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Opening Speech at Second Reading of Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Bill

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Desmond Lee

Topic(s): Protection from Domestic Violence, Rehabilitation

1. Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time. 

2. With your permission, Sir, may I request the Clerks to distribute an infographic on the Bill, to signpost the debate. 

I. Introduction

3. Sometimes, in our work as MPs: 

• We encounter families that have faltered, 

• where the children have been abused or neglected, 

• or have gone wayward or run into trouble with the law. 

• These families need a lot of support and intervention, to make sure that children have the best shot in life in spite of their circumstances. 

4. This is where the Children and Young Persons Act comes in. 

• It provides for the welfare, care, protection and rehabilitation of children and young persons below 16 years of age, whom I will subsequently refer to collectively as "children". 

• The Act was last amended in 2011, 

• and a review is therefore timely. 

5. In preparing for this Bill, we consulted many stakeholders, 

• including social service agencies, volunteers and professionals. 

• I met some of them in May this year. 

• They gave strong support for the proposed changes, and also provided valuable feedback. 

• The concerns and suggestions they have raised helped us to make many refinements to the Bill. 

II.         Key Provisions in the CYP (Amendment) Bill

6. Let me begin by highlighting the two guiding principles behind the Act. These are set out in Section 3A of the existing Act:

• First, parents have the primary responsibility for the care and welfare of their child; and 

• Second, in administering or applying the Act, the welfare and best interests of the child must be the first and paramount consideration.

7. Section 28 of the existing Act also sets out the considerations that the Youth Court must take into account, when it hears cases.

•  Under Clause 24 of the Bill, we propose to widen this - 

i. The Youth Court should not only aim to facilitate the protection and rehabilitation of the child, but also facilitate his reintegration with his family and with society; and

ii. It should have regard to the needs of and risks faced by the child, and prevent any further ill-treatment, or offending. 

8. We do this to ensure better outcomes for children, and break the cycles of abuse, neglect and offending. 

9. Let me now run through the other main features of the Bill, which fall broadly into four categories. If you look at the infographic we just distributed, you will see four pockets of amendments, and I will take you through the Bill through the course of Second Reading:

• First, we will cover provisions that safeguard the interests of abused or neglected children, taking action or intervening for children who are abused or neglected;

• The second group of amendments relate to improving the rehabilitation and re-integration of youths with offending behaviour, or youth offending;

• The third relates to guiding families in their parenting, with support from the community. Most people will refer to this as the Beyond Parental Control Regime, or BPC; and

• Lastly, strengthening partnerships with the community to care for vulnerable children.

A. Safeguarding the interests of abused or neglected children

10. Let me start with the first set of amendments, protecting abused or neglected children.

11. Currently, the Act allows us to intervene to protect children below 16 years of age:  

• Clause 2 amends the definition of 'young person' and 'juvenile' to raise the age limit to cover children below the age of 18,

• so that we can intervene when the safety of older children is threatened. 

• This is in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Singapore is a signatory. 1

Intervention for Emotional Harm

12. Under the Act today, we can intervene to provide care and protection to a child in a range of situations. One of these is if "there is such a serious and persistent conflict within the family that relationships are seriously disrupted, and the child suffers emotional injury". 

13. However, the term "emotional injury" is not defined, giving rise to confusion about whether we can intervene. MSF has also encountered other situations where a child's emotional well-being has been severely affected and help should be rendered.    

14. To address this, clauses 2 and 4 of the Bill:

• Define emotional harm, which includes manifestations such as delayed development or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

o Emotional harm - which causes serious impairment to the child - may not always be as readily or immediately observable as physical injuries such as bruises or burns. 

• Provide a non-exhaustive list of circumstances in which a child is deemed to be in need of care and protection because of emotional or psychological abuse by parents. 

o These are based on established child protection guidelines, such as those from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. 

15. By sharpening the meaning of emotional or psychological abuse, the amendments give better guidance to all stakeholders - MSF, social service agencies and the Court - on when we should intervene, and when we need not. 

