Juvenile Justice in Schools

Welcome Circles: creativity and those who care   02/07/2010
Strengthening Dave’s resilience   02/04/2010
Seeing students as part of the solution as not as the problem   05/03/2010
Treating children as children   05/02/2010
With a bit of persistence and restorative values   08/01/2010
The Bridging Camp   01/01/2010
Generosity in young people   04/12/2009
Going beyond cynicism: John & Keith   20/11/2009
Educators who act with authenticity   06/11/2009
Through the looking-glass of an inclusive school environment   04/09/2009
Looking for wise solutions   17/04/2009
Carol’s story   06/02/2009
Grace’s story   02/01/2009
Restorative justice principles in schools   07/11/2008
Teens in crisis: Mandy’s story   03/10/2008
Education as a home-school partnership   29/08/2008
Timeout: being a part of the solution   18/07/2008
Andy’s story   02/05/2008
Teachers and the Circle Process   04/04/2008
Pearl’s Circle Process   21/03/2008
Restorative practice as a compass   07/03/2008
Youth and resiliency   01/02/2008
Creating inclusive schools   04/01/2008
The Talking Circle   07/09/2007
The Restorative Discipline Approach   07/09/2007
The Collaborative Competency Approach   03/08/2007
Discipline and Punishment   06/06/2007
Jane’s Family Group Conference   05/04/2007
Making others more   02/03/2007
Being educationally inclusive   09/02/2007
The door to every schoolhouse   12/01/2007
Going Beyond BPC   05/01/2007
Education by example   01/09/2006

Welcome Circles: creativity and those who care  02/07/2010

Students who challenge our authority need us to be tougher at not giving up on them than they are at pushing our buttons and making us angry. They need to know that we welcome them, warts and all! - Allen N. Mendler & Richard L. Curwin on Creating a Caring Classroom

Dear Educator
This week, more than 50 teachers in a primary school conducted a welcome circle for their students. Their initial apprehensions about the circle eating into curriculum time were allayed during a Circle Process training session. Their Head of Department for Pupil Welfare encouragingly told them "Let's not overwhelm the students with curriculum and homework on the first day of school. Let's really be glad to have them back and let them feel it. I'm sure you also want to know what they did over the holidays and they will definitely want to know what we did."

The welcome circles varied, some were simple while others were a little more elaborate but every teacher was happy with the way their students participated. The simplest welcome circle had students in a circle turning to the person to the left and right of  them. Students then put their hands on each other's shoulder, addressed each other by name and said "Welcome back to school!" The gesture did not fail to bring a smile to any student and teachers noticed that the mood in class was immediately a lot more relaxed and supportive. 

After this welcome gesture, some teachers continued by asking the students to share about their holiday experiences. These teachers reported that once the students were comfortable, they started sharing personal information about their home, their parents and so forth which was important information for them to follw-up during their 1 to 1 sessions with their students. What these teachers particularly liked was how the usually shy ones also spoke up with the support of classmates.

There were also a few other teachers who gave out self-addressed postcards to their students after the session. Students were requested to pen their thoughts about the Welcome Circle on the post card and drop it into the post box after that. A couple of others gave out welcome notes to their students.

It seemed to us that creativity comes naturally to those who care. Some other teachers used a bag of chocolate/candy as the talking piece. After sharing, each pupil would dip into the bag for teacher's welcome back treat. One teacher even had 2 talking pieces; one for questions and the other for sharing. Well, it appeared to us that she doubled the welcome :)  

The teachers of the upper primary levels went further as their students were more vocal and mature. They followed up the 'welcome' and 'holiday' rounds by asking their students to speak about the value of sincerity which was the school's value of the month chosen by their Principal.

We were also glad that  some teachers decided to facilitate the Welcome Circle with the different classes they taught and the following day as well although that was not the plan.  The HOD for Pupil Welfare went around asking students how their first day back at school went and  many immediately smiled and said that it was different and they felt that the teachers really cared for them.

We will be continuing to help the teachers of this school hone their Circle Process facilitation skills but success will always be the result of teachers who really care. To quote the HOD "This is a way for teachers to show the students that they are not just a teacher who focuses on homework and studies but a teacher who is concerned for their well being and wants to get to know them."

Gerard Ee

P.S.  More suggestions for creating a caring classroom can be found in Chapter 6 of Discipline with Dignity for Challenging Youths - Allen N. Mendler & Richard L. Curwin

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Strengthening Dave’s resilience  02/04/2010

Life is not so much a matter of holding good cards but sometimes of playing a poor hand well. – Robert Louis Stevenson

Dear Educator
Dave, 16 years old returned to school this month joining a Secondary 3 Normal Academic Class. He is optimistic that he will do well and more importantly believes that he will be strong enough to not let difficulties and disappointments derail his education. Dave and his siblings moved in with their father when his parents divorced. He was 7 years old then but he remembers being really angry that he could no longer see his mother everyday. He loved both his father and his mother but yet he could not be with both of them.

Dave felt very awkward whenever his friends at school spoke about their families and asked about his. It was as though his family was not normal and he had contributed to his parents divorcing. Also, there was not much happening at home and while it was initially interesting listening to his friends’ family weekend stories, it was no fun over time when he could not join in. Over time, Dave began feeling insecure and unimportant.

2 years ago, Dave’s mother managed to get a flat of her own. Dave and his siblings decided to move in with her as they wanted to get to know their mother better.  Dave really wanted things to work out and even took on a part-time job to supplement the family income. However, this also meant that there were days that he was just too tired to go to school. He found the well-meaning inquires of concern from his teachers intimidating and rationalised that since he was causing the school so much trouble he might as well leave.

About a year ago, our youth outreach workers befriended Dave near his home and eventually persuaded him to spend his free time at a youth centre.   Dave got interested in helping out at the centre’s café and was really thrilled that he was given the trust to utilise the facility to whip up whatever he fancied.  Now, Dave cooks a mean Spaghetti Bolognese and feels really pleased when the other youths refer to him as the Chef.  The tasty meals he prepares have given him an experience of mastery while the opportunities to make decisions in the kitchen have strengthened his sense of independence. One decision that Dave is particular proud of though is his decision to return to school.

Dave and his siblings spent much time at the youth centre and by participating in various activities together; they started discovering more about themselves and each other. This strengthened their bond and sense of belonging as a family. Today, Dave wants to give back the generosity he feels he had received at the youth centre. He is working on a project to prepare a meal for elderly residents in a rental housing area.

The youth centre worked at developing Dave’s resilience guided by a model called the Circle of Courage. The Circle of Courage is a model of looking at youth resilience. Larry Brendto, Martin Brokenleg and Steve Van Brockern created this model by combining contemporary resilience theories, education and youth work as well as principles of traditional child rearing. It identifies 4 universal needs: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity and resilience within young people can be nurtured by attending to these 4 basic needs.

