Engagement and Casework

Acknowledging little successes   09/07/2010
Celebrating the lives of young people   02/07/2010
Feeling valued in our community   28/05/2010
Trust-building: patience, positive regard and a few ‘intelligent’ risks   14/05/2010
Finding what motivates people   07/05/2010
Circle painting and successful collaboration   30/04/2010
Measuring a sense of community belonging    04/04/2010
Ellyn: a little great giver   26/03/2010
Bobby’s million-dollar smile   19/02/2010
Treating our children as ordinary people   25/12/2009
Beyond failure   18/12/2009
Youth who teach us lessons in teaching   11/12/2009
Valuing parents as the first educators in children’s lives   04/12/2009
Jimmy’s story   03/07/2009
‘Talking’ cures   12/06/2009
George   22/05/2009
Residential work and the quest for independence   27/03/2009
Adapting our structures to help   27/02/2009
Managing our expectations of change   06/02/2009
Positive peer influence   16/10/2008
Treating children as children   28/08/2008
Talking circles: getting people to believe that they can make a difference   05/09/2009
Diane’s story   28/03/2008
Working with Sani   22/02/2008
Jane’s story   01/02/2008
Postcare: after RTC   21/12/2007
The Streetwise and Guidance Programmes: lasting the distance   17/08/2007
Reflectivity in postcare work   14/08/2008
Living Tissue   08/06/2007
Resourceful casework   20/04/2007
Connecting with young people   05/04/2007
Outreach work   24/03/2007
Martial arts as engagement   09/03/2007
The act of seeing   23/02/2007
In the shelter of each other   20/09/2006
“So what will you do?”   24/02/2006

Acknowledging little successes   09/07/2010

Little Sasha, 4 years old started off enthusiastically when the Community Run flagged off but after a good 10 minutes, she  stopped and got her mom to carry her. However, every time our cheerleaders were in view, she asked mom to put her down and she ran past them energetically receiving their applause. Sasha did the same at the  finishing line where a crowd gathered to welcome back every runner. Covering 4 km with a  4 year old in one's arms was not exactly easy and mom must have wished that we had more cheerleaders along the route. Little Sasha has reminded us just how important and powerful  a little encouragement can be.

As a group of youths were gathering to leave for the event, Frank's step-mother came by to inform that she could not wake him up. The group went over to Frank's home and within half an hour, Frank was on the bus with his friends. Again, how a little support made all the difference. Running may be simple but it is not easy and as such, the Streetwise Run has been a metaphor for the giving and receiving of support.

Families, teachers and friends were there to support each other and to support the event. We were touched when several youths who have moved on, came back to join the event. Ronnie was one of them who only managed to arrive close to the flag off of the competitive race. He had been caught up with work and could not come by to get his runner tag. Although he did not have a number tag and a timing chip, he decided to race ahead when the horn blared. He was among the first at the finishing line but he told us that his prize was the satisfaction of having supported the event of an organisation that had previously given him so much support.

Roy,11 years old arrived at the run with his mother and younger sister to the delight of his friends who had not seen him for the past 4 months. Roy is currently in a residential programme and he too was very happy to see his friends. When he completed his run, he hung around the finishing line waiting for his younger sister who was doing the  Community Run. When he spotted her, he ran towards her, lifted her into his arms and gave her a big hug. After putting her down, they crossed the finishing line together hand in hand. It was a proud moment for their mother who was cheering wildly together with the other parents. Our colleague who has been supporting this family through their ups and downs described this mother's beaming face as a priceless sight. I guess we too need encouraging moments like that to assure us that we are on the right track.

Finally, I must put on record that the child who was the last runner last year was not the last this year. He was grinning from ear to ear as he was approaching the finishing line to loud applause.  As we congratulated him, we commented to his mother that he had improved tremendously. Her smile said it all.

For the record, there were 4450 participants and to date, $223K in donations have come in of which $100K is from PSA the main sponsor. We estimate that we will eventually reach $300K. Our most grateful thanks to everyone who had contributed to this year's success.

We need to be aware of what others are doing, applaud their efforts, acknowledge their successes and encourage them in their pursuits. When we help one another, everybody wins. - Jim Stovall

Celebrating the lives of young people   02/07/2010

Firstly, much thanks to  those who helped me seek out a resource person in the online gaming sector.  We have hooked up with the Singapore Cybersports & Online Gaming Association who has been most helpful.

This Sunday will be Singapore's National Youth Day and we will be celebrating at our Streetwise Run for the 10th year running. Over the years, we have joked that the Streetwise Run was the Youth Day Celebration for those who were not be a part of the mainstream celebrations. The cynical may even say that it is a celebration for those who have nothing much to celebrate. How wrong they are!  Life always gives us something to celebrate and the Streetwise Run continues to be an important opportunity for our youths to find something good within themselves that is worth celebrating.

Though only 16 years old, Wendy appears a little tired and pessimistic. 4 years ago, she was the best floor ball player in her school who caught the attention of the national team selectors but that promise fizzled out when she dropped out of school. After leaving our residential facility, she fell out with family and friends who had offered to care for her. She ended up living by her wits and eventually got caught by the police for a minor offence. The police placed her on the Guidance Programme and she returned to our doorstep. It was a challenge for us to help her complete the programme successfully. Not having a permanent address or a  guardian  meant that we were never sure when she would show up. How do we run a programme for someone who is not physically with us?  Nonetheless, after several months and with the support of the police, we eventually graduated Wendy and she was not charged in court.

In the light of her lack of a permanent address and adult supervision, Wendy never thought that she could complete the Guidance Programme successfully and had already braced herself for long term institutional care. So, she took the chance to remain in the community with both hands. After moving around a couple more times, she eventually got back with her family.

A couple of months ago, she told us that she will join the run. Knowing that her fitness level was nowhere near the time she was a floor ball player, her target was simply to beat our colleague who was her Guidance Programme officer. Wendy was positive that this colleague being on the plump side would be no match for her.

At our trial run 3 weeks ago, Wendy was outpaced by our colleague.  "Well at least I beat a few boys!" she defended herself trying to keep her pride in tact but moments later, Wendy and us had a good laugh about  how she had underestimated our colleague. However, we pointed out to Wendy that completing 8.4 km after not doing any sports for 4 years was something worth celebrating. Also, by putting on her running shoes as a way of doing her part for the organisation was another thing worth celebrating.

Since the trial run, Wendy seems to have a renewed zest for life. With lots of free time on her hands, she took up our suggestion to get involved with Civic Life: Tiong Bahru who is producing a short film  by UK filmmakers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy tentatively entitled The Market. The film will take part in the Encounters Short Film Festival this November in the UK.  Wendy plays a young girl living with a foster mother coming to terms with a tension she is experiencing within herself. Her foster mom provides her with a life more comfortable than anything she has known but yet she yearns for a harmony within that seems to evade her simply because her current residence is not her home.  

We were with Wendy when she got the script a day before filming and were a little taken aback how closely art reflected life...Wendy's life. The filmmakers had no clue about her background and it was a story put together through various conversations they had with residents at the Tiong Bahru Community Centre. Hence, we were a tad concerned that it was too close for comfort for Wendy. We spoke to her briefly about it but the next day when the cameras started rolling,  Wendy was a natural who charmed fellow actors and  the 35 strong crew. When shooting after 2 days ended, the crew warmly congratulated Wendy and the other youths for the fine work they had put in.

The glow on the faces of  Wendy and the other youths, their pride for a job well done and their improved self-esteem are just some the things we will be celebrating this Sunday.

Happy Youth Day and may your day be filled with many reasons worth celebrating!

Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living! - Amanda Bradley

Back To Top ^

Feeling valued in our community  28/05/2010

After 9 years, I still am looking forward to the 10th Streetwise Run. The sight of our young people and their families enjoying themselves and blending in with the crowd is still special for me.

Last year, the rain helped a little. As the crowd took shelter at Zouk, we offered drinks and food. A father, who was waiting for his daughter to return from her race, was standing just outside Zouk. When we invited him for some food and drinks, he looked at us nervously and pointed to his nose “Me?”  After reassuring him that other parents were already inside, he said he will join us after his daughter returned. Later, we were glad when we spotted his daughter and him tucking into the food and drinks.

The Streetwise Run has succeeded somewhat in bringing together those we serve and our larger community in a celebration of youth. It may not seem much to an observer but it is an important event that communicates to our service-users that they are valued, they belong to our community and they can contribute.
Barry and Charles were the least interested and the noisiest during a presentation on the Streetwise Run. We were explaining to a group of youths that by participating in the run, they became ambassadors for our work not just for the donors who participated in the runner sponsorship programme but to everyone who comes to the run.  Barry and Charles looked down at the table, made comments or disturbed their friends who were trying to pay attention.
But when we sat with them to do their profiles for potential donors they happily agreed to work with us. Though they were both 15, they were as shy as young children when we addressed them politely. To facilitate the process, we had a list of questions and soon we learnt that Barry and Charles were best of friends from the same neighbourhood who looked out for each other.
Barry wrote all his answers in neatly printed capital letters. He had trouble spelling most of the words and needed help from either Charles or us. He said he had never gone to school, and was just learning how to write. He worked as a cleaner and was proud to tell us that he supported himself through his earnings. When we asked him if he wanted a different job when he was older, he said he did not know and he liked his current job. Later, we learnt from his youth worker that Barry liked being a cleaner because he did not have to write and did not have to speak to many people. He also enjoyed the sense of autonomy once the tasks for the day had been assigned to him.
When it came to the question on who they valued in their life, they promptly named each other. Barry wrote that Charles made him laugh when he was sad, and Charles said Barry was there for him when he was upset or needed help. Despite the lack of education or opportunities, these boys knew the value of relationships. If only they can form firm relationships with good adult friends, they may be guided.
Barry and Charles need the seemingly simple skill of reading and writing which becomes harder to learn as they get older. Without these skills they will very likely be on the margins of our society. This Streetwise Run will the first time they will be actively participating in a community event, doing something to help others and perhaps feeling like a valued member of our community.
We invite you to join Barry and Charles in celebrating Singapore’s National Youth Day on Sunday, 4 July 2010. Online registration is available at www.streetwiserun.sg 

Enjoy your weekend.

We were born to unite with our fellow men, and to join in community with the human race. ~ Cicero

Back To Top ^

Trust-building: patience, positive regard and a few ‘intelligent’ risks  14/05/2010

Yesterday, a mother who is estranged from her husband passed us her children’s birth certificates as she wanted them registered for school. The children are now with her husband and even though she cannot see eye to eye with her husband she realises that her children’s well-being come first. Nothing too unusual except that for the past year; we had been having tremendous difficulty staying in touch with this mother.  This mother found it extremely difficult to trust anyone especially people like us whom she regards as authority. We gathered that this distrust stems from her bitterness of having spent a significant amount of her life in institutions. Our guess was not too far off as this week, we learnt for the first time that she had a child when she was a teen and at that point she felt compelled to give the child up for adoption as she did not feel that the authorities advising her were supportive of her desire to care for her new born.

Patience, positive regard and some risks are needed for gaining the trust of those that hurt.  After not hearing from her for the last 2 months, this mother suddenly showed up at our Centre demanding to see her daughter. She asserted her right as a mother and was visibly displeased when she learnt that her daughter was not around. She demanded to know why her daughter was absent but our teacher respectfully sat her down and enquired how she could be helpful?  Moments later, our teacher brought out her daughter’s learning portfolio and said a few encouraging words about the progress her child was making. She then left the mother alone to quietly look at the photographs of her daughter. This had a calming effect which enabled us to start a conversation with her.

