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Singapore Government

Opening Remarks by Mr Desmond Lee at ACT Conference on At-Risk Youths

Opening Remarks by Mr Desmond Lee at ACT Conference on At-Risk Youths

Parliamentary Secretaries Amrin Amin and Faishal Ibrahim 


Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning and a very warm welcome to the second day of the ACT! Conference on At-Risk Youths.

NYGR - Over the Years

In the 1990s, the focus of the predecessors of the National Committee on Youth Guidance and Rehabilitation, or NYGR, was to address worrying levels of juvenile and youth crime.

Through the commitment of its partners, the Inter-Ministry Committee effectively reversed the rising trend of youth crime. As Prof Ho Peng Kee, then chairman of NYGR, had very colourfully described it, youth rehabilitation work back then was like fighting fire. Fortunately, the various partners worked closely and effectively as a team, and fought the fire successfully.

In 2007, the Inter-Ministry Committee on Youth Crime was renamed NYGR. NYGR’s focus from the get-go was on upstream measures to reduce and prevent youth crime. One of the key strategies was, and remains, to keep young people in school and actively and positively engaged in the community.

When he was appointed chairman of NYGR in 2010, Minister Masagos expanded the composition of NYGR to include key partners such as Ministry of Health and self-help groups. He also set up the Central Youth Guidance Office, or more commonly known as CYGO. CYGO, as most of you would know, is an inter-ministry office which brings the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Social and Family Development together to tackle youth delinquency issues. Since then, a wide range of initiatives such as Youth GO!, YEAH!, and Conversations on Youth have been developed to help us in our work with at-risk youths.

NYGR – Moving Forward

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of NYGR, we see many positive signs, for instance the reduction in the number of young people being arrested for crime1, and a significant reduction in school drop-out rates2. These outcomes testify to the hard work of many of you here who have dedicated yourselves to working with young people.

I would like to thank the previous NYGR leaders, AP Ho Peng Kee and Minister Masagos, and all you, our partners, for your commitment and efforts in improving the lives of our young Singaporeans.

I would also like to take this opportunity to introduce the two Deputy Chairpersons of NYGR – Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Education & Social and Family Development, as well as Ms Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary for Education & Trade and Industry and Mayor of the South West CDC. They will be joining me to continue the good work of NYGR.

I look forward to the support, guidance and advice from all of you here at this Conference in the months and years ahead.

Triage System
Let me now share with all of you about the Triage System, which is the product of coordinated effort. In 1997, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Singapore Police Force, and MSF (then MCD) came together and jointly developed the Guidance Programme, which I believe many of you are familiar with. The success of the Guidance Programme has kept many young people out of the formal criminal justice system.

To go even further upstream, these three agencies have again come together to develop the Triage System. Under this system, Triage officers will be stationed at the police division headquarters to assess the risks and needs of youth offenders, including their suitability for rehabilitation, and recommend the appropriate level of intervention required. This is done concurrently with police investigations.

The Triage officers then prepare assessment reports, which allow AGC’s prosecutors to make more informed decisions whether to emplace a youth offender on a diversionary programme.

By engaging not just the youth offender, but also their families, Triage officers will be in a good position to identify any socio-economic problems that the offender and his family face, and connect them with appropriate social services.

Case Study: Ben (Triage System)
My colleagues have shared with me the story of a young person who was successfully diverted from the criminal justice system under the Triage pilot. Ben (not his real name) was 11 years old when he was caught for theft.

While under police investigation, the Triage officer interviewed Ben and his mother to better understand his social background.

During the interview, the triage officer learnt that Ben’s parents worked long hours. As a result, Ben was frequently left alone at home. His mother shared that she supervised Ben through telephone calls, as she thought that Ben was able to take care of himself. The truth was of course otherwise.

The Triage officer advised Ben’s mother about the importance of having proper after-school supervision for Ben, and connected them with a Family Service Centre. After the Triage officer highlighted Ben’s situation to his school teacher, the school counsellor provided greater support to Ben and his family. The feedback which was received from the school indicated that Ben was progressing well in school.

With the information about Ben’s social circumstances, the Prosecutors decided to emplace him on the Guidance Programme instead of prosecuting him in Court.

From Ben’s case, we see that the assessment under the Triage system enabled prosecutors to make more informed decisions by giving them an in-depth insight into the youth offender’s socio-economic, psychological and social circumstances. It also allowed social workers to make appropriate interventions to tackle socio-economic problems.

I am pleased to announce that the Triage System will be officially rolled out to all six Police land divisions in the first quarter of 2016, and will apply to youths below 19 years old who are arrested for minor offences, such as shoplifting and affray.

Study on Enhancing Positive Outcomes in Youth Offenders & the Community
When designing programmes and services for at-risk youths, it is crucial for us to understand what works for them, and what does not.

To enhance our intervention strategies, NYGR will embark on research to validate good practices that our programmes can be modelled upon.

Next year, we will commence a longitudinal study that we hope will provide deeper and richer insights about youth offenders and the factors that contribute positively to their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. The outcome of this study should help us design more meaningful and effective youth intervention strategies, which should lead to better outcomes.


Finally, I would like to thank our many speakers, both local and from overseas, who have shared your diverse experiences with the rest of the community at this conference. I would also like to thank the organising committee for putting together this conference.

I look forward to working with the NYGR team and with all of you to better support and inspire our youths to achieve their fullest potential.

I wish everyone a fruitful conference. Thank you.


1 Youth arrests – 2005: 5050, 2014: 3094
2 Percentage of P1 cohort Who Did Not Complete Secondary Education – 2005: 2.3%, 2014: 0.8% (preliminary)

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