Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Desmond Chin
Chairman of SCORE, Mr Chng Hwee Hong
CARE Network Partners
Distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen
- Thank you for having me, I am very happy to be here.
- It is very nice to see many familiar faces here and let me start by thanking you for your service.
- You have many stories of your own. Let me share one. Roslan - he benefitted from your good work. He was in prison for 10 years for drugs and was released in March 2008.
- ISCOS had supported him. He made new friends through ISCOS and through the support group that ISCOS organised. They supported him and saw him through difficult moments, and he found a job.
- He started as a sales representative and upgraded himself with safety courses. His trainer then got him a job as a safety health officer and became his direct supervisor. He is now a safety health officer with nine years’ experience.
- Roslan has a family. Now a proud dad to a 13-month old daughter. He is also a volunteer with ISCOS Titans, a support group for ex-offenders. The same group that had supported him. He has stayed away from drugs all these years.
- We know the textbook theory: pro-social support, good mentors and friends, stable job, and supportive environment. These are ingredients for a successful reintegration. Not just that, these are factors for a happy and fulfilling life.
- The truth is that ex-offenders are like any of us. We all need champions, mentors, family, friends, and people to cheer us on. To support us, to encourage us, and to tell us that no matter how many times we have failed, no matter how lost a cause it may seem, no matter how hopeless it may be, there is no giving up. There is always someone who supports, believes and cares for us.
- For an ex-offender, that someone is you. That’s what we do at CARE Network. The work you do is not easy. It requires passion, commitment, determination and an unshakeable belief in the goodness in people, in everyone, no matter how bad their past is, and a strong faith in a person’s capacity for change, no matter how difficult it may seem.
- There is never a lost cause. You do this because you care. Because you have seen the power of caring and how it can change lives, touch souls, and lift the human spirit above addiction and adversity.
CARE Network Efforts
- We have done quite well since our formation in May 2000.
- Today, we have more than 100 community partners: voluntary welfare organisations, religious groups, schools, Family Service Centres, halfway houses and grassroots organisations. They are all focused on coordinating our programmes, networks and strengths for greater synergy and a more resilient aftercare support eco-system.
- The results speak for themselves. Two decades ago, the two-year recidivism rate was over 40%. Today, it is 25.9% for the 2015 release cohort. Our recidivism rate is low compared to many other places.
Connecting Partners, Coordinating Efforts
- CARE Network’s key success factor lies in its ability to connect and coordinate aftercare efforts and programmes across various stakeholders. There is no ‘I’ or ‘You’. There is only us. We. We work together towards a common cause.
- Let me give one example. The CapitaLand-YRF Children Support, a joint project by CapitaLand and Yellow Ribbon Fund implemented in April 2017.
- It brings together different partners who conduct children programmes: nine Grassroots Divisions, seven FSCs, and 12 CARE Network agencies. They came together to implement the pilot programme, targeting the cognitive and socio-emotional needs of children of offenders.
- Under the programme, some VWOs will provide mentorship programmes where suitable adults serve as a positive role model for the children. Some will offer tuition and monetary support for children who face difficulties in their academic performance in schools. Others will offer programmes that focus on improving parenting skills. By bringing the various VWOs together, we minimise duplication of resources and efforts, and ensure better use of these resources.
- I had spoken about rendering help to vulnerable children of inmates and providing deeper community support for families at the 2016 CARE Network Workplan Seminar. I am happy we are making progress with this. We need to make sure that we are making a real and meaningful difference and not just skimming the surface.
- There are people out there who need support, who need a confidence boost, and who need good programmes. They need to know that there is a community out there that cares for them and looks out for them.
- We have to look in our hearts and ask ourselves - are we doing enough? Have we done our best? What more can we do? What can we do better? And then let’s get to work. They are counting on us. Let us not let them down.
New Opportunities to Create a Better Future
- And yes, there is more to do. There is more we can do. I am happy that we are constantly looking out for things we can do. Two new initiatives launched over the last two years caught my eye.
- The first is Project ReConnect. It is a programme by ISCOS to help ex-offenders, who have spent three years or more in prison, adjust to regular life. With our fast-changing world, three years is a very long time. It is quite an intimidating experience to suddenly live in a changed world. Simple everyday things like having an ez-link card, electronic payments, new bus and train routes. Some may still have the Uber app, but they should soon realise it’s already been “Grabbed”.
- They may have lost touch with the world outside the prison walls. So, we bring them to MRT stations and community centres, and other places, so that they can become familiar with new things. They learn about new train lines, ez-link card top-ups, and maybe also check for train delays and break downs. And of course, they also have to learn how to operate the self-checkout counters at supermarkets. They get help with activating SingPass accounts, and learn about Ali Pay, Pay Lah, Pay Now. You know, the everyday things.
- Simple programmes like Project ReConnect go a long way. These programmes show that we care. That we bother to know what they are going through, and we do something about it. Beneficiary-centric programmes or more simply, putting ourselves in the shoes of ex-offenders and helping them navigate a changed world. With empathy and care.
- The second initiative that shows the collaborative power of the CARE Network is the Family Connect@ State Courts service. A joint effort by the State Courts and SACA, SACA staff and trained volunteers are stationed at the State Courts for two mornings each week to help link up families to counselling and emotional support, and also financial and social services at the State Courts, right after the sentence is imposed.
- The Family Connect@ State Courts facilitates referrals to social agencies for support for young, school-going children, or referrals to elder care agencies in cases where there are elderly dependents at home.Placing this assistance upstream at the State Courts is critical for family members of offenders who are anxious or stressed out at the thought of their loved ones being sent to prison. Information on the available support is especially important for families that are facing these changes for the first time.
- Initiatives like Project ReConnect and Family Connect@ State Courts show that there continues to be new opportunities and ways in which the community can step up to assist ex-offenders and their families. We must remain open and explore new approaches that will enable us to help our ex-offenders and their families more effectively. We are not content to just pat ourselves on the back and say, well done! We are constantly looking for ways to do better, to do more, to help. There is after all still 26% - or one in four of ex-offenders who return to prison within two years of release. So, there is much more we can and should do.
Enhancements to Development Framework for Offender Rehabilitation Personnel (DORP)
- That’s why we are focusing on upgrading ourselves, so our CARE Network partners, volunteers and aftercare professionals are equipped with the right skills and resources.
- The Development Framework for Offender Rehabilitation Personnel, or DORP was launched in 2014 to improve capacity building through training. Over 3,000 participants, including many of you present here today, have attended these courses. From May 2018, DORP will be enhanced to include new training modules offered at the Social Service Institute (SSI). This will better meet the specific training needs of community professionals who are working with offenders.
- With the enhancements, you can look forward to new courses, and more extensive networking and knowledge sharing with professionals in other sectors. There are courses where you can learn family therapy models and techniques, or counselling skills. With this training, you can come up with more effective and strategic intervention plans, to better help offenders and their families.
- There is meaning in the work that we do, and we have to do it well.
- Let me end with a beautiful poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I love very much. It’s called “Success”. Let me read to you.
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the beauty in others;
to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here.
That is to have succeeded.
- My friends, I invite you to join me - with all our hearts and might, let’s work together for ourselves and in service of others. Let’s find success together! Thank you.