Among various complaints, this mother felt that we were siding with her husband and out to keep her away from her children. It was obvious that she was deeply hurt and whenever it was appropriate, we reassured her that we would very much like her to keep in touch with her children. We also pleaded for her to trust us enough to maintain regular contact so that issues can be worked on.  However, all we got was a defiant   “As their mother, I don’t need your help to see my children.” Honestly, she was right but we also had the duty of ensuring her children’s current stability and for now, could not allow her unsupervised access to her children.

Two days ago, this mother called us and asked if we could transfer $50 into her bank account.  In her personal capacity, the colleague who pleaded for this mother to trust us did so. As it turned out, this mother regarded our colleague’s gesture as one of genuine concern. Yesterday, by bringing her children’s birth certificates without us asking, this mother brought with her the courage and humility to work in partnership with us once again.  Yesterday evening, we had a meaningful discussion with her about her challenges.

Enjoy your weekend.

To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved. – George MacDonald

Back To Top ^

Finding what motivates people  07/05/2010

Monica a mother of 3 young children learnt that the neighbourhood sports complex was looking for a cleaner. She had been keeping her ears close to ground for possible work opportunities and she got really excited when she got wind of the news from a friend of a friend. However, she did not feel very confident walking into a job interview and decided to bring a colleague along. As it turned out, our colleague proved useful the moment they both walked into the sports complex. The job was at the complex but the interview was at a cleaning company in Sungei Kadut. It was not a part of Singapore Monica was familiar with and so our colleague helped her look up the street directory.

At the interview, Monica realised that the job was actually from 7 am to 3 pm and not 9 to 5 as she had expected. She looked a little disappointed and thankfully the interviewer sensed it and enquired what was on her mind. With some encouragement from our colleague, she explained that the child care centre that her child goes to opens at 8 am and she will be unable to get her child there if she was already at work from 7 am. The interviewer then decided to let his curiosity out of the bag. ‘How did a young Chinese girl become friends with an Indian lady in her 40s?” he was thinking to himself.  So he asked our colleague how she was related to Monica and after learning a little bit about our role as community workers, he turned to Monica and said that he will allow her to leave at 7.45 am every morning as long as she came back to work by 8.30 am. Problem solved and Monica has been at work since Tuesday.

Monica does not have a good track record as a mother. 2 of her children are in foster care but during the long bus ride to the interview our colleague learnt that she badly wanted the job at the sports complex because she wanted to have money to spend on her children whenever they visit on Sundays. She misses her children and wants to do whatever she can. She also shared that going to work has always been difficult as jobs were usually far away and she could never get back in time by 7 pm to pick up her children from care. Hence, she is really hopeful this time as the sports complex is walking distance form her flat and finishing at 3 pm enables her to spend time with the one child that is still with her.

In supporting someone like Monica, our job is not to motivate her but to find what motivates her and steer it purposefully in consultation with her.  In this instance, Monica on her own acted on her desire to treat her children better by seeking employment. Then, it is for us to help her overcome the barriers; real, imagined or perceived that dampened her will to act on her motivation.

I wish Monica and all of you a meaningful Mother’s Day weekend.

All mothers are working mothers. 


Back To Top ^

Circle painting and successful collaboration  30/04/2010

Dear Team
10 youths from different neighbourhoods came together for a Circle Painting exercise.  We wanted to brighten up some of the walls at our premises and thought that it would be a meaningful project for these youths who had told us that they enjoy art.  It is always easier to work with the strengths and interests of young people and art is an important means of engagement. To our delight this activity turned out to be a breakthrough with a 14 year old who had not been attending school regularly. Since, we got to know her a couple of months ago; we have not been able to talk to her very much. Circle painting is for a large part a silent activity so we were not exactly talking but we were definitely cooperating. At the end of the 6 hour session, this girl offered to come back as soon as possible to touch up the art pieces. She told us that she could also bring them home so that we did not have to keep our premises open just for her.

Circle painting is a collaborative effort to produce art pieces that are big, bold and colourful.  Participants are not allowed to speak to each other and a facilitator will suggest what could be painted. The facilitator will also instruct participants to continually change positions and to add on to what others have done. Very quickly, participants learn that while they can contribute, they do not have full control over how things turn out in the end.  They also learn that it can be fulfilling when people build on each other’s efforts and downright frustrating when their efforts are being cancelled out by others. Thus, the end product becomes a symbol for the beauty of collaboration and through the process; participants learn that collaboration is not something that comes naturally but something that requires much maturity, self-confidence and generosity.   

I was admiring an intricate design of red, yellow and orange dots that were put together by 5 girls when a boy came along and covered it with a big black circle. I had no part in the art as I had just walked in just a few minutes ago but I was upset that the design was no more. I looked around and I noticed that the girls were taking deep breaths and staring at this boy but they obeyed the ground rules and kept quiet.  After another hour or so, they excused themselves saying they were tired and as we debriefed with them, they expressed how upset they were about being painted over and acknowledged that their energy level went down several notches after that.  

I did not stay through the session but I saw the end product a couple of days later. When I bumped into this boy, I complimented him on his effort. He told me he enjoyed himself tremendously and looked forward to coming together again to improve the art pieces. Out of curiosity I asked him why he painted over the red, yellow and orange dots and after a while, he said that it was because the girls had made some unkind comments about him. To his credit though, he said that he will apologise the next time they gathered to work on the art.

Successful collaboration clearly requires much maturity, self-confidence and generosity.

Have a well deserved break this Labour Day weekend.

We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we are going to perish together as fools.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Back To Top ^

Measuring a sense of community belonging  04/04/2010

We celebrated Donny’s second successful month as a volunteer in our learning programme. Donny is 13 and he coaches 7 and 8 year olds in their school work twice a week. On days when he is held up at school, he always calls to apologise for being late but he eventually gets here. The best thing about Donny though is he is so enthusiastic that his younger sister now wants to volunteer too.

 A year ago when we visited Donny at home, he avoided speaking to us. His mother told us that he had been extremely quiet since her divorce from his father was finalised the year before. She did not think much of it but during our visit it struck her that Donny had been quiet for a long time now. Donny used to be a cheerful boy she told us.

Donny’s mother works as an administrative assistant and the School Pocket Money Fund has been an important means of support. Donny being in secondary school receives $80 while his 9 year old sister gets $45. Yet our presence at their home reminded Donny that his family was not exactly coping after his father left. He did not feel good about getting pocket money but knew that it brought relief to his mother.  To avoid speaking about his family, Donny also preferred to keep to himself and especially to stay away from ‘nosey’ helping professionals like ourselves.

After that home visit, we regularly invited Donny and his family to the different events on our calendar. Initially, he came along with his family reluctantly but soon, he realised that there were many others who faced similar difficulties if not more. He then started being very curious about our job and what we did.  A colleague explained about the learning programmes and our efforts to keep young children out of institutions. He listened intently and eventually started speaking to us more during the various events.  

However, the breakthrough must have been during a children’s party last December. Bored with the party, Donny slipped out and went into the bushes nearby. A colleague noticed and observed for a while from afar before approaching him. Donny was looking for spiders and as our colleague was visibly interested, Donny started sharing with him about the different types of spiders he has found but that day Donny could not find any. Our colleague who hails from Gamas in Malaysia then told Donny that he would bring some back from his home that weekend.

The helping relationship was cemented when Donny received 3 matchboxes filled a spider each the following Monday. His knowledge of the spiders impressed our colleague so much that spontaneously he told Donny that he would make a good teacher and perhaps he could help out with our learning programmes. Well when Donny said yes, little did he realise he also said yes to having his old cheerful self back.

Sometimes we wonder if giving creates dependency. Perhaps it is not how much we give but how we give. When those who receive do not feel dignified, they feel further marginalised and their hurt prevents them from seeing that they have a part to play in the well being of the community.  It is painful to say that one is unsuccessful and needy but perhaps, it is easier to say that one is entitled to assistance.

Thankfully, we were able to assure Donny that just because he receives he is no less a member of our community and even though he receives he can give.  Perhaps, our sense of belonging to a community can be measured by our willingness to give and receive support.

Enjoy your weekend.

If a prince were to wear a Bohemian glass stone on his finger, it would be taken for a diamond; should a beggar wear a genuine diamond ring, everyone would be equally convinced it was only glass. – Heinrich Heine

Back To Top ^

Ellyn: a little great giver  26/03/2010

Ellyn (her real name) is 15 years old and she was featured in a television programme called “Little Great Givers’ that initially ran on Channel Okto in February. Last Sunday, her episode was aired on Channel 5. The TV programme told the stories of 7 young Singaporeans aged between 10 to 18 years old who gave their time and energy to help others despite their own difficulties. Ellyn is a young volunteer who supervises younger children with their school work. She is also a patient listener for her peers wherever they need to unload their heavy hearts. For us, Ellyn is a partner in our work and an important resource for her community.

On TV, Ellyn related how she ran to Kids United whenever her world got her down. She especially enjoyed the football sessions as they gave her the opportunity to kick her frustrations away. She is grateful that help was all around when she needed it and believes that it is only right for her to be helpful whenever she can. By the way, Ellyn was named this year’s Most Outstanding Player for the National ‘C’ Girls Football Competition for schools. She has come some way and we always share a smile with her whenever we reminisce about the ‘fierce’ advocacy we did to get her onto the boy’s football team in her primary school.

Giving is now in Ellyn’s nature. From the TV programme, the Singapore Turf Club noticed Ellyn’s efforts and asked her how they could help. Without any hesitation, she asked them to improve the Hangout where her friends frequent and to get as many of our children and youths possible into the newly opened Universal Studios. Yesterday, Ellyn also visited one of our colleagues who is on hospitalisation leave.

Ellyn’s success reminds us that youth work is about youth development. Serving youths-at-risk is not only about ‘removing’ the risks but it is about preparing them to live a purposeful life. Perhaps, there is a tendency for our sector to think that unless the risks are removed; it is not possible to move onto developmental work. Actually, this thinking limits our interventions and it is not really true because risks are always inherent in life and it is about managing them so that we can get busy living.

14 youths squeezed into a meeting room at JP Morgan together with 40 of their friends who were there to offer their support. These youths were there to pitch their ideas for community service to a team from the bank who will then decide if they could offer their support in terms of adult mentors, funds and other resources. Although visibly uncomfortable in a Board room setting, these young people explained why they were passionate about their proposal. Only a few were eloquent but all were earnest.

Watching from the side, I felt nothing but pride for their efforts. These young people did not have to do this but they welcomed the responsibility and ran the risk of looking foolish simply because they found the idea of doing something that benefits others rather attractive. Their projects included organising a football tournament, publicity materials and events for our teen pregnancy helpline, dance classes for their neighbours, cooking for the elderly and so forth. With time, probably not every project will be realised but these youths would have picked up useful skills for purposeful living along the way. As a parting shot, the staff from JP Morgan put it to the youths most encouragingly, “you may not succeed but life is really about trying to.”

Enjoy your weekend.