We are using the model to survey the resilience of youths in Singapore and we hope your school will be able to participate. The results from one secondary school revealed that a higher proportion of Sec 2s indicated they felt more stress than their peers in other levels and cited reasons such as school work, peer pressure and lack of money. In comparison with other streams, fewer Normal Technical (NT) students (53%) indicated that they trust people in school.  These are just a couple of key findings and teachers have told us that the results are helpful for the planning of relevant programme for their students.

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Seeing students as part of the solution and not as the problem  05/03/2010

Sometimes we must look beyond the facts to see the truth. – Paul Filipek

Dear Educator
We were very heartened by the commitment demonstrated by a secondary school towards helping 10 students remain in school. As we walked into a meeting to discuss how we could support these students, we were greeted by the Principal and 23 other teachers. “If only these 10 students could see how many teachers were actually concerned about them,” we thought to ourselves “surely they cannot say that the school does not care.”   We learnt that the students were disrupting classes with bad behaviours and language and the teachers were concerned that if the situation persisted, these students may be eventually expelled from school. 

We also learnt that various classroom management strategies were employed but they were always only helpful for a short period. The teachers sounded discouraged and so we were extremely impressed when they responded energetically to our suggestion to begin by getting a better understanding of where the students were coming from. There is meaning behind all behaviours and problem solving begins by understanding what the meaning of the behaviours is or what those behaviours are attempting to achieve.

A Talking Circle was used to facilitate a meaningful conversation. The form teachers and the students were part of a circle which discussed the meaning of ‘Respect”.  In line with the theme, a boomerang with the idiom “What goes around comes around” written on it was used as the talking piece. Participants were only allowed to speak if they had possession of the talking piece. Hence the talking piece regulated the conversation and facilitated active listening.

After a short explanation on how it worked and what it was trying to achieve, the students took to the Talking Circle immediately. They kept to the ground rules and a key issue that surfaced was feeling disrespected by what the form teacher regarded as harmless teasing for rapport building.  Several students mentioned that they did not like the way their teacher joked about their appearance. This was an important revelation to the teacher – non-cooperation was a response to feeling disrespected. He apologized and acknowledged that his friendliness could be construed as sarcasm.  The teacher was an expatriate and he humbly accepted that he could have been more sensitive to the different cultural mores.

The positive experience of the Talking Circle was a breakthrough for both students and teachers that will enable them to continue strengthening the teacher-student relationship. After this very first experience, the teacher told us he was most surprised by the cooperation from the students.  He asked us what the secret to such success was.  We did not have an answer for him then but on hindsight we would say that in this instance, the secret was acknowledging the students as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

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Treating children as children  05/02/2010

A child seldom needs a good talking to as a good listening to.  If we would listen to our kids, we'd discover that they are largely self-explanatory.  ~Robert Brault

Campland is an adventure based experiential learning programme we do in Primary Schools that is aimed at strengthening the teacher-student relationship. Teachers spend 2 days with their classes participating in various exercises and also go away with some useful routines that they could use on their own.  Last month we attended to 320 students from 2 different schools and both experiences revealed that students really valued the interest teachers took in their well being. “I care about this class and I am going to miss all of you when you leave’ was a simple affirmation from a teacher that was met with applause from the students.   It showed that small gestures like this mattered to the students. I suppose on the other hand, a teacher would also appreciate knowing that he or she was appreciated.

During an exercise named “Silent Statement” which is akin to ‘Blow Wind Blow”, a teacher bravely requested, “Those who do not like me, please change places.”  A few students bravely did so but the bravest person was still the teacher who then sat down with the entire group to dwell into the issue openly.  This teacher learnt that the students found him rigid, closed to new ideas and distrustful of them. It was an admirable gesture of humility that facilitated honest communication within the class and eventually all students felt that their views of the teacher were unbalanced. They then started pointing out that they also liked the teacher for his concern, his patience and his ever willingness to help them understand the lessons. This teacher told us he left the session energised to continue being the best teacher he could be.

Perhaps an ongoing challenge for all of us who are constantly in contact with young people is to remember that children or youths are not little adults; they are to be treated as children and not by adult standards. After a full day and with the pressures of adult concerns like timelines, work goals and responsibilities; we expect young people to understand our logic. The truth is they usually cannot simply because they have not lived as long as us.  It is more likely that we will be able to empathize with their difficulties rather then they empathizing with ours.    Hence, we must find ways for them to express themselves and communicate what matters to them. This usually means utilizing means of communication that may be less direct or literal.  Hence, sports, music or art are important aspects of working or ‘communicating’ with young people.

During Campland, we introduced a Family Drawing exercise where the children were given the freedom to portray their family in a way they felt was most appropriate.  A boy with 20 cousins filled the large part of his paper with 20 stick men as he felt that this was the part of his family that he felt most connected to.   Another child portrayed his family as tombstones next to each other.  He explained that it was his way of showing that his family would stick together till the end.  Yet another drew his father as a giant and the other members of his family running away from this giant.  He explained that he had invented a magic potion that turned his father into a giant and now he had to look for the antidote.

What were these children actually trying to tell us?  Well, it is not our job to diagnose them based on these drawings but the drawings are definitely important communication that we need to respond to and we need to keep the ‘conversations’ alive. These ‘conversations’ should lead towards developing a purposeful relationship that students experience as healing, nurturing or educating.
The teachers and the school counsellors who were present appreciated the exercise. The teachers told us that having a family background perspective helped them pause to view their students as children in need of support rather than just children in need of an education.

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The Bridging Camp  01/01/2010

The aim of education is the knowledge not of fact, but of values.
-Dean William R. Inge

Happy New Year! Last month we facilitated a ‘bridging’ camp for some students who were frequently absent from school. The school called it a ‘bridging’ camp because they were hopeful that the camp could bridge these students back in time for the new school year.  It was a camp where teachers and parents had a part to play as troubled students need caring adults around them.

During the first activity on the second day, we realized that we did not have our camera with us. We remembered that we had left it on a pile of mattresses on the opposite site of the room after the previous evening’s activity. However when we got to the mattresses, the camera was not there. The students looked at us indifferently as we searched for it.

When we got back to the students, we told them that we had misplaced our camera and sought their help to locate it. “Search us lor!” one of the students uttered with a tinge of defiance. The other students then told us that in such a situation, problem solving would mean a bag and body search of all present which usually never produced the missing item anyway.

We added that the camp will be disrupted and all present will have a sour taste in their mouths as a search implies that people in the room are suspected of being thieves. This cannot be good for building trust between them and the school or building trust among themselves.