• Now, take the example of Valerie (not her real name).

o She is 10 years old.

o Valerie's mother would deliberately isolate her at home, or confine her to her room to minimise her interactions with other people. 

o She frequently told Valerie that she was dirty, smelly and unclean and refused to hold her "unclean" hands. 

o She also frequently blamed Valerie for anything and everything that went wrong, and when a relative who took care of Valerie fell ill, the mother would call Valerie a jinx. 

o Valerie's parents argued frequently over her, and whenever her father tried to protect or side with her, the mother would threaten to commit suicide.

o Valerie was very much affected by the emotional abuse. She fears, and not unexpectedly, bears hatred towards her mother. 

o Her anger, coupled with anxiety, has manifested as aggressive and rough play in school. 

o This is a 10-year-old girl who needs help, and we need to see past her behaviour, and recognise the emotional harm that is within.  

• I highlight Valerie's case to show that emotional or psychological abuse and its impact may not be as readily observable as physical abuse and injury, but the harm to a child is no less significant. The new amendments make clear that cases like Valerie's fall within the scope of the CYPA.

Stable Out-Of-Home Care Arrangements

16. Where children have to be removed from their families due to safety concerns, it can be unsettling for them to be placed in an unfamiliar environment. 

• Their anxiety may be compounded if there are changes from their usual routine. 

• Or the children may feel abnormal or inferior to their school mates, if placed in situations that remind them of their incomplete families and disadvantaged backgrounds.

17. The persons who are entrusted with the care of such children, such as foster parents or staff of children's homes, handle a range of matters related to the child's welfare and development. 

• This can range from day-to-day care matters such as personal grooming, dietary arrangements and health vaccinations,

• To more substantial matters such as overseas travel, choice of school, surgery and so on. 

18. Particularly where the matters are more sensitive or significant, the caregivers would wish to respect the views of the child's parents. But getting parental consent can sometimes be challenging because these are the very parents from whom the children have had to be removed for safety reasons in the very first place. 

• Some of them are uncontactable. 

• Some will not cooperate, and make things difficult for the foster parent or the children's home.

19. As a result, the development and emotional wellbeing of the children who have been removed for safety reasons can be further affected. The Bill enables MSF and designated caregivers to provide smooth and stable out-of-home care arrangements for such children.

20. Clause 41 allows MSF and designated caregivers to make day-to-day care decisions for children under a Care and Protection order, without the need for parental consent. 

• More substantive decisions for the children, 

o such as overseas travel, 

o can be made only if MSF establishes that the parents cannot be contacted despite reasonable efforts, 

o or are otherwise incapable or unwilling to decide. 

21. Of the children who are in out-of-home care, MSF has handled cases where - 

• despite the best efforts of professionals and the community, 

• it is not possible nor in the interest of the child to be reunified with his parents. 

• Take for example, five-year-old Joshua (not his real name).

o Joshua was referred to MSF for possible neglect by his mother. 

o He has a developmental disorder and requires extra care to meet his developmental milestones. 

o His mother was diagnosed with a mental health condition. 

o MSF placed Joshua with foster parents,

o who were harassed by Joshua's mother because of her delusional belief that they were ill-treating him.

o The mother was also unable to consistently adhere with her treatment plans,

o and her mental health condition was assessed to be long-term. 

o Given the condition of Joshua's mother and her poor response to medical treatment, it would not be in Joshua's best interest to be reunified with her. She would not be able to adequately care for Joshua, especially with his special needs and young age. 

22. Other scenarios where reunification is not in the interests of the child, are where 

• The parent has severely ill-treated or allowed other persons to severely ill-treat the child or another child under his care and custody; 

• And when the parent has been convicted of causing or trying to cause death to a child in his care and custody, or to the other parent of the child. 

23. In these scenarios and for cases like Joshua's, the children are likely to spend many years, perhaps even the majority of their childhood in out-of-home care despite best efforts at reunification. 

• We should do what we can to provide them with a sense of stability. 

• Therefore, Clause 41 of the Bill enables the Court to place such children under a new Enhanced Care and Protection Order (or ECPO for short) up till the age of 21. 