To know a person, it is useful to know what he has done which is another way of defining what problems he has solved. It is even more informative, however to know what problems he is working on now. For these will define the growing edge of his being. Nicholas Hobbs in the Art of Getting into Trouble

Back To Top ^

Bobby’s million-dollar smile  19/02/2010

Our children were thrilled when we opened a parcel from the Office of the President of Singapore in front of them. In it were photographs they had taken with the President during a visit to the Istana last December. The Istana or ‘palace’ in Malay is the official residence of the President of Singapore, Mr S R Nathan. Our children had the privilege of visiting the Istana as part of the President’s Challenge, an annual series of community-based activities aimed at encouraging the community to help the less fortunate and to raise funds for the social service sector. Each photograph had a handwritten greeting from the President and our children wanted the group photograph to be hung on the wall immediately. One 12 year old whom we shall call Bobby received a personal photograph of himself presenting a souvenir to the President. We are absolutely sure he will value it considering what Bobby ‘learnt’ from the experience.

That December afternoon as everyone was preparing to leave for the Istana, Bobby sniggered to himself and wondered what the fuss was all about. When we asked him if he had brought a pair of shoes, he shot back with a defiant ‘No and so what?” adding sarcastically that the President and him were not acquainted. We intentionally ignored Bobby’s remark as making it an issue would have spoiled the occasion for the other children. At the Istana, the volunteers who were getting the event going noticed that Bobby was wearing a pair of slippers and felt that it was obviously inappropriate for the occasion. Thankfully, before chiding him, one of them raised the issue with our colleague who spontaneously defended Bobby as she did not want him being excluded from the event. Tactfully, she apologised for not getting Booby better dressed and alluded that perhaps Bobby only had one pair of shoes but it could have been wet as it had been raining heavily the past days.

This volunteer nodded and walked away. A few minutes later, he asked us if he could get Bobby to participate in a ‘million dollar smile’ audition they were holding to choose the child that was to present the President with a souvenir. “Bobby smiling? Never quite seen that!” we thought to ourselves but we agreed as we were just grateful that Bobby was not getting into more trouble. As for Bobby, he just shrugged his shoulders and went along with the volunteers. Not sure how these volunteers treated Bobby but obviously in a manner that brought out Bobby’s million dollar smile.

The President had nothing but kind words for Bobby who was still in his slippers. Bobby left the event in a much better mood than when he got there but the significance of the day only hit him the following day when his father showed up at our Centre. In front of his friends, his father told us that he was filled with pride when he saw Bobby with the President on the evening news. His friends and relatives who watched the news started reaching him on the phone to ask what Bobby had done to deserve such an honour. Bobby's father had dropped by to thank us for guiding his son all this while and giving him the honour of meeting the President.

Like Bobby, we had no idea that the event meant so much to his family but by seeing how proud his father was, Bobby 'learnt' that he really mattered to his family. He 'learnt' that his father was always waiting for a moment or a reason to be proud of him. On reflection, he admitted to us that those moments and reasons were far in between and perhaps he had a duty to make them happen more often.

These couple of months we have had the pleasure of having a more cheerful and cooperative Bobby in our Centre. Perhaps, when all of us do our best to walk with the "Bobbies with Slippers" among us, somewhere down the road, these "Bobbies" will realise that putting on a pair of shoes will enable them to walk further.

Enjoy your weekend.

Every man must wear out at least one pair of fools’ shoes. - Earl Derr Biggers

Back To Top ^

Treating our children as ordinary people  25/12/2009

Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart. Somewhere deep inside you is where Christmas really starts.” The mothers of the children from our LIFE programme did not hesitate to contribute to the success of their Christmas party held at the Queenstown Community Centre. Each gave a little from their heart and there was more than enough for 80 children who enjoyed a spread of cakes, kueh, satay, curries, chicken, noodles and other titbits.

At our Sembawang premises, local celebrities Rui En and Taufik Batisah got a party going for the former residents of Kids United Home and their family members. Taufik, the very first Singapore Idol sang his heart out and happily shared the microphone with a child who was brave enough to join him for a duet.

I was next to a 12 year old girl when Taufik arrived. It was an unfamiliar car that came into our compound and she was squinting to see who it was. When he stepped out she blurted “Oh s*#t! It is Taufik!” There was no hiding that she was excited as a flush filled her face but when Taufik came by to shake hands, she was nonchalant.

The children and their families gathered around Taufik and his accompanying musicians as they entertained with Christmas favourites but this 12 year old girl sat a distance away tucked into her food and stole glances in Taufik’s direction whenever she thought no one was looking.

Sadly, many of our children don’t quite know how to receive. They are quite expressionless when you hand them a present and they are very guarded when you hand them a compliment. Perhaps the many disappointments in their short lives have nurtured in them an icy cool demeanour that shields them from further pain.

Sometimes this makes our children not easy to love but that did not deter Taufik and Rui En as they casually walked over to where the 12 year old was seated and had their picture taken with her. It was a gesture from their heart which they had hoped would convey to this 12 year old that she was fine the way she was.

The evening just seemed to linger on as Taufik and Rui En continually smiled for the cameras as the children and their families posed with them. Also, Rui En who is a regular volunteer at our home presented a father who ran a chicken rice stall with a several photographs of them in front of his stall. “You may put them up at your stall and perhaps it will bring you luck and a few more customers.”

Rui En’s family was also at the party and in a room of celebrities; marginalised children and those of us in between, her father had the wisest words “Like all of us, these children just need to be treated like ordinary people.”

May you always find much peace and goodwill among ordinary people on any ordinary day.
"I have seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives." Tracy Chapman

Back To Top ^

Beyond failure  18/12/2009

This evening, 82 of our children and their families will be attending our Annual Graduation Ceremony to mark their achievement in moving on to their next level of education. It will be a proud moment for these children and their families. For the 5th year running, Spring Singapore is sponsoring the event which is an important milestone for our children and their families to build on. Life for those we serve is fraught with several ongoing challenges and so it is all the more important to celebrate whatever little successes that come their way. Hopefully, many years from now when they look back at their childhood, they would recall this and other moments where they succeeded despite their struggles.

Besides children who passed their Primary School Leaving Examination, there will also be a young lady who just turned 21 who will be receiving a full scholarship from Kaplan Singapore to do a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media Management next year. This young lady has just completed her Diploma studies while working part-time to support her mother who is recovering from cancer. She had always dreamed of a University education so that she could eventually give her family a better life and we are so glad that she is now getting her break.

Tonight will also be special for a 10 year old girl who will not be one of the “graduates”. She does not have citizenship and when she began formal education at 7, she attended our programmes for support. Today she is top of her class and she choreographed the dance steps for our choir which will be performing tonight. A month ago, when we asked the children to write down what they wanted as a year-end gift, this child asked for school fees. She explained that her dad had lost his job and was also recently hospitalised. Well, she does not know yet but Merck Pte ltd will be making that wish come true.

Throughout the year, different people have come forward to contribute towards the children’s success. We cannot possibly mention everyone but some who have stood by our learning programmes for a while now include Merrill Lynch/Bank of America, the National Library Board, Traders Hotel, Standard Chartered Bank, the Central Singapore Community Development Council, Waterfalls Students Care Centre and the grassroots leaders of District 3. Of course, there are also the volunteers that come by week after week to be with our children and tonight we will also be honouring all those who helped out with our “graduates”.

Finally, I know it has been a long week as usual for many of us. The world did not stand still for tonight’s event. There were the family conflicts we had to mediate, the well being of children which we had to facilitate and the numerous “uncooperative” behaviours we had to convert into teachable moments. I say let’s put all that aside for a few hours, dress up and put on a big smile as we congratulate the children and their families this evening. That’s the least they deserve because despite everybody’s support, they would not have succeeded if they did not want to.

Enjoy your weekend.

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”. - Winston Churchill

Back To Top ^

Youth who teach us lessons in teaching  11/12/2009

Excellence, Friendship and Respect are the 3 Olympic Values and the Organising Committee for the 1st Youth Olympic Games (14 to 26 August 2010) has constantly extended their friendship to the young people we serve. On Monday, 10 of out youths went on a tour around town together with athletes from around the world who are here for the Singapore 2010 Friendship Camp.

This camp is a special part of the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) with the goal of promoting the Olympic values among participants, providing them with a uniquely Singapore experience and the opportunity to form life-long friendships. I thought involving our youths for part of their Camp even though they are no athletes was an excellent and respectful effort at being inclusive. Needless to say, our youths had fun and they came back ‘complaining’ that the international athletes were shy. I did not go along but my guess is that these athletes being ambassadors for their countries were just a lot less boisterous :).

Another bunch of youths were involved in the Opening Ceremony and were part of the fringe event where they took charge of a booth that introduced Circus Arts to athletes who were interested. It was quite a success. Even as we were packing up at 9 pm; there were still a couple of athletes trying to get their diabolo spinning. There were 5 youths and each of them introduced a different skill. As a crowd was anticipated, these youths sought help. So over 2 weeks, they trained 10 of our staff who volunteered to help them out. Well, they had to teach old dogs new tricks but their patience and ability to break down the techniques into small manageable parts was indeed impressive. To their credit, our colleagues now seem more like old hands at circus arts rather than old dogs.

These youths taught us a lesson in teaching. We would be a lot more effective if only we can always be as patient as them when dealing with those under our charge. Ironically, early this year these youths were sent to our social circus programme because they were deemed the school clowns. To be fair, the school did not quite put it that way but our social circus programme targets students experiencing difficulties in school.

Today, they can be proud what they have achieved and none of us should deny them having their ‘last’ laugh.

Enjoy your weekend.

"To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it!" – Charlie Chaplin

Back To Top ^

Valuing parents as educators in children’s lives  04/12/2009

Today was the Awards Day at our Healthy Start Child Development Centre and every child was recognised for their achievements. Their care-givers who accompanied them on stage received a Certificate of Appreciation for their efforts in forming a partnership with our Centre. We believe that the child’s family is their first educator and family support is crucial for the child’s success in learning. Hence, we work hard at strengthening the Home School Partnership constantly.

While these parents and care-givers value the importance of educating their children, their actions often suggest to the observer otherwise. However, we would urge all observers to hold their judgement. Often it is a lack of appreciation of who these parents and care-givers really are. While it is obvious that they do not meet our idea of what a concerned adult care-giver should be we often fail to understand the context of their ‘poor’ behaviours. To understand, we need to nurture a relationship and that may be too much to ask of an observer. People who are socially disadvantaged experience many barriers that are not obvious to us. It could be a fear of authority, a sense of embarrassment for their lack of literacy; a sense of shame about their long history of problems and a lot more that we will not be aware of unless we are able to have honest conversations with them.

We must find ways to remove barriers to honest conversation and this week, I was so glad to see our teachers inviting parents and care-givers to discuss the progress of their children over coffee. Understandably many of these care-givers and parents were initially apprehensive as they are more accustomed to meeting teachers only when there is a problem with their chid. However, when they were presented with their child’s learning portfolio, they got all curious and chatted animatedly with the teachers. The portfolio included doodles and drawings; photographs, various ‘assignments’ their child completed in school as well as teacher’s comments and assessments. As they went through the portfolio, our teachers carefully explained how their child had been learning and highlighted the progress made; their unique strengths and their talents. Parents and child givers learnt of humorous incidents at school and how their child was such an adorable delight in the classroom. They also learnt of brave and honest things their children did as well as their generous and caring deeds. Most importantly, our teachers thanked every parent and care-giver for being a part of their child’s success

Every parent and care-giver left the feedback session proudly holding on their child’s learning portfolio and as an apple does not fall far from its tree, I would also like to think that we were able to see where all the children’s goodness came from.

Enjoy your weekend.

