The Honourable The Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon
Partners & Friends
I am delighted to join you this morning at this conference on At-Risk Youths. I understand that there are more than 30 local and foreign speakers who will share their insight over the next 2 days. We are privileged to have the Chief Justice as the keynote speaker.
Social Well-being of Singaporean Youths
Singaporean youths are in a much better state than those in many other countries around the world. Their social well-being has also improved compared to earlier cohorts of youth. We can see these in a number of trends over the past decade.
- Today, 95% of young Singaporeans will receive a post-secondary education. This is an increase from the 90% figure 10 years ago.
- School dropout rate in secondary and primary schools has fallen - from 2.3% in 2005 to less than 1% in 2014.
- While there continue to be youths who run foul of the law, overall youth arrest has declined – from 690 per 100,000 youths to 460 per 100,000 youths over the same period.
- Youth suicides has remained relatively stable, although any life lost is one too many.
- Teenage pregnancy is low. In 2014, 404 babies were born to girls aged 19 and below, compared to 853 in 2005.
I attribute much of this progress to your hard work. Among us today, we have judges, educators, social workers and counsellors, probation and rehabilitation officers, police and prison officers and other professionals. Regardless of your profession, I know you have a deep passion to guide our youths, especially those at risk, onto the right paths. Thank you!
Over the last few years, you have worked together put in place more upstream intervention measures. The School Counsellor Scheme, Guidance Programme and Youth GO! Programme are just a few example. We have also moved towards greater use of community-based sentencing and rehabilitation, a more effective approach for lower-risk youth offenders who can continue living in the community while serving their sentence.
These are just some examples. Overall, your hard work together seems to be paying off, and broad statistics show an improvement in at-risk youth behaviour.
Our Work Is Not Done
But the need for continued effort and new approaches has not diminished. For one young life wasted or destroyed is one too many. Furthermore, new & complex problems have emerged with our rapidly changing society and social norms. For example, many youth are afflicted with new forms of bullying, crime and other at-risk behaviour in the cyber world. New synthetic drugs targeted at young people are becoming growing in allure.
For these reasons, we must continue to devote attention, resources and support on both preventive and rehabilitative efforts. We must work even more closely together than before. We must raise our capability as a community so that we can do even better.
Today, I am pleased to share with you 2 new initiatives that will help us to build better capability and to work better together.
- First, we will introduce a National Youth Work Competency Framework for professionals who work with our youth.
- Second, we will develop a Youth-At-Risk Engagement framework that will strengthen the development of programmes for youth-at-risk programmes.
Let me elaborate.
National Youth Work Competency Framework
Many of you here today are youth workers. You are at the heart of successful youth-at-risk intervention programmes. MSF is working with the National Council of Social Service to introduce a National Youth Work Competency Framework for our youth workers. This will help guide our youth workers, from entry level to more experienced echelons, to build their competencies and chart their careers in a systematic and progressive manner.
The new framework will complement the National Social Work Competency framework that will be launched later this year for social workers. We can expect the framework to be ready and training courses to be rolled out by the second half of 2017. I encourage our youth workers to provide inputs to the development of the framework, and to make full use of it when it is completed.
Youth-At-Risk Engagement Framework
Let me now touch upon the second initiative.
Just like us who need to know our condition first in order to choose the appropriate tonics to boost our health. Likewise, we need to know the level of risk and needs of a youth before we can prescribe the appropriate intervention, make a referral to another agency or work together on a shared plan to help the youth.
Today, we do not have common assessment and evaluation tools that serve this purpose across different agencies. To address this issue, MSF will develop a Youth-At-Risk Engagement framework. With the new framework, standardised evidence-based assessment tools will be used across the youth agencies.
Besides assessing their needs, we will also need to know whether our intervention is working on the youths. Hence, another important component of the new framework is programme evaluation. The framework will help guide community and government agencies to better assess the effectiveness of their programmes.
Overall, the use of the framework will help strengthen the development and delivery of youth-at-risk programmes. We expect to start rolling it out by the middle of 2016.
20 years of Rebuilding Lives
With these efforts, we can each raise our capability and improve our programmes. But this is not enough. Each of you play one or a few, but not all the roles, needed in detecting, guiding and rehabilitating our at-risk youth. We will need to work together in close co-ordination.
This is one key objective behind the formation of the National Committee on Youth Guidance and Rehabilitation (or NYGR for short) in 1995. The NYGR coordinates the efforts of agencies with different roles but a common goal – that of reducing juvenile delinquency and youth crime. It includes representatives from different social ministries, law and enforcement agencies, the Courts, umbrella community bodies and self-help groups as well as the academia.
I would like to thank NYGR’s founding chairperson A/Prof Ho Peng Kee, and its subsequent chairperson Minister Masagos Zulkifli, for their leadership in steering the NYGR over the last twenty years. NYGR’s contributions and the success stories of the youths touched by NYGR’s outreach have been documented in a new book to be launched later today. I find the title of the book - “The Right Side 2” – very apt. For our ultimate goal is to help the youth to turn to the right side.
Today, I am also pleased to announce that Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, Mr Desmond Lee will be our new NYGR Chairman. I understand that Desmond will be here tomorrow to speak to all of you. I am confident that he will bring the NYGR’s work to the next level.
In closing, let me wish all of you an enjoyable and productive conference. I am unable to join you for the rest of the proceedings, as I have to leave for another engagement. I hope that you will leave this conference with not just refreshed ideas, but also a renewed sense of purpose and reacquainted partnerships that are so critical to our important work to help our at-risk youth to turn to the right side. Thank you.