24. The ECPO allows MSF and designated caregivers to make 

• day-to-day, as well as more substantive decisions, such as overseas travel,

• just as what parents would do in normal family settings. 

• But sensitive decisions that are neither day-to-day in nature nor ordinarily made in the care of a child, can only be made with parental consent or the Court's authorisation. 

25. Let me give an example to illustrate how the ECPO would have made a difference for a boy called Ben (not his real name), whom MSF had placed with foster parents. 

• Ben is 13 years old, and has multiple conditions that require frequent medical appointments. 

• Ben's mother had been unwilling to care for him since he was born. Ben's father, uncontactable.

• Once, Ben was admitted to the hospital for a persistently high fever.

• The doctors recommended surgery to prevent further medical complications, 

• but Ben's mother was unwilling to provide consent.

• MSF had to apply to Court for orders to allow Ben to undergo the necessary surgery. 

• The new ECPO will allow the foster parents, with MSF's authorisation and in consultation with medical practitioners, to make a timely decision to allow Ben to be treated.

26. At this point, I wish to assure members that the ECPO does not sever the legal ties between parents and child. Parents who disagree with any decision made by MSF or designated caregivers can bring the matter to Court for determination. 

27. And even after an ECPO is made, 

• parents may apply to vary or revoke the order, 

• if there has been a material change in circumstances from the time when the ECPO was made. 

• This requires the parents to demonstrate significant and sustained changes in addressing the safety concerns that have hitherto hindered family reunification, 

• and the child must be assessed to be ready for contact with the family and eventual reunification.

Childcare Leave Benefits for Foster Families

28. Now, let me move on to talk about a special group of people - our foster parents:

• We currently have 510 foster families and they are among some of the biggest-hearted people in Singapore. 

• Children grow up best in a supportive family environment, especially if they had been abused or neglected.

• MSF's preference is to place such children in foster families, rather than in residential facilities such as children's homes, if it can be helped. 

• These foster families have opened their hearts and their homes, 

o to provide their foster children with the opportunity to grow up with a positive experience of family life - 

o an opportunity that many of us take for granted,

o but which vulnerable children may not have. 

• These foster parents have responded to MSF's call for more people to step forward to provide family-based care in lieu of institutional care.

29.  We seek Parliament's support to grant childcare leave benefits to our foster parents, to enable and help them with caregiving challenges they face, just as natural parents do. 

B. Improve rehabilitation and re-integration of youths with offending behaviour

30. I have covered the first set of amendments relating to interventions to protect and care for abused and neglected children. Let me now move on to the second bucket of amendments. These relate to the rehabilitation of children and young persons with offending behaviour, 

• whom I will subsequently refer to as youths or youth offenders. 

• There are many reasons why youths commit offences. 

• Sometimes it is because of challenging family circumstances, negative influences, or the absence of family support.
• They need hand-holding and good role models so they can pick themselves up and make responsible decisions. 

Rehabilitation Based on Needs and Risks

31. We seek to make a few major changes in this area:

• First, we want to cover older youths under the youth justice framework, instead of treating them as adult offenders.

• Second, we need to take steps to enhance the safety of all youths who are housed in MSF's Youth Homes, as well as staff working in our Homes.

• Third, we seek to treat youth offenders' criminal records as spent, after they have completed their Youth Court orders.

32. Let me begin with plans to cover older youths under the youth justice system.

33. Currently, the Youth Court hears cases against youth offenders who are below 16 years of age. 

• Young people who are 16 years and above who commit offences are tried as adults in the State Court or the Community Court, unless they are diverted away from the criminal justice system.

• But studies have shown that these young persons may still not have the full cognitive maturity of adults.

• An inter-agency committee chaired by the Attorney-General's Chambers to review the youth justice system had also recommended allowing them to benefit from a wider range of sentencing options.

34. We will therefore make two changes.

35. First, Clause 2 expands the jurisdiction of the Youth Court, to hear cases involving youth offenders below 18, up from the current 16. This will be the default mode for most youth offenders.