We then sat every one down and our colleague who was minding the camera articulated her plight. “Firstly, the camera is not mine. It saddens me that I lost something a friend had entrusted me with. In a way I did not honour the trust my friend had placed in me to look after her property well.”  Our colleague then added “Next, the camera is expensive and I can only repay my friend in monthly instalments meaning that my friend and I will continue to be inconvenienced for some months.” In sum, our colleague explained “Most importantly, it is the photos in the camera that I really wish to recover as I was planning to create a slide show at the end of the camp where your families will be present.”

We left it as that and proceeded with the camp as planned. That afternoon on an outing several of the students came by to speak to our colleague who lost the camera.  It looked as thought the students were trying to console her. She was never ‘alone’ and my colleague had a ‘busy’ time. Besides trying to keep up with the conversations, she attended to a student who was having her menstruation as well as an elderly stranger with a sprained ankle whom the students had brought to her attention.

When we returned to camp, my colleague found the misplaced camera in her bag. We then gathered everyone and thanked them for their assistance and their courage in doing the right thing.

Some may say that the offender(s) got away scot free and justice was not done. We would say that the scales of justice need to balance the rehabilitation of the offender and the needs of the victim. The space or holding environment that was intentionally created facilitated justice because it provided the offender(s) the opportunity to learn and rectify a mistake and the victim’s harm was also addressed. Young people in their formative years are prone to making mistakes and if we can see these mistakes as teachable instead of punishable moments, we stand a chance of facilitating their development. In this case, we brought out their compassion for those who have been harmed and their courage to do the right thing.

We wish you a year filled with the joy of many teachable moments.

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With a bit of persistence and restorative values  08/01/2010

The supervisor of a student care centre was furious with a child that we had placed there. In no uncertain terms, she requested a meeting with us and it sounded like she was going to hand the child back to us.  We anticipated a shelling from her, so we were thinking hard how to rescue the situation as we made our way down to her office. As we were getting an earful of how disruptive our child had been, we also got a sense that perhaps the supervisor was not furious because she had no patience for such children but because she was feeling helpless. Perceiving that people actually care but perhaps lack the resources or support to do so, was an important first step towards problem solving.

We apologised for not anticipating that this child would have trouble fitting into the routine of the centre and asked for an elaboration of his disruptive behaviours. As the discussion continued, we put ourselves in the child’s shoes and we gathered that he was feeling isolated and disconnected from the Centre. We realised that this child had no friends within the centre and many of his antics were clumsy attempts at befriending.

We then shared a little about restorative practices and the supervisor requested that we work with her teachers to run a series of exercises aimed at helping the children in her Centre develop relationships and build friendships. So next week we will be working at this student care centre, and perhaps the lesson learnt is that with some patience and empathy, confrontations can turn out to be collaborations.

Enjoy your weekend.

 “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins. Not through strength, but through persistence.”- A Chinese saying

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Generosity in young people  04/12/2009

“He who cannot give anything away cannot feel anything either” - Friedrich W. Nietzsche.
With much goodwill in the air, festive seasons seem like wonderful opportunities to encourage a sense of generosity among our students but often, the festivities tend keep young people focused only on themselves. Marianne Williamson, an author commented that “Americans aren’t starving for what they don’t have but rather for what they won’t give.”A comment that is perhaps applicable to us or just about anyone who is not living in poverty.

We believe that cultivating a sense of generosity among students is an important aspect of preparing them to become adults who will contribute towards the well being of our society.  A sense of generosity is not just giving away possessions to the needy when we don’t need them but it is truly present when we give something we value to another. This usually means giving away our time, energy, efforts or something that we are attached to or find very attractive.

Recently, a group of NT students who participated in our social circus workshops this year helped us by performing at a donor’s event. They did so because the funds raised will help needy children receive daily care and help with their school work.  A member of the audience was so impressed with their effort that at the end of the evening, he gave them a touch screen mobile phone he had won during the lucky draw. There were 6 of them but only one mobile phone. After assuring them that we will honour the donor’s request for them to have the phone, we decided to let them sort it out by themselves.

None of them had a touch screen phone and from their “oohs & ahs”, it was obvious that they found the phone very attractive. However, after everyone had held the phone in their hands, the group decided to give it to Halim, the only person who did not have a mobile phone. Their logic was simply “Halim does not have a mobile phone so he needs it most.” These 14 year olds impressed us with their sense of generosity as they could have sold it off and split the profits 6 ways.

Another group of students that impressed us with their generosity were 3 classes from a secondary school who spontaneously, decided to organise a food fair to raise money for the Compassion Fund. Some baked cakes, some cooked and others persuaded their friends and teachers to buy the food. These students willingly gave their time and energy outside school hours.

Generosity is needed all the time and giving should never just be seasonal. To help nurture a sense of generosity among students especially those facing challenges in school or at home, we will be very happy to help them realise any  ideas that they may have which would benefit others. We will be able to link them to resources such as adult mentors, training opportunities and funds that would help them experience the joy of giving.  Please contact me if you would like to explore this further.

May the joy of giving and the gift of compassion always be with you.

Juvenile Justice 1001
1 Jan 2010

The aim of education is the knowledge not of fact, but of values.
-Dean William R. Inge

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Going beyond cynicism: John & Keith  20/11/2009

The school term closed today and by coming up tops in their studies, 2 of our teenagers advocated for themselves in a way better than anything we could have done. John and Keith are teens in a primary school which is an awkward situation to be in. Yet, they persevered and during the year-end prize presentation ceremony in their respective schools yesterday, they collected 6 awards between them.  

John and Keith were not ‘partners-in-crime’ but both were missing from home for long periods,  described as being addicted to inhalants and computer games, self-destructive, disrespectful, aggressive  and  in short, delinquents who needed to be disciplined.  You can imagine that when we tried to reinstate them back to school, they were not exactly welcomed with open arms. Credit to the principals who gave them a chance but our partnership with the schools was initially tensed and our work was not only about providing a holding environment for these teens but in a sense, a holding environment for the schools who were eying them like a hawk.

Early this year, when John was found to be spending time in the school premise with his classmates after school, we were accused of being lax in our supervision and were instructed by the school to bring him back to our premise immediately. At first, we tried to explain that we had intended for John to remain in school so that he could get reconnected with his community and live life just like anyone his age. It was also our way of nurturing his independence and facilitating a mutually respectful relationship with him but when we were told to “cut the crap” we realised immediately that it would do John no good if we stood our ground.

Creating the holding environments for both schools initially meant doing as we were told. It was only over time that we were able to intervene in little ways that enabled us to develop a relationship with the school that leaned towards mutual trust and respect. Today, I would not say that these schools trust us completely but at least they cannot deny that by giving John and Keith a chance, they have nurtured their potential.

Sadly, many of us tend to view the people we serve with a sense of cynicism.  Teens like John and Keith are leopards that do not change their spots; someone seeking financial assistance is looking for a handout; someone who can’t hold down a job is choosy or simply does not have a work ethic; a young offender appealing for a second chance is trying to pull wool over our eyes. The list goes on. Call me naïve if you must but we usually see what we want to see and people usually become what we call them.