The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Back To Top ^

Jimmy’s story  03/07/2009

Jimmy was by his father's bedside everyday for the past 3 weeks. His father was is hospital and was only discharged back home 2 days ago. Jimmy was very concerned about his father's health and he wanted his father to know that he cared. So each day, Jimmy started a conversation with his father. He shared about his friends, his adventures and misadventures, his life in school, his experiences at Beyond and his interest in running. This Sunday, Jimmy will run competitively and he aims to make his father proud by being among the top finishers.

Jimmy is now 17 and undergoing studies at the Institute of Technical Education. 3 years ago, he came to us as a puny teenager who had to be placed on the Streetwise Programme because of the undesirable company he hung out with. Although he was small, the size of the fight in Jimmy matched his peers. No one stepped on Jimmy and often we had to intervene to ensure no one got unnecessarily hurt when someone did. While on the Streetwise Programme, Jimmy got linked to the adidas running programme and soon he discovered that to be recognised, he did not have to outfight everyone, he simply had to outrun them.

His school noticed the difference and soon he was on the school running team. His Vice-Principal told me that she was really impressed with how Jimmy's schoolwork was getting back on track and as a result, arranged for us to speak with her teachers about our work. Jimmy completed the Streetwise Programme successfully and we let him get on with his life as we focussed on the new intake for the Streetwise Programme.

A year ago, Jimmy called us up sounding really troubled. He had been linked to various contraband items and the police were likely to press charges.

Thankfully, we were able to divert him away from court proceedings and Jimmy got another chance at keeping his life on track. In every sense, Jimmy was lucky and he refocused his energy on running. Today, he trains with Singapore's first ultra marathon champion and does not run away from the rigorous training that is dished out.

So is Jimmy really out of harm's way? Well we hope so but we won't say so.

Young people no matter how hard they try may simply lack the resources within them to deal with complex situations that bring forth choices and decisions that have drastic longer term consequences. The mistakes they make are part of a learning process that reveals their need for adult nurturance, guidance and acceptance. As adults we need the patience and commitment to deal with this need of theirs. Perhaps, we would if it was our child but there are still many young people and their families out there who would need our support and understanding. Let us not be too impatient with their situations; let us try to understand their struggles and not simply get them to toe the line through our laws. If we had Jimmy toe the line, he would not have had the opportunity to learn how to care for his father nor would he be running this Sunday for his father's honour.

The Streetwise Run is our Annual Youth Day Celebration. Besides celebrating the vitality and promise of youth, let us also celebrate the courage and efforts of young people like Jimmy who get up every time they trip because there is still a lot of life to be lived.

See you at the run!

"Of course there is no formula for success except, perhaps, an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings."- Arthur Rubinstein

Back To Top ^

‘Talking’ cures  12/06/2009

“Just because there are a few cracks on the floor, it does not mean that your house is coming down. The foundation is still strong and maybe you want to patch up the cracks with some cement.” This was perhaps the only “counselling” we did during a 2-day retreat we organised for a couple with 3 very young children. Upon hearing this, the couple got up from the dinner table and told us they were going for a walk to sort things out.

During the past 6 months, this family struggled with the care of their 3 young children, a chronic illness, employment and relationship difficulties. Despite the ups and downs, they stuck together and battled on. We noticed that the battling took a toll on their relationship and suggested that we could put together a programme for husband and wife to spend some quality time together. After some initial apprehension, they both told us that a break from their daily routine would be great. However, the wife warned us that she would walk out of the programme if it vaguely resembled the counselling that she is so accustomed to but detested deeply.

2 of our colleagues had put together a candle-light dinner for the couple but the candles were blown out in a huff. Our colleagues were quite surprised when the wife approached them seeking assistance with the argument she was having with her husband at the dinner table. One of them went over to the table while the other continued to keep their children occupied. After their walk, the couple came back hand in hand and continued with the programme which was to catch a Hindi movie with their children.

The following morning as they were making their way back home, they told our colleagues that it was the best programme anyone had done for them. Life had been really difficult and they had forgotten what it felt like to be happy as a family. They realised that much effort had gone into giving them this positive experience and they were really thankful. We felt appreciated but also a little sad that an overnight stay at our modest facility was luxury for this family.

The standard intervention for strained family relationships would be counselling or what we would call a ‘talking’ cure. While it is true that the quality of talking often determines the quality of one’s relationships, how the talking happens is important. For example, this couple went for a walk to have a talk. For this retreat, our colleagues built the programme on the bedrock of a ‘doing’ cure. Utilising the expertise gained from their recent training in Adventure-Based Experiential Learning, they created a sequence of activities called adventure waves that built upon each other. These adventure waves included a session when the parents played with their children at a pool, a quiz for the couple to ‘test’ how much they knew of each other, individual coaching on writing a love letter, shopping for a meaningful small gift for each other and the ‘infamous’ candle-light dinner. Although the wife insisted that she would walk out if we started talking, this process actually enabled us to have several meaningful

debriefs and conversations with her active participation.

Enjoy your weekend.

“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.”
Hubert H. Humphrey (American 38th US Vice President under Lyndon B. Johnson (1965-69) and US Senator from Minnesota (1949-64, 1971-78). 1911-1978)

Back To Top ^

George  22/05/2009

At the beginning of the year, we were introduced to George a 15 year old described to us as having serious mental health issues. His aunt was concerned that despite receiving medical attention, George was violent at home and the family felt terrorised. During our first few meeting with the family, we asked the family what they believed was the cause of George’s violent behaviour. They told us that it was a medical condition but as we continued talking, we realised that the Institute of Mental Health had given George a clean bill of health. Also, the parents were quite certain that IMH will not want to admit George again. Yet, in the absence of other logical explanations, the family continued to believe that George was mentally ill.

How people’s problems are framed determines the type of intervention or support plan that is necessitated. Sometimes, the problem definition is so ‘powerful’ we do not forget it even when it is no longer relevant. Sadly, that keeps us stuck and keeps us from working productively on the real issues. One reason we hang on to an irrelevant diagnosis is that we do not have the creativity, expertise or energy to work through the issue. To prevent ourselves from feeling incompetent, we say it is someone else’s job. To prevent us being deemed lazy, we frame it within something that we think we can act upon. For example, George can be described as a pre-delinquent who needs to be punished. We then go about using the law or devising punishment methods or consequences and then believe we would have done our duty after administering these consequences. Come on, we would have failed miserably in our duty if the person we proclaim to be helping is badly hurt or even damaged as a result.

When we met George, he struck us as a timid young boy who was awkward in a social situation. It must have taken a lot out of him to physically terrorise his family; we thought to ourselves. However, it appeared that there was something happening within his household that triggered him into the HULK. Thus, our job was to discover and remove that trigger. The detective work took a while and in the interest of safety, family members had to leave the household at times. We involved a friend from another helping agency for violence issues and we found ways to keep in touch with George when he locked himself in his room Ok, I must admit MSN has some use : ).

Today, I learnt that George has registered himself as a volunteer for the coming Asian Youth Games and the upcoming Singapore Youth Olympic Games. He also told us that he will definitely go back to school next year as he has had enough rest : ) and apart for one slip-up, he has been violent free the last 6 months. What also pleased me was the smile on our colleague’s face as she related the information to me. As I supported her with George’s situation, I could see that the ups and downs took a toll on her but she hung on simply because George and his family mattered. I am convinced that a goldmine of methods and resources to help those we serve exist but we can only access it only if we truly believe in the potential of those we serve and are willing do whatever it takes to bring it out. To care is to struggle.

Enjoy your weekend.

Back To Top ^

Residential work and the quest for independence  27/03/2009

We supported Jane (AWB -0908), our 11 year old resident at our home as she went about preparing for a visit by the management of the previous home where she was residing. 6 months ago, Jane left her previous residential programme without saying goodbye. She had been getting into a series of disagreements with her care-givers and so she was moved into foster care and eventually to us. It was a painful experience for her former care-givers. They were wondering why they could not do better even though they continued to have the best interest of this girl deep within their hearts. For this girl, the positive memories of her previous placement were marred by the unpleasant events leading up to her leaving.

This is a common scenario in Residential Social Work. In their quest for a sense of independence, kids get caught up in power struggles. Independence is encouraged but unpolished methods such as tantrums or rule breaking bring with them consequences that kids never fully anticipate or appreciate. Time and again adults like us make rules or manage situations the way adults would understand. The fact is often kids do not have the maturity to fully comprehend our rules and they get punished for their immaturity.

We felt it would be in the best interest of Jane to maintain a positive relationship with those who had deeply cared for her in her previous residential placement. Her life has been filled with disappointments and it only made sense for her to remember her past with some happiness instead of bitterness wherever possible. Also these people have been and can continue to be helpful resources for her. So we packed our van with our fellow professionals from the other home and drove them over to our place.

As Jane showed our visitors around, they beamed at her proudly. They kept telling her how much she had grown and how well she was carrying herself. They reminisced and laughed about their time together. The cheerful banter continued when everyone was having their refreshments and to our surprise, Jane in a rather grown-up manner declared that she was happy then but this is now her home. We and our fellow professionals were really glad for her as she seems to have made peace with her past and present.

It was really a very pleasant afternoon for everyone and when our visitors had to bid goodbye, Jane presented each of them with cookies she had baked placed in a nicely decorated jar and a self-made card expressing her appreciation. Yes, we needed our visitors to tell us but Jane has indeed grown.

Enjoy your weekend.

Back To Top ^

Adapting our structures to help  27/02/2009

Alvin is a 15 year old who has been placed on the Guidance Programme since November 08 but he has not been coming regularly. The consequence of being discharged from the programme because of non-cooperation has not fully registered with him. He believes that as long a he stays clear of trouble, the police will not charge him for the offence he had earlier committed. Well, not quite true but the Guidance Programme is a diversionary programme that provides the opportunity for youths like Alvin to put things right and to get their lives back on track. This usually means going back to school or holding on to a job and staying clear of ‘risky’ behaviours. We see our job as helping them to succeed so that they stay clear of the juvenile justice system. Alvin does not fully realise how things can go awfully wrong for him if he does not complete the Guidance Programme.

The challenge for us is getting through to Alvin in a way that he fully appreciates his situation. One may say that at 15, he should know but then our job would be really easy if kids like him always behaved sensibly. It starts by taking the position that if youths are non-cooperative; it is because whatever we are saying or offering is not reasonable or attractive enough from their point of view. From their point of view, we are so different that it is ‘obvious’ we can never understand.

It is a work in progress to develop rapport and a helping relationship with someone like Alvin and the key is to always keep channels of communication open. During the Chinese New Year period, Alvin was busy with his Lion Dance engagements and so instead of insisting that he showed up at our door step, we sent him our best Chinese New Year greetings via SMS and told him that he had officially been granted Chinese New Year leave. We also conveyed that it was our hope that his Lion Dance endeavours would bring him much ‘prosperity’ and luck.

Yesterday, Alvin came by for a review meeting attended by officials from the Child Welfare Department, the Police Officer in-charged of his case and ourselves. As Alvin is an orphan, the Child Welfare Department was concerned that he was not getting adequate adult supervision. However, as the meeting progressed we learned that Alvin was a key member of a temple and was training to be a medium to its deity. He explained that he had another 10 days to go before the period of cleansing he is undergoing is completed. For the past 20 days, he had not been eating meat and he could not cut his hair.