36. But we need to retain an avenue for exceptions - such as for youth offenders who are 16 and above, but below 18 - who commit serious offences such as gang or drug-related activities, or unlicensed moneylending, or who are repeat offenders. 

• Clause 55 of the Bill inserts a new Second Schedule to the Act which spells out the full list of serious offences. 

• When the offender has committed such a serious offence, or if he is not a first-time offender, Clause 27 gives the Public Prosecutor discretion to charge the offender in either the Youth Court or a Court of appropriate jurisdiction, such as the State Courts. 

o This is intended as a deterrent, 

o that we are not soft on crime, especially those of a serious nature,  

o and that there are times where firmer punishment of the offender is warranted, in spite of his youth.  

• Clause 27 also allows the Youth Court to decide, on its own motion, that another Court of appropriate jurisdiction is to try the case and mete out the appropriate sentencing for these offenders. 

37. Second, Clause 71 makes related amendments to the Probation of Offenders Act, to enable the Youth Court to impose probation on a child below the age of 18, even if they do not express willingness to comply with the conditions of probation. 

• Currently, the Youth Court must ask a child who is 14 years old and above if he is willing to comply with the terms of probation, before it imposes such an order. 

• We will raise the minimum age from 14 to 18.

• This addresses the current gap where some youth offenders reject probation in favour of a shorter imprisonment term in adult prison, 

• which works against the Court's and MSF's efforts to help such youth rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. 

Safety and Security within MSF Youth Homes

38. Next, I turn to the issue of safety and security within MSF's Youth Homes. 

39. The guiding philosophy underpinning the work of our two Juvenile Rehabilitation Centres (or JRCs) is to rehabilitate, guide and support youth offenders.

• For that reason, many of the security features that are present in adult prisons are not found in our JRCs.2
• Yet at the same time, we need to strike the right balance of measures, because without adequate safety and assurance of security, it will not be possible to provide an environment that is conducive to rehabilitation in our JRCs. 

40. Even with today's age limit, where youths may be admitted to JRCs if they are below 16 years of age, there have been incidents where aggressive youths put our youth guidance officers, caseworkers and other youths at risk of harm. I would like to share with Members two incidents at the Singapore Boys' Home, to illustrate why we are concerned about safety and security.

• In one case, a 15-year-old youth verbally threatened staff at the Home every day he was there. 

• On the day of his Court hearing, 

o he pretended to grab the baton of the escorting police officer. 
o He then swung his arm towards an MSF officer,
o to intimidate him. 

• Despite being counselled, the youth was recalcitrant and continued to intimidate other youths at the Home. 

• In another case, we had a youth with a history of aggression, 

o including past incidents of punching his schoolmates, 
o getting into fights with strangers. 

• While he was at the Singapore Boys' Home, the youth punched and injured his dormitory mates on various occasions. 

• He also assaulted and injured a few auxiliary police officers as well as MSF officers. 

41.  These are incidents that we need to prevent and I describe these cases not to assign blame to these young people, but rather, that these things can and indeed do happen. This means recognising that some youths may not be suitable for rehabilitation within a JRC, but may instead require a higher level of supervision in a more structured environment, such as Reformative Training.

42. Clause 32 therefore allows the Youth Court to decide 

• if an offender aged 14 to below 18 years can be safely detained at the JRC, 

• and if not, the Court may make an order for the offender to undergo Reformative Training in the first instance without going through a JRC. 

43. I would like to emphasise that this new provision will be for a small minority of youth offenders 

• who are found to be so unruly that, 

• in the Court's opinion,    

• his presence at the JRC would be disruptive to the rehabilitation of the other residents there, 

• and he would be better managed in the Reformative Training Centre (or RTC).

44. This is also consistent with Clause 24, where the Youth Court is to have regard to the needs and risks of children, and prevent any further reoffending or ill-treatment of all children.  

45. To further enhance safety and security in MSF's Youth Homes, 

• Clause 48 allows MSF officers working in the Homes to use restraints such as handcuffs, leg braces and flexi-cuffs, to prevent incidents of escape, self-injury or injury to others. 