In our sector, our job is to help people with difficulties move towards more favourable situations and we tend to do it by prescribing a formula.  When the formula does not produce the helper’s desired result, the cynicism kicks in. I have been at this for 27 years and if problem solving was simply about a formula, I would have left a long time ago as I would have found the work most unchallenging.  Moreover, why spend every day with a bunch of losers who are out to fleece me?  After 27 years of service, I want to assure everyone who is reading this that the work is life giving because each and every one that comes our way is a teacher who will teach us something about ourselves, something about others, something about our world that we did not know and the problems we can’t seem to solve simply teach us something known as humility.

Enjoy your weekend.

“In the end we shall have had enough of cynicism and scepticism and humbug and we shall want to live more musically.” – Vincent van Gogh

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Educators who act with authenticity  06/11/2009

A teacher was getting a little irritated with a group of boys who were once again dilly-dallying even though their classmates had already gathered as instructed. “Just give me 5 minutes to deal with them” he told a colleague but then decided to hold back when this colleague suggested that they try something different.  When the boys joined the group, this other teacher listened patiently to their explanations before responding that their reasons though understandable, did not take away the fact that by keeping their classmates waiting, the programme could not begin. After a few moments one of the boys apologized to the group and said that since he kept everyone waiting for 10 minutes, he will do 10 push-ups as a gesture of apology. The others followed suit and the programme resumed.

This Secondary 3 Normal Technical Class had spent the last 2 hours participating in an outdoor exercise led by an allied educator. Their teachers and the Head of Department (HOD) joined them as they wanted to impress on the class that the school valued them. The school was using curriculum time for a series of experiential learning exercises to close the year on a positive and meaningful note for these students who had a reputation of being quite “challenging’.” The class was re-grouping after a break to debrief the activity and to reflect on their year.

The HOD set the tone with his honesty. He told the class that the morning had been a learning experience for him as he found the experiential learning exercise a little too “chaotic.”  On several occasions he was tempted to stop the activity and to reprimand some students for their inappropriate behavior but was glad that he did not do so. He then praised 2 boys for being considerate and helpful towards a classmate who was “slower”; adding that he was really impressed with their patience. The boys returned the compliment spontaneously and said that it was the first time they had seen their HOD happy. They were glad that “HOD was playing with them and not just scolding them.”

Sometimes such conversations are awkward and would even come across to the students as an exercise “in going through the motions.”  However on this occasion the conversation reached a meaningful level of authenticity because the adults were authentic. As the conversation progressed, the class was asked to identify something they did during the year that they were not proud of.  The class shared they were not proud of their results and the fact they had done some things to anger their teachers.

The HOD participated by sharing 2 things that he was not proud of. Firstly, when some teachers spoke ill of Normal Technical students, he did not defend the students and secondly, he did not do enough to help a student when he initially got into trouble with the law. This student has now reoffended and is in bigger trouble.

The students were touched but surprised by the HOD’s sincerity and did not quite know how to respond. After a few irrelevant comments, a student shared that he was grateful that the HOD could see what they were experiencing. He always felt that teachers treated Normal Technical students differently but did not talk about it to any teacher because he believed teachers will only defend teachers. He added that while the HOD was strict, he never looked down on the Normal Technical students.

The conversation continued honestly and ended on a positive note as students thanked the teachers for their time and pledged to continue working hard in the New Year.  

A conversation goes sometimes into personal things and that's nicer. You look to each other and you have a different picture, you get into a relationship. – Maximillian Schell

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Through the looking-glass of an inclusive school environment  04/09/2009

School takes a break for a week from tomorrow and it will certainly be a well deserved break for Teck Ghee a 14 year old boy, who has had quite a ride in school the past year. Teck Ghee came to us in March last year on the brink of being expelled from school He was always getting into fights with other students and was extremely defiant towards his teachers. Thus, he was suspended from school and his grandmother who cares for him was advised by the school to file for a beyond parental control order.

For more than a year, we attempted to heal the relationships Teck Ghee had with his school, his friends and his family but our efforts had no lasting impact. He continued to break the school rules and his relationship with family members was lukewarm at best. When he was suspended from school, we would ensure that he continued to receive and submit his homework. We  got him a volunteer tutor and got him to participate in various educational programmes  However, every time he returned to school, he got suspended again after a couple of weeks.

At home we facilitated various opportunities for him to spend meaningful time with his grandmother, sister and other relatives. A movie outing, a meal at the hawker centre, observing the Tai Chi class at the Community Centre and so forth. From our perspective, these events did not look very encouraging as family members appeared rather awkward being together. However, we were consoled that at least we were able to delay the family from going to the court to file a beyond parental control order.

This year after the June holidays, when Teck Ghee was given the opportunity to return to school, he responded by being the model student. It was then that we realized that the little things we facilitated did add up. Teck Ghee told us that the volunteer tutor helped him reflect on his situation;  he realized that he badly wants to get an education and to achieve success. He also valued the support from his family; an aunt accompanying him to his medical appointments, his elder sister being less impatient, his grandmother less naggy and he attributes these to be a result of those awkward family outings we had facilitated.

The school played an important part too as they felt that to help Teck Ghee they had to move beyond punishment.  They started considering that the boy's chronic ear infection could have something to do with his problems. Immediately, they arranged for him to sit in the front of the class so that he could hear better. Also, the teachers always remembered to check with him during class if he could hear and understand what was being taught. The school then also accepted that Teck Ghee mainly got into fights because he was cruelly teased for the pus that  oozed out of his ears.

This term, Teck Ghee is beginning to enjoy school again. He cannot remember the last time he felt this way and is now hopeful he can really make something out of his life. This would not have happened if we had simply asked what school rules have been broken and not who has been hurt? Who were the offenders and not what are their needs? What do these offenders deserve rather than what is our responsibility towards them?

Enjoy your weekend
Amend legislation disallowing parents from filing complaints and court proceedings against children because they are ‘beyond parental control’. This often leads to the child being institutionalised in homes for juvenile delinquents. -
Article 12 of the UN Committee's concluding observations on the State of Children's Rights in Singapore

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Looking for wise solutions  17/04/2009

2 of our colleagues were in a Principal's office having a discussion about a boy who was being referred for residential care when the Principal suddenly shot a question at them which was not quite related to the boy. "Why is it that you have long hair?' she asked our male colleague. In a matter of fact way, our colleague calmly provided 3 reasons.

