rehabilitation model, which will be explored at the Yellow Ribbon Webinar later today. I will be joining the webinar as well and I look forward to learning from the session and hearing the views of the panel on this model. This is something we want to develop further, to benefit the whole community, so that they will be able to journey through the reintegration process and become role models.
23. In fact, I met someone earlier, who shared with me that he is very appreciative of the support given. One thing that really moved me, was when he said, “I would also like to contribute to those after me. I want to be the source of inspiration for them to change, hang on to this journey, and not give up.” The message of this journey is very strong in their hearts, in that they want this, and they want to inspire others. This would not have come without all of our CARE Network partners’ efforts and all the contributions that you have made to him. It is because of your contributions, it has been internalised in his heart and mind, for him to continue his journey and for him to contribute back to others. So, it’s wonderful.
Launch of CN Publication and the Refreshed CN Logo
24. Today, to commemorate the CARE Network’s 20th anniversary, I am pleased to announce the launch of the CARE Network Publication. This E-Publication outlines and documents the key initiatives and directions for the CARE Network.
25. The CARE Network will also be launching its refreshed logo today. The logo refresh provides a visual analogy of the CARE Network’s commitment to evolve with the times. The refreshed logo highlights an added element of collective effort and wrap-around care for the beneficiary, and also conveys our desire to move forward together.
26. Earlier, I shared with you that I have been meeting and visiting many of our CARE Network partners since I joined MHA. I also visited families of ex-offenders at their homes. I want to share what I learned from some of these families whom I visited recently. An ex-offender shared with me that he is very appreciative of the support given by one of the partners of CARE Network. When he was incarcerated, his wife and young children were initially at a loss. His wife was very dependent on him, to travel and do things. Nevertheless, with the support given by one of the partners, his wife learned to be resilient and independent. Throughout the journey, while he was incarcerated, she became stronger and was able to take care of the family. When he was in prison, he felt at ease that someone in the community was looking after his family.
27. Now that he is out, I met him, together with his family, the partner continues to engage the family, and they in turn saw how his family has grown from strength to strength despite the challenges they faced. He said that while the journey will remain challenging for him, to handle some aspects of his drug addiction, but he knows that the community and our people are together with him in this journey. And that, to me, made my night brighter. I felt touched, not only by the words of the family, but also by your contributions to the lives of our people despite the challenges they face.
28. To link this to my conversations with our partners like Mr Jeffrey Beh and the leaders of our agencies, Mr Chng Hwee Hong and many others, a key word that I always pick up is – we will never give up in this journey. Another word is – it’s a meaningful journey, and we want to help and care for these families. These are very important aspects of our lives that keep us going, that will make our life on this earth better, and at the same time, help one another. I want to congratulate and thank all of you for continuing this journey. My sincere thanks to all the volunteers for making this happen.
29. In closing, let me once again offer my congratulations to the CARE Network on a very fruitful two decades of rehabilitation and reintegration work. The next 20 years will be equally, if not, more challenging, and will require fresh ideas and approaches, but anchored on the same dedicated spirit of the CARE Network. I look forward to working with the CARE Network towards reducing re-offending and reintegrating ex-offenders back into the society.
30. Thank you.