The police officer then told Alvin that from what he understood about such religious rituals, there must be a way to substitute cleansing rituals. A longish hair style would certainly cause problems in school and perhaps Alvin could consult his elders at the temple. Alvin found it a reasonable suggestion and promised that he would seek the guidance of his temple elders on this matter. The sensitivity and respect offered by the police officer towards Alvin’s religious beliefs brought about a more cooperative tone to our discussions. Alvin shared about how he also had to complete chores in the temple and where he spent his leisure time. The police officer highlighted to Alvin that he should avoid going to some places mentioned if he wanted to stay clear of trouble and instead of protesting, Alvin actually took the advice.

Alvin also shared about his Lion Dance activities and it was reassuring to discover that it was a respectable outfit run by a Police Officer during his leisure time. Alvin did himself a big favour by helping the authority figures in his life better understand who he is. We left the meeting feeling hopeful that Alvin will complete the Guidance Programme successfully. This would not have happened if we had quickly discharged Alvin for his irregular attendance at the Guidance Programme. Reaching Alvin was always a work in progress and a process that took some time. Sometimes youths like Alvin do not quite fit into our programme structure neatly and in order to be of help to them, we need to adapt our structure for them.

Enjoy your weekend.

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow - that is patience.” - Anonymous

Back To Top ^

Managing our expectations of change  06/02/2009

On Wednesday, a 14 year old girl who has been a long-time user of social services did not show up at school like she was supposed to. It was not the first time she had been absent and this was another black mark on her disciplinary record. "When will she ever learn or when will she ever change?" Many of us who serve such children would lament. We may also in good conscience declare that we have given such a child enough chances to stay clear of trouble. Despite the excellent programmes provided for her, she has not improved or changed for the better. Is such a statement from us really helpful for someone whom we are proclaiming to help?

When children are in our care, they are expected to change. Perhaps they will and perhaps they don't need to. What I am absolutely sure though is that it is us, the adults who will grow and change when we come to work for a child-serving organisation. I would also say that we need to do this if we mean what we say about having children's best interest at heart.

At another school a 13 year old boy has been absent for 3 weeks and we were told that it was because he has a very irresponsible mother that has left him homeless. So after work, 3 of our female colleagues made their way down to the beauty salon where this mother works and engaged her services. Besides leaving the salon better looking, they also left looking at mother in better light. Struggling she was but irresponsible she was not. We are now in discussions with the care-giving family of her 13 year old son to see how we may support them. We are also finding a way to break through to this 13 year old boy who told us that no one cares for him.

As child-serving professionals, it is the children who have given us a sense of purpose, a sense of professional identity and a job. We make a living by being involved in their lives and the least we can do is to see them as people worthy of respect, people who are doing their best to get by and just people like you and me. During a debrief, a colleague reflected that the problem was not the children but the inability of the systems serving them. Systems who run into difficulties often find it hard to accept it is they and not the children that have to change.

After the debrief, the little passage below came to mind and I thought you may find it meaningful and encouraging like we did.

Enjoy your weekend.

Many years ago my friend took guitar lessons from David Bromberg, a recording artist and famous sessions player. When my friend entered David's house he heard beautiful music emanating from his guitar. My friend asked, "How do you make those notes on your guitar? I can't make them on mine." David answered, "All the notes you will ever need are already in the guitar, you just have to find them."

Isn't that also true of children? All the answers we will ever need are inside the child, we just have to find them.
Richard L. Curwin

Back To Top ^

Positive peer influence  16/10/2008

We have in our care, 2 young boys aged 13 & 14 who were roaming the streets and the beaches the whole night through just 2 to 3 weeks ago because they were caught up with the Child Welfare System. One of the boys was homeless because care arrangements broke down when his father was incarcerated while the other was running away from a warrant of arrest for not showing up in court. They were extremely distrustful of any offer of assistance from us or any helping professional. They were also distrustful of their peers who were in contact with us.

Both of these boys were not being charged with a crime so they could not understand why the authorities were on their heels. One had the experience of being remanded twice at the Singapore Boys' Home and the only thing he could think of the moment he was released was to run away from it all. Court procedures, mandatory counselling and police supervision were all intimidating, overwhelming and beyond comprehension. They were very angry and just wanted to be 'free' from it all.

While these boys knew each other, they were not together. Thus, we had to stabilise their situations separately. The factors for stability though were similar and they included Family Involvement, Peer Support, the Cooperation of Other Professionals and Concrete Practical Help. With the assistance of their peers we gathered enough information to track one of them down and for the other to be picked up by the police. In both cases, the police provided us with enlightened measured support that allowed us to keep the boys within the care of their families. We are really grateful for such cooperation and it was made possible by the working relationships our Youth Workers have been nurturing with their Community Liaison Officers.

The first thing we did when we had these boys at hand was to involve a family who could calm them down, regain their trust and to talk some sense into them. Being boys, in both cases it was a male family member they looked up too. We then worked intensively and non-stop with them over 3 days; involving them in various activities that put them in situations where they had to communicate with their peers. They were more likely to listen to positive peer influence rather than anything we had to say. In a sense, their peers 'walked' them into the lodging that we provided for them and assured them that we had their best interests at heart.

Lodging was an important concrete practical assistance but we also needed the trust and support of other stakeholders like the statutory supervisors, the police, the schools and of course their families. We regularly kept all of them informed of our progress and we received their assurance that they would support the goal to keep these 2 boys cared and supervised in the community as we now work with the Child Welfare System to achieve this.

There are still many challenges ahead but for now, both boys now trust that we have their best interests at heart and they have been most co-operative and participative in our programmes.

Enjoy your weekend.

The soul does not know what competition is. It knows only goodwill, and it is through goodwill that co-operation comes. (Benjamin Creme, The Art of Co-operation)

Back To Top ^

Treating children as children  28/08/2008

Jane, whom we met last week has just arrived at our Kids United Home and she is checking out her room and settling in. She visited us on Tuesday and after 6 hours, decided that she wanted to be a part of our residential programme. She told us that our home felt peaceful and friendly and she felt safe. Initially she was shy and quiet but after a while she started laughing at the antics of some of the other children who were trying to get her attention. She loosened up and was more of herself which meant that as she put her guard down she behaved just like the 11 year old she is.

An 11 year old who wanted to make friends; an 11 year old who needed the protection of adults but also the affirmation of her peers. As all the children were walking back after dinner at a nearby hawker centre, Jane followed a couple of other kids who wanted to tease the staff by walking in an opposite direction. We were very familiar with the teasing from our children but were a tat concerned that Jane went along with them. For a split second it was tempting to think that all negative comments in those reports about Jane were going to materialise before our eyes.

We followed Jane and the other children for a short distance but as it turned out, they just took a slightly longer route to reach home. At the home, Jane spoke to us. She was actually very concerned that her little prank would mean that we would not accept her into the home. She apologised and explained that the other children wanted to show her that the staff did care and having a little fun with the staff was ok. She added that she followed them because she wanted to make friends.

She did not say it but we think she also wanted to check out how we would react to her little prank. When we asked her if she really wanted to join the home, she must have felt a little threatened and pleaded with us to allow her to do so. It was a little sad for us to see the vulnerable side of Jane but we are grateful that the incident reminded us that 'Children are not little adults; they are to be treated as children and not by adult standards.'

Enjoy your weekend.

"Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods."- Aristotle

Back To Top ^

Talking circles: getting people to believe that they can make a difference  05/09/2009

Annabelle, Anees, Ethan, Lena and I facilitated a workshop on Talking Circles at a Professional Seminar on Group Work. The Talking Circle is a simple process that operates on the assumption that everyone has something important to contribute to a discussion and our responsibility as facilitators or Circle Keepers is to 'protect' the space that allows this. As I was preparing for this workshop, I wondered if participants may leave the session feeling a little short-changed as we had no impressive 'tricks' to share and our emphasis on keeping the facilitator out of the limelight may not go down well with those accustomed to a more 'active' way of leading and running groups.

Anyway, we spent most of the session giving participants the experience of participating in a Talking Circle. At the end of 2 1/2 hours, we were heartened to hear one participant say that she found the Talking Circles to be a powerful process for reflection. The process required her to speak only when it was her turn and she found her views changing or enriched as she listened to other members in her Circle.

This opportunity also got me thinking about the value of working with groups. I concluded that it was not so much about cost effectiveness or sending the same message to different people. Rather, it is about getting people to believe that they can make a difference if they work together with and for each other. They do not necessarily have to work for their group facilitator.

Facilitators like us are professionals who often have an agenda entrusted upon us by our organisations. We get a group going because we feel its members need guidance of some sort. While we have the authority to get everyone into the same room, we seldom get anyone on the same page as us. If we continually operate only on the basis of authority, we will find ourselves performing painful and meaningless work.

Group Work begins with humility. When we come face to face with 7 others, it makes not much sense to believe that we can be immediately accepted as their leader or that our views and agenda take precedence over theirs. The relationships these members form among themselves are also more important than the relationship they will form with us because we cannot serve them indefinitely. If we do so, we will only be creating and encouraging dependency.

It is ironical that young people are often referred to social services because their natural support networks are deemed to be dysfunctional. The experts like us shield them from their unfavourable situation by keeping them in all sorts of programmes that aim to 'heal' them. Then at some point in time, we deem that they are no longer our responsibility and we return them to their natural support networks where they are supposed to cope usually because they have 'come of age'.

Professionals like us often believe that their families and natural support networks are the source of young people's problems. It is definitely more helpful to view families and natural support networks as part of the solution and to engage them from the onset so that they will allow us into their Life Worlds. Unless we can honestly appreciate and work with the resources in their Life Worlds, we will never be successful in facilitating sustainable change.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share our work at this Professional Seminar organised by Students Care Service as it provided me the opportunity to pause for a thought about the work we do. I now encourage all of us to see Group Work whether structured or on the streets, as a pathway into the Life Worlds of the young people we serve.

Enjoy your weekend.

Back To Top ^

Diane’s story  28/03/2008

Yesterday, Diane who is in her 40s brought Jac, a single mum with a 2 year old child to our Healthy Start office at Blk 34. She told us that Jac needed help and perhaps a foster home for her child as well. The request for a foster home shocked Jac and after a few minutes, she walked off before Diane or anyone of us could speak to her. Diane then told us she had 4 children of which 3 were in foster care and the other was with a relative. Hence, she had come to terms with fostering as a ready solution and she thought that Jac would feel the same way.

Diane has been homeless for 2 months and resides at a public park. Being a 'longer-term' resident at the park, she welcomes newcomers, resolves disputes among other residents, offers a listening ear and looks out for others by linking them to resources she is aware of. We could not help smiling quietly to ourselves as this homeless person is actually doing our job in a very empowered fashion. She was not getting paid but by looking out for others, she was also creating a safer environment for herself. In a sense she was a volunteer who was making an important difference for a small group of troubled people.

A while later, Diane brought us to Jac who was at the park. Jac was fearful and brushed us aside saying that she was confused, had a headache and needed to be by herself. We respected that and spoke with Diane about our concern for the overall well being of Jac's 2 year old child. We did not feel that the park was the best place for her. Diane assured us that the child was well and she will see what else she could do. We left soon after.

When we returned a couple of hours later with food for Jac and milk for her child, we saw that Diane had put the child in a nice comfortable pram that had a shade. The child looked well enough and Jac was visibly more settled. This enabled us to speak to her about her problems and we reached an agreement to have her child at our infant care facility today while she sorted out her accommodation issues.

This morning Jac came by with her child looking a lot more rested. She left the child with us but came back every 2 hours to check on her. Jac was not successful sorting out her accommodation problems but thankfully after several phone calls to different places, we managed to send her and her child on their way to a women's shelter 30 minutes ago.