Firstly to have some balance in his life he had music as a hobby. He elaborated that during his free time, he would sing at events or at a club and the long hair helped him look the part The Principal smiled a little upon hearing this and our colleague continued by adding that secondly, as a youth worker, the way he looked helped put young people whom he was meeting for the first time at ease. Most of the young people meeting him for the first time would have been sent to him because they were in some kind of ’trouble’. Hence, they would often come to the meeting adopting a defensive or even hostile demeanour but upon meeting an 'authority' figure with long hair, they loosen up and their curiosity is evoked which then makes it easier for developing rapport and a helping relationship.

The third reason, our colleague provided was that his appearance serves as a thermometer for the climate of openness in a school. He explained that whenever he walked into a school, he would note how the teachers and other staff treated or looked at him. These impressions would give him some idea of the unspoken concerns of the school that he may have to look out for. “Oh really?” the Principal replied with mock incredulity and everyone in the office broke into spontaneous laughter. The Principal then explained that she asked because some of her teachers had expressed that they were not comfortable having a man with long hair walk around the school. So in a way, she was quite amused that the third reason had a ring of truth to it.

I am sharing this story not because I support or approve of long hair but I wanted to stress the need for addressing differences and confronting the real issues at hand if we are to be of genuine service to the young people we serve. This Principal and our colleagues went on to have a very meaningful discussion about residential care and the boy concerned. The Principal shared that she was rather troubled when she referred the boy for residential care. She kept questioning herself if she was actually doing the right thing as going into care could actually be more damaging for the boy’s future. Hence, she personally visited Kids United Home and while she was reassured by what she saw, she then wondered if it would be a difficult place for a child to leave since it appeared so comfortable.

Our colleagues were really grateful for the Principal’s insight and genuine concern for her student. She was not simply looking for a quick solution but a wise one that also took into consideration the unintended ill-effects of the proposed solution. As our colleagues discussed the stabilising and healing benefits of a ‘comfortable’ environment, a partnership between the school and us was being forged.

Often in our attempts to be helpful, we are efficiently referring the people we serve to various professional services; blindly assuming that it would be in their best interest do so or that we are doing our job. Sure, we should share the load and garner as much support as we can but do honestly reflect if we are really just passing the buck. Our job is about getting people back on their feet and supporting them as they regain their strength and perhaps, learn new ways of doing things. This is a task that requires a fair amount of effort and responsibility if we are to stay the course. It would also require a huge dose of humility and maturity because we need to respond proportionately to the strand of hair that may occasionally get into our eyes.

Enjoy your weekend.


Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible -- the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family – Virginia Satir

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Carol’s story  06/02/2009

How we treat our best students shows our aspirations; how we treat our most challenging students shows our values. - Allen N. Mendler, co-author of Discipline with Dignity for Challenging Youth

Dear Educator
From October to December last year, Carol 14 years old, was getting to know her Dad, uncle and grandfather. It was the first time that Carol was living with her father and we visited them every now and then to see how things were going. It was a new experience for all of them and occasionally Dad or Carol would call us to keep us informed of some disagreement they had or simply to share how their day went.

Carol had spent several years of her life in residential and foster care and this was an opportunity that meant the world to her. "I don't want to lose my father, I must not get into trouble" became her mantra and we could see that she was really trying. Whenever we dropped by, she was either helping out with the housework or on some crossword puzzles which her Dad had purchased for her.

On the first day of school, Dad visited Carol's form teacher after school and was quite proud to hear that Carol was offered the job of being the class monitor. The teacher added that she was very impressed with Carol's positive attitude and felt this appointment would acknowledge her leadership abilities. The security staff at the gate had also told Dad that he was pleasantly surprised by Carol's polite and cooperative demeanour. The security staff commented that a father's love made the difference.

Carol accepted the job of Class Monitor but after 2 weeks, she disappeared from school and from her home. After 4 days, her father located her at a playground. She was unkempt, defiant and kept repeating that she wanted to be institutionalised at the Singapore Girls' Home. She eventually went home with her father but the next day, we learned from the school that several students had complained about her bullying behaviours.

We do not condone Carol's bullying behaviours and Carol must realise that there are always consequences to her actions. At some point, these consequences would impact her life and her future quite drastically. It would be unfortunate but there is no running away from the fact that she has to accept personal responsibility for her misbehaviours. However, Carol is someone whom we would describe as a youth-in-pain. She is one of many that we encounter in the course of our work and as we try to offer perspectives about who she is, we run the risk of coming across as bleeding hearts who are explaining away her misbehaviours.

Anyway, we are going to risk it because these perspectives provide a door into Carol's world and others like her. It gives us clues how we can be helpful to youths-in-pain and gives us hope that these young people are not beyond help. Here are some common traits:

1. The lack of positive adult role models
This results in the tendency to reject authority, the harbouring of deep anger, the difficulty in forming relationships and a struggle when expressing oneself.

2. The familiarity of failure and the sense of being abandoned
The brings about a tendency to fear success and to give up on oneself.

3. The lack of hope and a sense of purpose.
This encourages extreme behaviours and not planning for tomorrow.

4. The feeling of powerless with few positive options.
This leads to a tendency to rebel in unhealthy ways.

A youth-in-pain seeks relief from the discomfort he is experiencing but often through behaviours and solutions that are problematic in themselves. With support, they can find more healthy ways of dealing with their pain but their progress will often be filled with highs and lows.

Carol's current situation has put her at risk of being returned to institutional care as her recent behaviours appear 'unmanageable or at-risk to her well-being. We are hoping this would not happen as she has been cooperating with her 'new found' family and trying to build a normal life together.

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Grace’s story  02/01/2009

Discipline is a process of teaching, not of coercion. It seeks to involve youth in learning social responsibility and self-control. Discipline is impeded by the unilateral exercise of adult authority and control.
- taken from Reclaiming Youth at Risk by Larry K.Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg & Steve Van Bockern

When Grace was angry, you would know. To keep the peace, she decided to stay away from school. However, her 'peace efforts' would disqualify her from taking her year-end examinations. Her Vice-Principal noticed this and referred her to us. Below is an account by Kumeresh Suppiah, my colleague who attended to her.

When I first started talking to Grace, I felt that I was talking to a girl whose maturity surpassed her age. She came across as someone who had a lot of potential.

After a week, I discovered that Grace loved to bake. Whenever she gets the chance she will be by her oven at home. She was also someone who gave a lot of importance to promises and commitments. This made my job easy because after she gave me her word, she returned to school and was never absent.

Her friends noticed that she came to school on time, was attentive in class and was able to control her temper quite well. There were a few occasions when she flared up but instead of punishing her, her teachers told her gently to walk away to cool off.

Her form teacher set the tone by rewarding her with a small bar of chocolate when she did well and also rallied her classmates to look out for her. Grace felt supported, felt less angry and even started talking more to her parents. With the support from the school and her family Grace passed her examinations and was promoted to Secondary 3. She told me that she will bake a cake for her form teacher.