• These include situations where youths continue to create a disturbance or taunt other residents, 

o Because such hostile behaviour, if not put to an end, 
o can escalate quickly and compromise safety. 

• This is the prevailing practice in other jurisdictions, such as in Korea, the United Kingdom and some States in Australia3, for the same purpose of preventing escape, violence, self-injury or other incidents. 

46. I wish to assure Members 

• that there will be strict guidelines pertaining to the use of such restraints, 

• and MSF officers must be trained before they are authorised to use the restraints. 

• They will not be used as a punitive measure, 

• but to ensure safety and security of both the youth and those around him. 

• Our officers are also trained to de-escalate conflicts among residents and prevent incidents of escape, self-injury or harm to others using other safe intervention methods, where possible.

Reintegration with Society 

47. For youth offenders who have been successfully rehabilitated, we must make sure that they have the best shot in life. 

• But often, the label of being an ex-offender tends to stick. 

• This makes reintegration more difficult. 

• Many jobs today require applicants to declare whether they have a criminal record, and some employers hold it against those who do. 

• Doors may remain closed, and the sense of rejection can be daunting, and that is why the Yellow Ribbon project is important. 

48. We therefore propose to amend the Registration of Criminals Act via Clause 73 of the Bill, 

• so that a youth offender's criminal record will be considered spent

• once he successfully completes his Youth Court order. 

• These Youth Court orders refer to a juvenile rehabilitation centre order, probation order, community service order, detention order and an order to pay a fine, damages or costs. 

• Therefore, after the law is amended, youths who have completed their Youth Court orders can, if asked whether they have ever been convicted, or have a criminal record, legitimately declare 'No'. 

49. We will go one step further. Sections 27A and 35 of the Act now protect the identity and privacy of a child when he is below 16. 

• Through Clause 50, we will widen this,

• to ensure that the identity of a child who is or was in the care and custody, 

• or the subject of an arrest, investigation, Court order or any proceeding under the CYPA, 

• remains protected for the rest of his life. 

• However, if the individual were to commit more offences when he is older, after he turns 18, the protection of identity will not apply to these subsequent offences.

50. These amendments signal our commitment to better protect and support our youths in their journey to reintegrate with family and society. We have met many former young offenders who have successfully turned their lives around while under our care and supervision. Take for example Jasper Yap, a former resident of the Singapore Boys' Home, whom I consulted when I was gathering feedback on this amendment Bill. 

• Jasper discovered he was capable of studying and doing well, when he scored his first A during his stay at the Singapore Boys' Home. 

• He is now an entrepreneur, currently serving National Service. 

• Jasper is also a member of the Youth Advisory Group, advising MSF, MHA and other Ministries on youth policy work. 

• He shares his rehabilitation journey with the youths in the Singapore Boys' Home, teaches them ways to kick their bad habits. 

• Like Jasper, we want to help our youths to have good role models and opportunities to succeed in life. 

C. Guide families in their parenting, with support from the community

51. Let me now explain the third category of amendments in this Bill.

52. These seek to reform the area of practice currently known as BPC, or "Beyond Parental Control". 

53. Today, parents can apply to the Youth Court to seek help for children who are labelled as "Beyond Parental Control". 

• The children may display difficult behaviour, such as running away or being in the wrong company. 
• The Court may place the BPC children under the supervision of an appointed person, or in a residential setting such as a children's home. 

54. The term "Beyond Parental Control" blames the child and holds him solely responsible for his behaviour. 

• However, many social work professionals, legal professionals and my own MSF colleagues have shared with me that it is just as, if not more important, to address poor parent-child relationships and poor or absent parenting. 
• I agree with them.

55. We will therefore do away with the label, "Beyond Parental Control", 

• and replace it with a new order known as the "Family Guidance Order", or FGO, 

• which makes clear that our focus is on the role of and dynamics within the family, and not just squarely looking at the behaviour of the child. 