We were only able to help Jac and her child because Diane bothered despite her own challenges.

Enjoy your weekend.

Back To Top ^

Working with Sani  22/02/2008

Some of you may remember Sani, 14 going on 15 (AWB 0747). We are really happy to say that he will be finally going home. Despite already securing a place for him at another Children's Home, the Child Protection Unit accepted our proposed care and supervision plan following his discharge from our Kids United Home. The Child Protection Unit referred him to another Children's Home because we made it really clear that we will not house Sani on a long -term basis. More importantly, we were convinced that Sani did not need residential care and his family was ready to welcome him home.

We were quite concerned that Sani would be placed in another home as there were already signs that he would not be giving them his full cooperation. He has been reminding us of his desire to return to his family and telling us how frustrated he is with the situation. We also noticed that he was less cheerful and had started getting into arguments with other residents more frequently.

Well done Leela for highlighting 10 concrete protective factors that made the Child Protection Unit rethink the situation. The Child Protection Officer in charge of Sani commented that if not for your letter dated 14 February, Sani would be packing his bags for the other home after yesterday's case review conference with her Manager.

We work on the basis that all unfavorable situations can be improved and with due consideration, risks can be managed or reduced to acceptable levels. For example, in response to Sani's mother being deemed to be unstable because of her mood swings, Sani is attending the Family Link Programme by the Singapore Association of Mental Health so that he is better able to understand his mother’s condition and be a supportive person for her. Also as his mother's mood swings tend to be aggravated by stress, we will continue to ensure that Sani's schooling expenses are attended to and the family's basic needs are met.

This not being a fairy tale, we will not be saying that Sani and his family lived happily ever after. There will be many challenges ahead for Sani and his family that are essential, if they are to be stronger and happier.

Enjoy your weekend.

Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to this country and to mankind is to bring up a family - George Bernard Shaw

Back To Top ^

Jane’s story  01/02/2008

The Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner came early for our youths in the Streetwise Programme as their family members came by for a steamboat dinner yesterday evening. We were also touched that representatives from the Criminal Investigation Department and the National Youth Council joined us for dinner and mingled with programme participants and their family members. Their gesture reminded us how important it is for young people to have supportive people around them as they work at keeping their lives on track.

A girl who was often late, non-participative and definitely not a model participant by any standard was excitedly and proudly putting on her best side for her mother. She would not openly admit it but it was clear to us that she was really happy that her mother was there with her. Lets just call her Jane for now.

From Day 1, Jane was always challenging us and the 'rules' of the Streetwise Programme. She was not one to bend the rules, she simply broke them all. Promises were forgotten almost immediately after she made them and we were stood up several times whether it was an appointment or an activity she told us that she badly wanted to do. Her mother also complained that she usually stayed up all night and would not take her counsel.

It was trying for Jane's mother and if we gave up on Jane, she would have understood but she would have been heart-broken. On days when she succeeded in making her way here, Jane was a friendly face with a charming smile that was popular among her peers. Every now and then, she would good naturedly wind-up the staff whom she was familiar with and those who would appreciate her wicked humour. I would say she reads social situations keenly and often played the role of a good harmoniser within the group.

While Jane was fun to be with, she did not come across as someone whom you would rope in to assume responsibility. Anyway we did. We invited her to attend Ranger Training and made her Assistant Ranger at the Campland we recently conducted even though she did not clock the necessary training hours. I guess for someone who broke all the rules, we had to bend the rules.

Jane showed up on time for Campland on both days and was voted most impressive new Ranger by our senior colleagues who were on duty. She was a hit with the kids and more importantly, her debriefing skills were excellent as her analysis of the group dynamics was spot on. Jane found herself positively guiding children whom she would have previously ignored or bullied just to past her time. The strange and new thing for her was realising that she was actually good at it.

Last night, in front of her mother, we asked Jane if she could help out with our other experiential learning programmes at school and she jumped at it, agreeing without any hesitation. We reminded her that she had to show up in school at 7.30 in the morning and these schools would be quite a distance from her home. She reassured us that she would have no problem catching the first train and she would show up as long as we needed her help. She then went on to describe to her very puzzled mother what her duties will be and how she helped the children during Campland.

I believe Jane's mother enjoyed her dinner. By feeling needed, finding something she was good at and acquiring a sense of purpose, her daughter was beginning to come her senses and in a sense come back home, reuniting with her.

Happy Lunar New Year!

"Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."
- James Matthew Barrie

Back To Top ^

Postcare: after RTC  21/12/2007

Around this time last year, we began work at the Reformative Training Centre and this week it was heartening to meet 3 young men who are now looking to start afresh over burgers and fries. So far, 5 young men have been released and unfortunately 1 has been recalled for failing to report to his aftercare officer.The other young man could not get time off from work to meet us. There are another 13 participants awaiting release and we have already done a fair amount of work bridging them to their families.

The purpose of the meeting was to reassure these young people that we are here to support them and they should contact us if they experienced any difficulties whatsoever. Our experience with many of these young people is that they tend to get thrown off balance when they hear a rumour that the police will charge them for a misdemeanour they committed a long time ago. Somehow, they never feel really free from their past.

This year, one other chap decided to paint the town red 3 days after he was released when he heard from an old acquaintance that the police were looking for him. In his drunken stupor, he got into more trouble and is now serving time. We also had a 16 year old resident who was doing very well until he got similar news. Fortunately, with some support he managed to shake off his anxiety and got back on track.

Our work within the Reformative Training Centre and at Community Beyond has reinforced our belief that it is extremely important to keep young people away from the criminal justice system wherever possible. The time spent incarcerated always leaves a scar or a wound that takes a long time to heal. Sometimes I wonder if we are dealing with oversized boys who would very much need to learn to ride a bicycle, swim or play a game of football first before being loaded with the adult responsibility of holding onto a job.

After the burgers and fries, these boys did some abseiling outside our centre together with us. There were lots of fun, teasing and laughter. Without their crew cut and in their teenage garb, one would never have guessed that they have done time. It was really good seeing these boys being boys.

Enjoy your weekend.

Back To Top ^

The Streetwise and Guidance Programmes: lasting the distance  17/08/2007

We had a small little graduation event for our participants from our Streetwise and Guidance Programmes that hopefully will take them beyond social services from here on. It was a simple little affair organised by the youths but it was definitely an important milestone in their young lives. Thanks Mrs Mah for your presence. It was a wonderful gesture of encouragement for our young people and their families.

These young people did just about everything to get the event going. The evening was hosted by them and they contributed to the programme in different ways. One did a PowerPoint presentation, a few shared their reflections and one played guitar. This boy (lets call him Andy) who played the guitar once told his mother "If you are describing someone who is not naughty or bad, you are not talking about Andy." Well, he looked almost angelic on his high stool plucking away on a classical guitar.

I was particularly impressed with the big guy who was probably assigned to look after the guests. He frequently came by to check if we needed more drinks and to keep us informed of the programme flow. One would not have imagined that a few months ago, he was someone frequently trying to pick a fight with just about everybody.

At the end of the evening, a girl stood up in front of the room apologising to her parents for getting into trouble. She was not exactly fluent when she was sharing about her experiences in the programme earlier but the apology to her parents was loud and clear. Later as we were clearing up, I told her that she did a very brave thing. She immediately reiterated that she was sincere and really wished to patch the strained relationship she had with her family members.

These events are important for the young people we serve and they are also important for us because they show us the potential and the good within them. Every time we start with a new batch of youths, there is a tendency to complain about the intake and their uncooperative behaviours. However, it is when the going gets tough that we are needed most.

The Streetwise & Guidance Programmes are the only 2 diversionary programmes for youths to stay out of the justice system. Years ago when we first began, we had the tendency to view these programmes as a 'minor' form of punishment. Hence, youths who did not quite fit into the shape of the programme were simply 'returned' to the police for their discretion. Today, we have a heightened awareness that by simply doing so, we are aversely affecting the future of these young people who have been entrusted to us. The challenge we pose to ourselves today is 'How do I help these young persons successfully complete the Programme?'

As we tackle this challenge, we have to keep the integrity of the Programme which is to steer the young person away from delinquent behaviours. We have a time frame of 6 months to give it our best shot but in reality, change takes as long as change takes. Whether it is maths or socially appropriate behaviour, people need time to learn. Some learn fast and some need a little more time. Some may even need different teaching methods, tuition or alternative schools. One chance may not be enough and some patience and understanding is necessary.

Perhaps, our community is getting to be a little less unforgiving and a little more restorative. At the graduation event, a police officer contributed to the programme by singing 3 songs dedicated to the youths and their families. He told us that he had to seek clearance from his superiors for doing so as he may be seen to be compromising the authority of the police force. However, he felt that it was just his little way of showing the youths that the police appreciated their efforts to change and was really glad he was given permission to do so.

As Singapore continually remakes herself, perhaps our disadvantaged and troubled youths are on the brink of a more healing, nurturing and restorative Singapore which is waiting to be born.

Enjoy your weekend.

The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is unchangeable or certain. - John F. Kennedy

Back To Top ^

Reflectivity in postcare work  14/08/2008

National Day Greetings!

Also, Birthday greetings to Michelle and Sandra who share the same birth date as Singapore!

Welcome to Chandrika, who has joined Letchumiy in the LIFE programme. LIFE had a rude shock recently when Letchumiy had chicken pox (for a second time!). Thank you, for those who helped keep LIFE alive! And welcome back, Letchumiy.

Kids United Daily Care & Guidance @Blk5 and @Alexandra and @Blk 34 have rallied on unabated. Another unit may soon spring into being ... and awaiting Sharon's official joining Beyond. Bravo! Swimming resumes this weekend. Let's put into practice what we've been learning at our Journey Beyond sessions - swimming is an excellent means of engagement - it is a fun activity, outside the classroom and outside the KU centre, where we can actively build or foster our helping relationship with the children.

Remember what that is? Let's be responsible adult friends significant to the children. We ask ourselves (a) whether we talk such that the children talk to us - increased communication -> insight learning for the children (b) whether the children respond to our showing approval/disapproval - increased social reinforcement -> reward & punishment learning of socially appropriate behaviour (c) whether we are good role models (bearing in mind that the child is more likely to become like what we are, than what we want them to be) - increased modelling -> identification/imitation learning.

July was a tough month for staff of Community Beyond, with a few of the residents testing the limits of the new team. Things are settling down, with (in my experience) a more friendly, relaxed and comfortable atmosphere there now. Regular House Meetings has helped tremendously, though it will take some time for everyone to truly take on board management by participation. Well, we continue to work towards peaceful self-governance or organisation in the home (and continue repeating the message to the residents that we aren't their gaolers). The journey continues (probably with more drama too!). We have welcomed 2 new girls and 2 new boys into the home in the last week. One boy has not returned home since Monday, just two days after joining the community. We hope he returns soon, safe and sound. Appreciation to all the Community Beyond staff and ALL the rest of you for supporting that part of our TEAM.

Things also have not been so smooth at Kids United Home, what with the chicken pox, with a boy staying away for a night, ongoing quarrels and associated tantrums, and some of the children's active curiosity about others' bodies. Over-enthusiastic volunteers, not-so-understanding schools, and less-cooperative-than-we-hoped-for parents are some daily challenges of that team. How, I often wonder, are we to reintegrate these children back to their families and communities within a year?