Often we define discipline as a synonym of punishment. However, it is quite different and we would like to share with you a Comparison of Discipline and Punishment by the Child Welfare League of America which we have found to be quite useful. The Discipline Process pro-actively focuses on preventing problems while the Punishment Process is a reactive intervention after a problem occurs. While discipline teaches respect for social responsibilities, punishment teaches obedience to authority figures. The comparison also highlights that discipline means discussing natural consequences with youth while punishment requires the adult to impose arbitrary consequences.

Grace's quick temper and angry outbursts were behaviours that marginalised her from her school. However, instead of only telling her what she must do to fit in, the school decided to reach out to her in a way that she could fit in. Her angry outburst were not viewed as acts of disrespect but a cry for personal space that allowed the processing of one's emotions. The school understood that Grace needed friendly support from her teachers, peers and family and so facilitated a school environment that demonstrated to Grace the meaning of care, concern and mutual respect. The school was successful as besides catching up with her academic work, Grace also strengthened her sense of belonging to the school and the relationship with her parents. She experienced the meaning of responsibility and self-discipline.

We wish you another exciting and fulfilling year as you journey with your students.

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Restorative justice principles in schools  07/11/2008

Emergencies have always been necessary to progress. It was darkness which produced the lamp. It was fog that produced the compass. It was hunger that drove us to exploration. And it took a depression to teach us the real value of a job. ~ Victor Hugo

Dear Educator
I would like to share part of a quarterly report that my colleague Lena-Ann Shome prepared for a school where we serve as the Step-up Programme Operator. The story describes a Child Protection & Welfare situation and how it was addressed guided by restorative practices and principles. More information on SafeKids, our community response programme to child protection is provided at the end of this article.

In July 2008, Angie told her Level Director that she was bruised and in pain. She had apparently been beaten up by a family member the day before.

The Level Director brought Angie to my attention. I learnt that she was often beaten by 2 of her family members. The day before, she had been punched and kicked resulting in some swelling in her left arm. She also complained that her back was hurting badly and wanted to go to the hospital. Angie told me that she feared returning home after school and requested to be placed in a Temporary Shelter. She even asked for a foster mother. I got the sense that somehow, she wanted the matter to be reported to MCYS so that she could seek redress. Clearly the girl was in fear but still, that was only her side of the story.

Together with the Level Director, Angie, her father and I sat down to discuss the matter. Angie's father acknowledged the beating and said that he was aware that his son had punched and kicked her the night before.

Beyond Social Services Safe Kids1 Team was consulted and they came down to the school soon after. With the expertise of the Safe Kids workers, a Family Conference involving the girl’s mother and brother, Safe Kids workers and myself was convened. Angie’s father had to leave for work.

During the Family Conference, we encouraged dialogue between Angie and her family members. It was agreed that the family’s discipline methods were a tad too harsh. Angie on the other hand was no “angel” herself. The family was then given some private family time and they came up with a care plan that Angie agreed with.

The outcome was an emotional moment with Mom and brother crying, apologising and at the same time trying to put across their reasons for disciplining her. Family did not deny the allegations and Mom cried out that she would take her son’s place if the latter was to be charged and jailed for the offence. In response, Angie expressed remorse for causing her family much distress.

The whole episode lasted 5 hours. However the work did not end there. Close monitoring and regular contacts with Angie and her family members were imperative to ensure that a repeat of the situation was avoided and that her safety is not compromised in any way.

As the weeks went by, Angie had her tongue pierced but this time, the family called for a family meeting instead of resorting to anger and violence. Angie has since removed the piercing.

Angie is taking her N levels this year and recently invited her brother to an art exhibition at school. For a sister who was once so fearful of her own brother, it took a lot of courage for her to invite him to the exhibition. This “monstrous” brother made his way to the exhibition and in Angie's words, her brother's affirmation of her artistic talent was - “Priceless”. It was nice to see how the siblings have gotten closer. Angie was also gleaming when she told me she was happier now. When I asked her “How come?” She said “Of course! Because my mother also sayang me now.”

Gerard Ee

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Teens in crisis: Mandy’s story  03/10/2008

Only by the slow and tactful method of inserting yourself unassumingly into the life of the club, not by talking to your club members, but by hanging about and learning from their conversation and occasionally, very occasionally, giving it that twist which leads it to your goal, is it possible to open up a new avenue of thought to them
-Josephine Macalister Brew (1904 - 1957) educator and author of Informal Education. Adventures and reflections (1946)

Dear Educator
Mandy, 15 suspected that she was pregnant and she sent an SMS to my colleague who is based in her school. She asked to meet him at the counselling room the following day and after that my colleague arranged a medical appointment for her. Mandy was a victim of severe abuse and earlier this year, her school counsellor had pointed her out to us so that we could look out for her.

Mandy was deemed to be a 'student-at-risk' and from our experience, such students tend to be extremely wary of any efforts by the school to assist them. Schools have the interest of such students at heart but these students usually feel that they could do without the extra well meaning attention. Hence, we were very careful how we approached Mandy. My colleague visited her class a couple of times to talk with her classmates whom he already was acquainted with. Then, a few days later when he met her at the canteen, he said 'hi' and they started making small talk about the food. Over several other 'incidental' meetings, Mandy learnt from my colleague that he was there to befriend students and support them in matters related to school and their personal lives.

Mandy's mother had confronted her at home after observing her feelings of nausea. She asked Mandy if she was in touch with anyone who could help her verify if she was indeed pregnant and that was when Mandy contacted my colleague. Mandy was 6 weeks into her pregnancy and she decided that keeping the child was the best option for her. In Singapore, the 3 choices facing girls in Mandy's situation are Adoption, Abortion or Parenthood. We facilitated a couple of discussions between Mandy, her mother and a relative and the family agreed that supporting, Mandy's decision would be in her best interest.

We also helped Mandy keep the school informed and the school granted her a leave of absence which enabled her to return after the pregnancy. With Mandy's permission, my colleague also spoke to her friends and classmates to hear out what they felt about the situation. Some came up with ideas how they could continue to show their concern for Mandy. They were glad to hear that the school counsellor had arranged for her work school assignments to be sent to her so that she would also be able to catch up on her schoolwork during her pregnancy. We also ensured that Mandy attended her medical appointments and discussed the realities of parenthood with her boyfriend and her.

I believe that Mandy turned to my colleague for assistance because she viewed him as a non-threatening adult friend. Having such an adult who is highly visible and trusted is an important protective factor for 'students-at-risk'. My colleague who is based in Mandy's school is a non-formal educator within a formal educational setting. A non-formal educator does not focus on the academics but the other aspects of developmental such as value clarification, relationship skills, family life and a positive self-concept.