56. This is not just a mere change of name. 

• The new framework requires parents and children to complete the family programme, before the parents can file a Court application.

o The Court may allow the parents to first file an FGO application, and then have the family complete the programme later if, for example, the child refuses to attend the family programme. 

• The Court can also order parents to attend mediation, counselling, psychotherapy or programmes before, during or after FGO applications are heard. 

o This is in contrast to the existing framework, where the Court can give such orders to the parents, only after a BPC order has been made for the child.


57. I spoke earlier that we are expanding coverage of the Act to persons aged below 18 years if they face abuse or neglect, or have committed offences. 

• For FGOs, however, there will be no change to the current age threshold. 

o This means that a parent can make a Court application for family guidance only if their child is below 16 years of age. 

o This is because older youths are more likely to resist participating in programmes, and resent being brought to Court by their parents. 

o We are therefore keeping the age limit at below 16 years so as not to worsen family relationships that may already be strained. 

o We do this after taking significant advice from professionals.

D. Strengthening partnerships with the community to care for vulnerable children
58.  I have covered three buckets on intervening for abused and neglected children, youth offenders and the new FGO regime. Let me now talk about the last bucket of amendments which will strengthen partnerships with the community to care for vulnerable children. 

59. Child protection work is currently done by MSF's Child Protective Service (or CPS), and they partner our social service agencies who also play an important role. 

• For example, social service agencies such as Montfort Care and Fei Yue Community Services run CPSCs (Child Protection Specialist Centres), 

• as well as FSCs (Family Service Centres).

• These are run by social service professionals.

• But child protection work also involves many dedicated, trained volunteers. This is especially important if we want to keep families intact, and ensure the safety of children within the community. 

60. Clauses 7 and 51 of the Bill strengthen the roles of these partners by providing them with appropriate statutory support and legal protection, as well as enabling relevant information sharing. 

61. Clause 3 allows MSF to appoint members of the public to carry out specified duties under the Act. 

• These individuals are known as "Volunteer Welfare Officers" in the Bill.  

• For example, in child abuse cases, volunteer welfare officers can conduct visits to the child's home to monitor his well-being and safety. 

• These volunteers receive training and they may only act under MSF instructions.

62. Clause 7 also allows MSF to share information relating to a child with community partners, such as the Child Protection Specialist Centres and children's homes. The purpose is to enable our partners to:

• Intervene quickly to protect vulnerable children from harm; and 

• Work with families to pre-emptively resolve issues. 

63. The conflicts within families can create acrimony that poses risk to people who work to support them. Thus, Clause 51 extends to people performing a function or exercising powers under the Act protection from legal liability, as long as they have acted in good faith and with reasonable care. These persons would include volunteer welfare officers and foster parents.

64. The participation of volunteers in complementing MSF's statutory work of protection and rehabilitation is not new. For example, 

• Volunteers assist MSF's Probation Officers by befriending, guiding and supervising probationers. 

• Volunteers from the Singapore Boys' Home and Girls' Home support rehabilitation and reintegration, such as by befriending youths and providing tuition.

• Volunteers help provide transport to children under the supervision of MSF's Child Protective Service, such as to and from their residence to medical appointments.

III. Conclusion

65. Mr Speaker, Sir, I wish to assure Members that the amendments we are proposing today do not supplant the role of families. 

• The overwhelming majority of families do their best to care for, protect and raise their children well.

• However, when it comes to the small number of families who require help to fulfil basic responsibilities to their children, the proposals in this Bill are vitally important and may in some cases, literally be a lifesaver.

66. Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move.

[1] Article 1 of the UNCRC defines a child as being below the age of 18, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
[2] Some features of the Prisons, that are not present in the MSF-run JRCs, include cells with walls and doors that do not allow an outside view, and supervision that is primarily by uniformed staff who carry batons, among other equipment.
[3] The respective legislation are the Act on the Treatment of Protected Juveniles (Republic of Korea); The Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015 and The Young Offender Institutions Rules 2000 (the United Kingdom); and Children and Young People Act 2008 (the Australian Capital Territory) and Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (New South Wales).