Published: 12 May 2016
Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Soh Wai Wah,
Chairman SCORE, Mr Chng Hwee Hong,
CARE Network Members,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am pleased to join you this morning at the 4th CARE Network Workplan Seminar and am heartened by the many community partners present here today.
Role of CARE Network
2. The CARE Network started in 2000 to bring together community partners and government agencies to provide more effective aftercare support for ex-offenders.
3. It began with 8 member agencies, namely the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Social and Family Development, then MCYS and now MSF, the Singapore Prison Service, SCORE, NCSS, ISCOS and two voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), SANA and SACA.
4. Last November, the CARE Network welcomed its 9th member agency, the Yellow Ribbon Fund or YRF. YRF was set up in 2004 to provide financial support for programmes and services that help in the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders. To date, more than 39,000 beneficiaries and their families have received help through YRF in a variety of ways. These include reconnecting families, residential support, nancial assistance as well as education and training. With YRF in the CARE Network, we will be able to coordinate fund-raising efforts and channel resources in a more targeted manner to support initiatives of our partners.
5. CARE Network now has 9 member agencies and more than 100 community partners, including VWOs, religious groups, schools, Family Service Centres (FSCs), halfway houses and grassroots organisations.
6. The aftercare sector involves many partners, each contributing to different areas in offender rehabilitation and reintegration work, such as family programmes, capability building, employment and education support. The CARE Network thus plays an important role in maintaining an overview picture and in harmonising the variety of aftercare efforts. The CARE network helps ensure that programme and service gaps are identified and addressed, and where there is duplication and overlaps, for coordination and streamlining to be done. I would like to commend the CARE Network for harmonising the aftercare strategies over the last 15 years. We need to continue to work closely to provide aftercare support in a coordinated manner.
7. I would like to mention two areas where we can intensify our collaboration: first; deepening community involvement and second, reducing inter-generational offending.
Deepen Community Involvement
8. First, we want to deepen community involvement in our aftercare efforts. The community partners and volunteers are integral to the success of the aftercare ecosystem. The Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP) is a good example of a close collaboration between the Home Team, CARE Network and grassroots volunteers. Under the YRCP, inmates with families who require help can request, through the Singapore Prison Service, for grassroots volunteers to visit their families and link them up to community resources. The YRCP has been very successful. Its core mission is to reach out to ex-offenders and their families but I have seen more of our YRCP networks go beyond that.
9. One good example is from Tampines Changkat Division – Madam Fauziah, whose brother was in prison. When the YRCP volunteers from the Tampines Changkat Division visited Madam Fauziah, they found 7 children and 3 adults, including her brother's wife and their 5 children, living together. The entire family was supported by Madam Fauziah's husband, who is a low-wage worker and the sole breadwinner of the family. In Madam Fauziah's words, YRCP "brought light to her family, which had been living in 12 years of darkness". Through the efforts of the YRCP volunteers, Madam Fauziah managed to secure a job, and her family gained access to various programmes at the local community clubs. Madam Fauziah's example is a glimpse of the potential of the YRCP which we would like to realise across the board.
10. I am very happy to announce that we are launching a revamp of the YRCP. We call it YRCP 2.0, such that more of our YRCP volunteers can replicate the work that is being done at Tampines Changkat Division and together level up and increase outreach and support and deepen the community engagement, and that is at the core of what we are trying to do.
11. The YRCP was started in 2010. Facilitated by SANA, the number of YRCP grassroots volunteers has grown steadily from about 60 in 2010 to more than 800 today. YRCP has reached out to more than 4,000 families since.
12. We have done well in the first 6 years of the YRCP but I think we can do more. One of the ways we can do more is by deepening our engagement. YRCP is very important because it is a connector of all the different work that we do. Through the power of the volunteers, we can truly make a huge difference in the lives of many families. In the words of Madam Fauziah, if we get our act together, we can truly bring light to darkness.
13. We want to focus on three areas. First, focus on children of offenders. The impact of parental incarceration can be a traumatic event for their children. Without proper family support and a conducive growing-up environment, the children will be at a higher risk of developing anti-social behaviours or may face difficulty coping in school. This is where volunteers can help. During their house visits, volunteers may come across children who require assistance and support, emotionally, academically or financially. YRCP volunteers will now be trained to identify these needs so that they can connect the children with the CARE Network agencies.
14. Second, provide pro-social support. Beyond linking the families of offenders to community resources, the YRCP volunteers will be encouraged to link the families to various community programmes organised by the grassroots. This will widen the social support network available to these families. In addition, the volunteers can serve as befrienders to the ex-offenders when they are released from prison. The enhanced social support will help in reintegrating the ex-offender into society. This is akin to having life coaches where our volunteers will come in and help them navigate through life. We have been playing this part in some ways, but we need to do better in levelling up the quality and ability of our YRCP volunteers across the board, making sure there is consistency and that we are able to make the difference.
15. Third, rekindle bonds between inmates and their families. Some inmates have not been visited by their families for a long time. At the inmate's request, the Singapore Prison Service will arrange for the YRCP volunteers to visit their family members and encourage them to visit the inmate. The volunteer will also link the family to community resources if they require assistance. This first step towards family reconciliation will go a long way to support the offenders' rehabilitation process.
16. With these new initiatives, I am confident that YRCP 2.0 will become even more effective in helping offenders and their families.
Reduce Inter-Generational Offending
17. Moving on to the second area, we want to reduce inter-generational offending. Last year, SACA conducted a literature review on the 'Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children'. The research shows that children are adversely affected by parental incarceration, and are more likely to follow in the footsteps of their incarcerated parents. International studies have also shown that the imprisonment of the parent who is the primary caregiver can be a traumatic episode for the children. Children of offenders with a lack of parental care may become insecure, struggle with their self-identity and end up mixing with the wrong company of friends. This puts them at risk of getting into crime. These findings emphasise the need for early interventions for such children at risk.
18. Last year, SPS worked with MENDAKI to provide an information and referral service for families of offenders with school-going children. The families are referred to community resources such as counselling at Family Service Centres or employment assistance at the Community Development Centres, and also activities organised by MENDAKI. The children of offenders are given educational support to ensure they remain actively involved in school. Through this programme, families and children of offenders are provided with a holistic, family centric-intervention to scaffold them to better cope with the incarceration of their loved ones.
19. I am glad that the CARE Network recognises the importance of early and timely intervention for vulnerable children. The various programmes currently in place, such as the Yellow Brick Road, Fairy Godparent Programme and Friends of Children will create a stable family and home environment for the children to build up their self-confidence, and reduce the negative effect of parental incarceration.
20. One of the topics in today's programme will feature an exploratory study by NUS on the 'Developmental Needs of Children of Ex-offenders'. The research examines the common factors that influence how children of ex-offenders deal with parental incarceration, and the proposed areas for intervention to address the needs of the children. I encourage everyone to actively participate in the symposium and share your insights.
21. The CARE Network has touched and shaped the lives of ex-offenders and their families over the last 15 years. You have shown that we can achieve much more when we work together to support ex-offenders and their families.
22. Let us continue to synergise our efforts to provide an integrated aftercare support for ex-offenders and their families.
23. I am confident that with the commitment and dedication of all its members and partners, the CARE Network will be able to meet the challenges in the aftercare landscape.
24. I wish all of you a fruitful workplan seminar. Thank you.