Well, I almost felt like a prophet when I quoted Charles Appelstein in my first letter and almost immediately, the team@Community Beyond experienced what he talked about - rough nights (or should that be good nights!). It is worth repeating:

"If you work at MacDonalds, you should expect to see hamburgers; and if you work in a setting with troubled, acting out kids you should expect to see ...... acting-out! But, unfortunately, most workers have trouble with this analogy. A good night at MacDonalds is when a lot of hamburgers were sold, yet a good night at a residential facility usually means minimal to no acting out. And that's not always the case. A kid's best day in residential care could be the day that he had three tantrums after hearing some terrible news - but in each situation he was treated with respect and was able to meaningfully talk about his situation and learn new coping skills. Sure, our job is to help kids make better decisions and improve their behaviour, but kids don't improve overnight. First, we need to hang in with them and establish trust. Rough nights will always be part of the package. Without them we don't get truly good ones."

James Harris Jr adds that "the greatest chance to impact change in troubled children is when a youngster is having behavioural difficulties. This is when the team can come together and discern how to best help the youth. It is through teaching children better ways to deal with their feelings, through more socially acceptable behaviour, that our work is accomplished."

Some of us may be feeling tired - and not just physically tired. Here's another quote from Charles Appelstein which I hope will lift your spirits:

"With at-risk children, there are no quick fixes, no shortcuts. To the contrary, these children require great patience, fortitude, sacrifice, and sustained love. Because they want to believe in us, they continually "test" us to see if we are worthy of their confidence, to make sure our actions support our words. When we stay true to our words, the children connect to us and, through this link, grow stronger.

That is what happened with Al, a man I recently met. After spending a decade as a businessman, Al discovered that the corporate world did not jibe with who he really was. Making a radical change, he took a job at a residential school for troubled kids. Two years into it, he still loved the work and knew he had found his true calling.

Around this time Billy, an angry and resistant twelve year old entered his programme. One Friday afternoon, Billy began acting out, whereupon Al decided to keep him after school to work through the problem. When school let out, Billy refused to speak and continued to act in a rude and belligerent manner.

'Billy, I'm going to keep you here until we talk about what is going on with you,' Al calmly asserted.

Billy scowled, laughed mockingly, then shot back: 'Go ahead, keep me here. I live here, you idiot. You're the one who goes home at three o'clock. I'll keep you here all night!'

Al replied: 'Billy, I love it here. Working with you guys is the best job in the world. I'm never going to leave. If I need to stay late tonight, that's okay. In fact, I've already called your unit and they'll be sending your dinner down in an hour.'

Billy grew silent. Soon afterward he began talking about his day and some of the pressure he was under.

Two years later, Al was ready to leave the programme. Used up and feeling as though he had nothing left to offer, he gave notice. On his last day on the job, Billy volunteered to help him move his things to the car. As they made their final trip to the parking lot, Billy suddenly stopped and looked him square in the eye.

'Do you remember that day a few years ago when you kept me after school?' he asked.

'Yes, I think so,' Al replied.

'You said you loved this job and would never leave. Why are you leaving?'

Al looked into Billy's eyes and saw heart-wrenching despair. After a few ponderous seconds, he announced, 'Put all the stuff back in my office.'

That was five years ago, and Al has been there ever since.

This story attests to the power of relationship. It reminds us of the degree to which troubled children want to believe in adults, and of how critical it is to stay the course with them. It is easy to get angry at a kid and act impulsively. It is equally easy to walk away from behaviours that push us away. Yet those behaviours are silent calls for help. When we listen for the messages and stay in control of ourselves, we begin to make a difference.
There is no such thing as a bad kid. Just bad luck ... and eventually, provided that we persevere, new, more promising circumstances."

Yours sincerely,

Back To Top ^

Living Tissue  08/06/2007

Over the past 2 weeks, our youths and children from different programmes were introduced to 'tissue' training. The 'tissue' is a large piece of cloth secured from a high point that serves the same purpose as a rope hanging from the ceiling in a school gym. Climbing the 'tissue' may be easier for those small in frame but it would still require a fair amount of body awareness and self-confidence from them. So, what was very satisfying for us was seeing the 'big and heavy' ones giving it an honest go even though they knew they were unlikely to succeed. This is also self-confidence and an indicator of the trust within the groups.

If it was just a couple of months ago, we are sure that in one of the groups, the big guy would have refused to participate, called the exercise childish and picked a fight with anyone who tried to persuade him to give it a go. Sometimes, when we are meeting these young people daily, we no longer see the efforts they have put in to improve themselves or to cooperate. Thankfully, Andrea our circus trainer who has been away for a while was super quick to notice the changes and complimented the young people for their excellent effort.

On Wednesday, a youth we shall call Jack spoke to 8 children aged 11 to 13 years old at Kids United. This was one of Jack's efforts to put things rights after a Family Group Conference (FGC) that dealt with his offending. He was charged for being in an illegal gaming house and the FGC was a mitigating factor that persuaded the judge to grant him probation even though he had gotten into trouble with the law before. Saras did one hell of a job keeping him out of institutional care because he had been on probation before and another offence would usually mean that Reformative Training was certain for him.

Jack shared that the past few years, he was involved in fights. He continually saw friends being beaten up and he always felt fear. He also spoke about the futility of belonging to gangs, and there was no point in picking a fight as someone was bound to get hurt. He advised that if one wanted to learn how to fight, learn in a proper way and use the skills in a competition so that one can win medals, instead of hurting someone.

Jack also told the kids about the importance of focusing on what one is good at, for example, soccer and becoming really good at it. He shared his experience of being picked for the national rugby team when he was in Primary 6 and getting the chance to travel to Perth. But he did not take up the opportunity as he could not read or write, and felt inferior to the kids from the other schools. He was genuinely afraid that he could not order from a menu. He regretted not pursuing rugby and dropping out of school.

Our children in Kids United were very receptive. One shared his experience of being chased by a gang at the Esplanade when he was out cycling with his friend at 2am in the morning. Another spoke very knowledgeably about 'probation' and 'RTC' as his brother is on probation. The tone was not one of boasting but more of reflective learning, so that was good.

Jack spoke from his heart and shared his feelings. Our Kids benefited and Jack's experience of preparing for the session forced him to reflect on his actions and the consequences his behaviour has had on himself and his family.

Whether it was the tissue training or the sharing session we have created a space for the young people we serve to experience a 'different way of being'. These young people experienced being good, being cooperative and in Jack's case, being a Mentor.

Enjoy your weekend & do join us for the Citi-Milk 'Trial' Run tomorrow at 9.30 am if you can : )
Gerard & Ranga

There's something about being with a group of people who become like family; that must be needed in society.
Jacqueline Bisset

Back To Top ^

Resourceful casework  20/04/2007

At Journey Beyond this week, participants listed 'resourcefulness' as a quality that would help us all do our jobs better. When asked to elaborate, many described resourcefulness as the ability to link our beneficiaries to resources or our ability to mobilise resources for our beneficiaries. These were valid definitions but it is very easy to be resourceful when there is an abundance of resources. Singapore being such an organised place, there are databases where all these resources are available and anyone with a little common sense and computer skills would be able to access them. So what do we really mean when we say 'being resourceful' is an important quality for us to have? Hence, I was quite glad that we finally came to the conclusion that a resourceful worker is one who can bring out or find the resources within a person even when the situation is seemingly hopeless.

Jane is 32 and a mother of a 3 year old child who is applying to be on the government's HOPE (Home Ownership Plus Education) Scheme. Her husband had just died of AIDS and she is HIV positive. When we met her, she was feeling really down and she told us that the monthly cocktail of drugs that the doctors have recommended amounted to $1000. There was no way she could afford that and perhaps her anger and disappointment towards her deceased husband was all that she had.

It was really a sad situation and everyone who was discussing the case were stumped by deep feelings of inadequacy. You see when we work on the basis that we have resources to give, we will come across situations like this where we don't. What we have to do is to develop skills where we can find the resources within Jane. She is still alive and while she is probably not in the state of mind to think about the future, she is still concerned about her daughter's current well being. She has a daughter that is oblivious to her health condition but loves her a whole lot and she demonstrates this by giving Jane a big hug everytime Jane looks a little sad. Jane still wants to live for her daughter and we can help her work towards being remembered as a good parent while she was around. These can be aspirations, wishes and wills we can cultivate in Jane; these can be Jane's resources and strengths. This is HOPE.

Enjoy your weekend.

“Our inner strengths, experiences, and truths cannot be lost, destroyed, or taken away. Every person has an inborn worth and can contribute to the human community. We all can treat one another with dignity and respect, provide opportunities to grow toward our fullest lives and help one another discover and develop our unique gifts. We each deserve this and we all can extend it to others.”-Anonymous

Back To Top ^

Connecting with young people  05/04/2007

A couple of days ago, I had the privilege of speaking with a 12 year old girl who admittedly had just joined a gang. I was told that she was usually stubborn, defiant and uncooperative. Before I approached her, I took a look at her written account of the day she 'signed-up' with the gang and went missing from our programme. She related how her first visit to the gang got her into an argument with the other girls and how she came out of a settlement talk late in the evening, unscathed but a little shaken.

My task was to get her to cooperate with an aunt who had offered to see to her longer-term care. It so happened that this was the latest adventure in her life and it would have been unreal to ignore it. Perhaps she was expecting me to chide her for her foolishness so when I enquired if the boys at the gang were good looking, she smiled coyly and let flow stories of love-rivalries between girls she knew and hinted that she visited the gang to check out the stories.

She was in a good mood and eventually, we moved on to discussing how she could do something nice for her aunt and we came up with the idea of a collage of photographs that would serve as a token of her appreciation as well as a family portrait to be displayed at home. She also told me that her aunt was the only person she really respected and would promise her in the presence of others that she would stay away from the gang if her aunt continued to look after her. When I debriefed the session, her caseworker told me that the girl was unusually cooperative and wondered what did I do

I am concerned that children and youths are putting themselves in the face of various risks when they associate with so called gangs. Many are very quickly identified by the police and if lucky, they end up with the Streetwise or Guidance Programmes instead of the justice system. However, we have to view these gang associations or memberships in perspective and not simply see every kid as a 'gangster'. Actually, when we get to know them better, we may find out that being a gangster was never on their minds when they walked into a gang but perhaps they were looking for friendships, excitement, fun and other teenage concerns.

Unfortunately, when someone comes to us identified as gang-member, we run the risk of responding to them as such. This would really be jumping the gun and not helpful for the helping relationship. I connected with this 12 year old by trying to understand what was going on with her when she went AWOL from us. I discovered that it was about boys, curiosity and other naughty teenage stuff.

Maybe when we cannot connect with young people, it is because we have grown too old to remember what fun it is to be a little naughty or perhaps we are too shy or uptight to acknowledge that we have a naughty side too. You don't?......how sad : )

Enjoy your long weekend!

Back To Top ^

Outreach work  24/03/2007

A couple of weeks ago a 12 year old boy contacted Chris, our Youth United Outreach Worker at Ang Mo Kio on her handphone at about 8 pm and told her that he had run away from home and needed help. Chris could only vaguely place his face as he was just a kid she recently met once. Anyway, she made her way to Macpherson Estate, located the chap among a bunch of other kids and eventually persuaded him to return with her to Hope Centre where we put him up for the night.

The kid was adamant that he did not want to go home but we managed to get the details out of him and kept the family informed of the entire situation. The family informed his school teachers and the next morning a Ministry of Education Counsellor and his teacher brought him home. The situation did not look very promising that morning as the kid was fuming as he left us and we thought that he would probably run away again the moment he got the chance.