In Mandy's case, her mother and her had an unpleasant experience dealing with the police and other authorities when Mandy's abuse was being investigated. Thus, they both told us that they were very distrustful of social workers or any other helping professional or authority figure. Without the presence of a non-formal educator, I doubt that the girl would have contacted anyone else because of her bad experience with authority.

In the schools where we implement the Step-up Programme, it is part of our colleagues routine to spend time in the canteen interacting with the students, sharing a joke and simply making themselves available. Initially, such an approach raised a few eyebrows as the uninformed observer viewed the lines between the adult and students being blurred. There was concern that the informality in the interactions would send a signal to the students that they could also speak in the same manner to their teachers and this would not always be appropriate and even disrespectful.

Today, all the schools we work in understand and support the approach. Recently, they have also agreed to print our SMS Helpline for Teen Pregnancy into their students handbook. We really appreciate such cooperation as ultimately, more young people in need will be helped. Please contact me if you would also like to publicise the SMS Helpline 8111 3535 in your students handbook even though we may not be running the Step-up Programme in your school.

Gerard Ee

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Education as a home-school partnership  29/08/2008

It is Teachers' Day weekend and with the help of Khairun and the other Community Workers at our Healthy Start Programme I am sharing with you some of their efforts which have made a difference for our children and their families.

At a recent Parent Teacher Meeting, a mother was visibly touched as she browsed through her 5 year old child's portfolio. She was really happy to see her child accomplishing and expressed her gratefulness to Aida the teacher. Gently, Aida reminded her that she played a big role in her child's success. Despite the family being evicted from their home, her child did not miss a day at school because she ensured her child got there. Aida stressed to this mother that her child's progress was due to her perseverance and reinforced the point by highlighting that she had to take 2 buses to get her child to school. Aida's comments meant a lot to this mother and in between tears of appreciation, she related how she also instructed her child's older siblings to read to her since she herself was illiterate.

I really liked the way Aida honoured the mother's role and efforts. Education of the child must be a home-school partnership and the lesson of a mother's love is not one that any of us could teach. Despite not having the 3 Rs, this mother played the role of being the first educator in her child's life.

Our teachers diligently ensure that the children are not sick or being troubled by minor ailments such as head lice. Illness disrupts both the child's schooling and their parent's performance at work. Most of our children's parents hold daily-rated jobs and attending to their child during work hours would mean that their salary for the day will be affected. Hence, wherever possible, our teachers will attend to the child until alternative care arrangements have been sorted out.

Our teachers appreciate the difficulties the families of our children face and so support extends beyond the classroom and often into their homes. One morning, Khairun was trying to help a mother of 6 to get 4 of her children to school. The children aged 3 to 6 years old decided that Khairun would be a good referee for a water fight. They were splashing water everywhere and running around the flat happily. Khairun had to phone the teachers for help. Hui Huang arrived within minutes and the children left for school within 15 minutes.

Also, sometimes when the children cannot come to the classroom, the classroom goes to them. Meiyi conducted lessons for 2 brothers who were down with impetigo. Their parents were grateful and appreciative that their boys were still doing schoolwork despite not being physically in school. As for the boys, they thought that it was so cool that their teacher and parents were together in the same room fussing over them.

Enjoy your weekend.

“To learn and never be filled, is wisdom; to teach and never be weary, is love.”

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Timeout: being a part of the solution  18/07/2008

We facilitated a dialogue between teachers and 20 students who came from 4 different schools. These students were undergoing a 10 day 'Time-out' programme where they reported to the community centre instead of school. These 4 schools pooled their resources to help these students pick up study skills and to build their self-confidence. It was a commendable effort from the schools for attempting different ways of engaging and motivating these students who were deemed to be having difficulty coping with school.

The programme included classroom activities, workshops and experiential learning such as rock climbing. It was heartening to see such effort from schools and so we agreed to support their initiative when they invited us to help with one session. We were asked to be there on the 1st day and so we thought that it would be appropriate to create a context for mutual understanding. We were also careful that such a dialogue did not turn into a 'complaining' session and so to set participants in a more 'pro-active' frame of mind, we named the session the Co-operation Cafe.

We got participants into tables of 4 persons and served them refreshments as we got them to ponder and discuss the following questions:

1. Why do people lose interest in schools?
2. What can schools do to help people stay interested?
3. What can students do to make schools more interesting places?

The questions were tackled one at a time and participants had different discussion partners for each question. When we were 'harvesting' the different discussions that took place, many admitted that question 3 was the most difficult question to answer. We highlighted that perhaps when we are stuck in a problematic situation, we seldom see ourselves as part of the solution or part of the problem. I am not sure how many of the students fully understood the comment but the adults were nodding in agreement. In any case regardless of how old we are, problem solving and cooperation requires us to be the adult.

Enjoy your weekend.

We can be wise only together - Margaret J. Wheatley

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Andy’s story  02/05/2008

Sometimes despite our best efforts, a student chooses to leave school. Schools are always very concerned about such students and fervently wish that these students will be meaningfully occupied after they leave school. As we all know, being actively interested in school is a key protective factor that keeps young people out of trouble. It is also obvious that we need an education to get on in life. So why then do these students still choose to quit school pre-maturely?

There are various reasons but in our dealings with such students, we cannot help feeling that their decisions are only reflective of their young age. Information is processed without the benefit of fuller life experiences and their world is coloured by the turbulent range of emotions normally experienced during adolescence.

Andy 14 years old has not been going to school and was at loggerheads with his mother who was single-handedly trying to provide for his younger brother and him. Mom worked long hours as a security guard but her boss was not pleased that she had to frequently take time off to attend to Andy’s problems at school.

Andy was out the whole night and if he returned home, it would be when mom had left for work. Whenever they met, a shouting match would occur and Andy would be out of the flat in a jiffy. Unlike the majority of his peers, Andy did not crave for a mobile phone or other ‘stuff’ but he did crave for acceptance, friendship and guidance. Unfortunately, he found these with a bunch in the neighbourhood who would be drinking a concoction of cola, beer, stout and gin mixed in a 10 litre water dispenser every night. Entry to the party would be a contribution to the ‘barrel’ and in exchange, one received a paper cup which could be refilled till the tap ran dry.

When we finally managed to put both Andy and his mom into a Talking Circle, mom told us that she was heart-broken as Andy no longer spoke to her like a son. However, Andy only retorted that mom was always threatening to send him into an institution even though he was not a criminal. Andy then spouted off statements about the futility of school, the lack of concern from his mom and how he was smart enough to steer away from trouble. He sounded so ludicrous that we wondered if it was just an act to spite his mom.

As we listened further, we concluded that Andy actually believed what he was saying and such views were formed during his nightly outings with the drunken company he kept. These people had advised him to create trouble in school so that he would be chucked out. Also, Andy was genuinely afraid of being institutionalised and the bravado concealed his nervous energy and fear. Hence, it was only when Andy was assured that mom was not going to send him to an institution, did he calm down.