Over the past 2 weeks, Chris connected with several family members and eventually worked out an arrangement for the boy to spend some time with his father on a regular basis. The father had been rather disconnected from his family for some time but has now started spending some time with his son. He brought his son to his work place and both father and son had a great time looking at how scrap metal was packed and recycled. Father may be only holding a modest job as a daily rated worker with a scrap metal collector but his son now describes him as cool.

Most of our programmes for children or youths are designed to attend to very specific purposes e.g. Streetwise and Guidance Programmes are for kids referred by the police and the work is carried out within a certain pre-defined framework. However, the 'smart' kids who do not get caught or those who shun structured activity are no less at risk and Youth United is our programme that literally meets these kids on their turf.

Our outreach teams are based at Ang Mo Kio, Ghim Moh/ Tanglin Halt and Bukit Ho Swee/Bukit Merah and at the moment, we are a street resource to about 300 youths. The majority of these youths initially shunned organised activity but through our 'friendship' they have been taking part in sports and other developmental activities enthusiastically. At Ang Mo Kio, a few of them are even considering our suggestion to join a youth committee at the Community Centre.

The cases our outreach colleagues have been managing are also those that schools and other centre-based agencies or programmes cannot reach. Despite the rather apparent risk factors such as dropping out of school, under-age drinking, late nights, unemployment and so forth, none of these youths would actually think they have a problem. Suggesting so would evoke a fiery protest from them. They would even organise their entire peer group to ostracise any adult that regards them as problematic. Hence, our outreach workers have to establish a street presence that comes across as non-threatening allies who are credible and trustworthy.

Last Friday, a whole bunch of youths from our different outposts went on a night hike passing through the old Bukit Timah Railway tracks and a couple of days before they all had a great time at an inter-outpost soccer tournament we ran. What heartened us was how these young people from different estates could come together in friendship and cooperation. It was not too long ago when they would have simply stared each other down and broken into a fist fight. Great job, Chris, Nick, Din, Adeline, Ryan and Yet for your many hours on the street, late into the night.

Enjoy your weekend!

The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile." - Alvin Toffler

Back To Top ^

Martial arts as engagement  09/03/2007

Children and youths from the different programmes were involved martial arts based programmes this week. The Enshin Karate School offers free lessons on Saturday mornings and the Streetwise Programme goes through the Rock and Water Programme on Friday evenings. Just wanted everyone to know that we have thought deeply and hard over the introduction of martial arts; firming up an appropriate philosophy and most importantly, appointing the right instructors who ensure that the lessons are conducted in a manner that brings about our desired outcome.

Our young people are a boisterous lot where aggression and bullying are not uncommon when they want to establish a pecking order within their groups. Often, what starts off as harmless teasing escalates into a fight as they are unable to see the likely consequences of their behaviours and actions. The desire to climb the pecking order clouds reasonable thinking and creates vulnerable egos that are easily bruised. Another outcome of such a mental state is forming a very unrealistic view of one's physical prowess which results in high-risk behaviours.

The desired outcome of engaging these young people in martial arts is for them to gain a realistic awareness of their physical prowess and to develop a maturity and belief system where they realise that the best form of self-defence is non-violence and the appreciation of the ill effects of violence. It sounds paradoxical but I would just like to share how I witnessed it being done.

A big oaf of a youth was sniggering half the time during a Rock and Water lesson and when he was invited to volunteer as a model to assist the instructor, he took the opportunity to attack the instructor without warning. Within a few seconds his cheek was on the floor and his arms firmly locked at his back. Instead of simply reprimanding the boy, there was an immediate debrief where the instructor spoke of the trust and mutual respect among trainees that was broken as well as the danger of impulsive action. The attacker was not belittled but the instructor gently asked him if he was ok and offered to apologise if he had hurt him. The group then discussed the dangers of the need for self-control and how dangerous it would have been if this had happened out of the classroom as someone facing the floor would usually have had his head kicked unconscious. The group reckoned that such or risk pain were not necessary.

There is a natural tendency for us to shield our children from risky situations but a small dosage of risk or pain as in the context of our martial arts classes, serves as an immunisation against riskier situations. What I just described was a sensational incident but during the lessons I saw the instructors constantly respecting the boys by speaking to them gently, showing them their weaknesses and in the process demonstrating the ill-effects of violence in the most visually explicit way. After the lessons I do not see boys behaving in macho fashion but rather boys in a contemplative mood. All's well for now but we remain vigilant that martial arts as a means of engagement continues to be a positive force.

Enjoy your weekend.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931) Lebanese-American Poet Philosopher & Artist

Back To Top ^

The act of seeing  23/02/2007

Several of our colleagues continued to organise discussions to hone their case management skills and many realised just how easily it is to form a closured or distorted view of a problem situation if one does not listen to the problem as told by the stakeholder. As professionals we have actually formed an unhelpful habit of diagnosing a problem based on acquired experiences and knowledge. This diagnosis is usually 'over-simplified' and usually comes out in a one-liner e.g. Tom has a school refusal problem or Tom has street-corner gang associations or Tom does not have a supportive home environment and so forth.

Such definitions may be helpful for a collective picture that enables us to mobilise resources to address a problematic situation but on the ground, every case is really different and must be managed in response to what each stakeholder in the case brings to the table. Always, when we take the time to listen carefully to each stakeholder, we will develop an overview of the situation that is very different from the presenting problem. More importantly, we will have a realistic view of what can or cannot be changed at that point in time. If we can do this well, we will not be barking up the wrong tree or banging our heads against the wall.

As helpers, we are often so enthusiastic about coming up with solutions but if we do not have an accurate picture of a problem situation, our solutions are off the mark anyway. In short, effective case management is not so much about finding solutions but about a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the problem situation and in our context, managing the Wills or Wishes of the different stakeholders in the best interest of the child or young person.

I am really glad that we are taking the case discussions seriously and working hard to our improve our skills. The cases we take on are difficult and we just need to keep on improving our skills if we are to make any meaningful headway.

I would also like to thank those who helped make the long Chinese New Year weekend a little more meaningful for some of our children and youths. Thanks Shaw for working hard to ensure that the children in our Kids United Home were reunited with their families over the holiday period. Thanks also for 'opening' your home for the youths at Community Beyond who could not go home. Thanks Kumaran for supporting the entrepreneurial efforts of a youth who set up a satay stall.

Finally, just a gentle reminder that our Patron's Chinese New Year event for our children and youths will be at Block 26 Jalan Klinik tomorrow from 3 to 5 pm. Do drop by if you can.

Enjoy your weekend.

“Do not conquer the world with force, for force only causes resistance. Thorns spring up when an army passes. Years of misery follow a great victory. Do only what needs to be done without using violence.”
Tao Te Ching

Back To Top ^

In the shelter of each other  20/09/2006

Our house-parents and community workers based at our residential facilities acquired their first aid certification from the Singapore Red Cross this week. I want to thank everyone who helped look after the children when these folks were tangled up in bandages and deep in thought over the basic anatomy and physiology of our main body systems.

The first aid training is another effort at enhancing our management of residential programmes. While we should continually enhance the professionalism of our service delivery we have to be mindful that residential programmes we run, no matter how homely they feel and look, are 'artificial' arrangements and are institutions. On a practical and realistic note, institutional care will be a necessary 'solution' for some time to come. However, our professionalism must take us beyond quality care and facility management. On the onset, we must be fully aware of the drawbacks and the abnormality of institutional care.

Sometimes, it seems like we are caught in a thankless no-win situation because when we are fantastic house-parents, we are 'defeating' the natural parents and making it 'difficult' for the residents to return to less favourable circumstances. Hence, we need the strength and wisdom to navigate constraints and expectations and remain helpful for the young residents under our care. It starts by acknowledging the 'abnormality' of our programme and consciously working towards 'normality' that is possible under the given circumstances.

During a meeting this week with the Prisons Service, the issue of creating a fostering programme for babies born in Prison was raised. The Prisons acknowledged that a baby cared for in the prison was not ideal but in our opinion, neither is a Foster Parenting Programme like they suggested, an ideal alternative. Mother and child bonding cannot be simply switched on upon request and perhaps the prison can see motherhood as an important aspect of rehabilitation.

One suggestion that surfaced was for the prison to partner a VWO to operate a small group home in the neighbourhood near where the mothers are incarcerated. In that way, the babies can visit their mothers daily while they live 'normally' in a regular neighbourhood. The small group home of course must be skilled to facilitate the eventual mother and child reunion. Oh... a related piece of good news is that the Ferrari Club will designate donations from their charity dinner on Wednesday towards our Kids United Home.

It is no easy task balancing punishment with rehabilitation and the Prison Service is continually soul searching, churning out enlightened programmes and seeking meaningful partnerships with organisations like us. They were meeting us because we are cooperating on a Restorative Care Programme for boys in the Reformative Training Centre that will begin the moment we clear the security concerns. Myrle, Rashid and PK were at the RTC this week sorting out the kind of adventure training equipment we are allowed to bring into the Prison.

Our team-mates executing the Restorative Care Programme reaches the inmates at the treatment phase and journeys with them till they are back into our community as responsible persons.You will hear more about our progress in the weeks ahead.

Enjoy your weekend!

Back To Top ^

“So what will you do?”  24/02/2006

We have been having our monthly case discussion involving case workers who are involved in direct work the past two years or so. As we grow, the number of colleagues attending the case discussion also grow and at times I find it quite challenging trying to think of ways to make the discussion effective and meaningful for everyone.

Well, as usual, I stick to my basic working principle i.e just do it cos' impossible is nothing!!!

Anyway, despite the challenge mentioned earlier, it has been very heartening to see how our staff from the different teams have come together to spend 2-3 hours, putting our heads together to think of ideas on how to help the case worker help child/ren or family. For those who have the opportunity to present their cases, they have found it helpful cos' they realised they are not alone in the struggle and that it is often better to have many heads than just one head to think through the cases - even though if not managed properly, too many heads can lead to further confusion.... so far we haven't reach the confusion stage yet, or am I in denial? For those of us not presenting, every discussion have offered us something new to take home with us.

As for Annabelle, who presented her case yesterday, she felt less overwhelmed and she commented that before the case discussion, she knew she has to put the children in KU. But the case discussion has helped her to think further as to "what then after they are being put in KU?" i.e how to ensure they are regular in KU.

So far we have been using TO-LO-PO-SO-GO as a guide for our thinking process. We also try to incorporate some other trainings e.g ART, strengths-based perspective and yesterday, Choice Theory to guide our intervention plans. I am aware of the fact that we have several new faces in our teams who may not be familiar with these theories. Not to worry too much, training will be provided for you and you will have lots of opportunities to practice them later!!!

Anyway, the discussion went further after we went back to our respective offices/destination. A few of us spoke about spending more time on the "how" bit after deciding on the "SO". This will involve putting into practice the skills we have learned through our training etc... Shaw informed me this morning that James suggested we do small group discussion on the "PO" so that each one can contribute. Thanks James for the suggestion!

Shaw also informed me that she too had a fruitful discussion with Shaz last night and she informed me this morning that they both came with another new model called W-W-G-D. She asked me if I have any idea what that model is. Have any one of you heard of it? Anyway, it is a model very much practice in Beyond and it is called "What Will Gerard Do" theory!!! I went on to say it also means "What Will Gloria Do"!!!

Have a good and restful weekend!

Back To Top ^