Andy then asked his mom to take him out of school and mom replied that she had to be assured that he was not getting into trouble before doing so. She also wanted Andy to cooperate with us to stay meaningfully occupied. Andy promised to report to us daily but in his head, the company he kept in the night were his mates and he just could not believe that they had a negative influence on him.

Perhaps, his mom’s prayers were being answered because as he was heading towards his mates that evening, one of them ran towards him and shoved him aside. A fight had broken out just before he got there and his mates were running in different directions. As Andy was getting up, this person ordered Andy to run home before things got worse and not to come back to the area for at least 3 years. Shaken, Andy ran home as instructed.

The following day, Andy was relating the incident to us as though he was most privileged to be where it all happened. He proudly broke the ‘important’ news to us and was genuinely oblivious to the dangers that could have befallen on him the night before. We were shaking our heads in disbelief as Andy related the news as though we were discussing the previous night’s prime time offering on television.

Andy was not intellectually challenged but this was simply Andy, an adolescent facing dangers and challenges with the best of his immaturity. That day we sat Andy down and spoke to him seriously about the grave consequences of his nocturnal activities. We reviewed the previous evening’s situation meticulously and only let him go when we were convinced that he fully fathomed the risks he had put himself through. We spoke to Andy gently, laid out the facts and explored various scenarios. At the end of that session, Andy was a little pale in the face, silent and swallowed hard a few times.

It has been about a month and just a few days ago, mom thanked us for bringing her son home but we reminded her that she had worked hard at giving Andy a home, a sense that he meant something to her. On our side, we consciously consulted Andy on decisions that affected him and involved him in various activities to help him discover what he liked or was good at. Every now and then, Andy behaved immaturely and needed to be guided but on the whole there was a whole lot more stability in his life.

We are sharing about Andy because restorative practices require us to take the age of the 'offender' into consideration. Often adolescents look just like adults and when dealing with them, we make the common mistake of forgetting that they are children seeking our acceptance, friendship and guidance.

Gerard Ee

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one”
Wilhelm Stekel (Austrian psychoanalyst, 1868-1940)

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Teachers and the Circle Process  04/04/2008

During the past month, we conducted training sessions for teachers at 4 different schools on restorative discipline and circle processes. We were very heartened when some teachers told us that they actually used circle processes for teaching and for getting to know their students better.

These teachers told us that the circle process encouraged their students to speak up, to listen and to contribute ideas. One teacher started the circle by asking her students to share about the news of the day but she soon realised that many could not contribute. Immediately, she modified the topic by asking students to speak about the 'news' from home or about friends. She was glad and impressed at the open manner in which the students provided the 'latest news' about their lives. She was very encouraged that the circle enabled her to see everyone as people with unique experiences and not just students she had to teach.

At another school, a physics teacher wanted us to use the circle process to 'motivate' his class. We told him that we could help him get his students to start talking but we could not predict the outcome. After the circle process with 18 students, this teacher asked us why we did not scare his students as we found out that he wanted his students to be more disciplined in class. We told him that we wanted to develop relationships with the students that were rooted in mutual respect and not fear.

The teacher was a participant in the circle process and as we continued to review his experience, he shared that he always thought that his students were not really interested and just being difficult. Thus, he was very surprised with their request for more notes. Many students had also respectfully asked him to speak slower during lessons and to introduce more experiments, a part of physics they really enjoyed. This teacher then told us that the students' requests were very reasonable and he would do his best to present his lessons in a more interesting and patient way.

Sometimes, we no longer hear what is being said because we keep hearing our own voice or because we keeping looking out for an anticipated outcome which we believe will happen. These block us from appreciating or responding to what is actually being said and happening. Kudos to this physics teacher for responding appropriately in a most humble way when he realised that his students were not just being disrespectful but were seeking his help. This teacher has also asked us to help him conduct a circle process with another class next week : ).

Gerard Ee

Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf -
An American Indian Proverb

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Pearl’s Circle Process  21/03/2008

We conducted training for 120 teachers on the use of Circle Processes. Last week we also spent 2 days training the entire staff of a secondary school on Restorative Discipline which included the use of Circle Processes. On the same days, we also spoke at a conference on Juvenile Delinquency organised by a junior college. So for us, it feels like there is a growing interest in restorative discipline among schools and others who serve young people.

During these events many came up to us with encouraging words but also with their dose of reality. "These things need time. Time that we cannot afford to give." We could not disagree as adequate time and space do need to be set aside for conversations that matter.

I attended a Circle Process for a 14 year old girl who had been repeatedly breaking rule after rule over the week. She was invited to join the staff meeting and as she took her seat at the table with our colleagues, she was asked if she could advise us on how to manage her situation. We believed that the best consultant we could get for the management of Pearl's 'misbehaviour' had to be Pearl herself.

We explained to Pearl that her mother could never be a good mother if she did not allow her to be one. Similarly, we could never be effective youth workers or advocates for her if she continually denies us the chance by not offering her cooperation. Each member of the circle then offered Pearl his or her response to Pearl's misbehaviours.

The responses from Circle members were not planned and we had to simply trust the process. Pearl sniggered when she heard how the other young people in the Programme were concerned and worried whenever she disappeared without notice. She rebutted but saying that she would bet her last dollar that these 'friends' did not care. Strangely though, she remained silent when one of us strongly pointed out to her that she was not as independent as she made herself out to be as somehow, she always return to the Programme.

Pearl objected when it was the turn of a staff member from another programme to talk. However, this colleague persisted and firmly told Pearl that as an 'outsider ' she could not initially understand what was going on but she has since realised that her colleagues respected her as a 'young adult' and Pearl should be grateful for that. She saw how respectful the circle was towards Pearl and at times was hoping someone would blast her. Pearl listened intently.

When it was Pearl's turn to speak, she revealed that she was intentionally troublesome because she wanted us to stop caring for her. Her issues with child protection, police investigation and so forth seemed to be never ending and at times she felt like she just wanted to give up, have a good time and go off into some lock-up with some style

The circle also addressed her risky behaviours that could land her into further trouble and members spoke honestly and in some depth about sex, drugs and clubs. At times, Pearl 'protested' claiming that we were embarrassing her but then this is another advantage of raising sensitive issues in a circle as members can ensure that these discussions are dealt with respectfully.

It has been 5 days since the Circle Process and Pearl is still Pearl. She would speak on her handphone when she is not supposed to and her loud colourful language 'assures' us that she is still nearby and has not run off. However, she has paid back money she owed from her allowance, been carrying out her responsibilities as promised and co-operating with us in an acceptable way.

Guess if we put in some time in invest in respect, our return on investment or the acronym ROI could also mean we get back Respect On our Investment.

Enjoy your weekend.

Come out of the circle of time
And into the circle of love
- Rumi

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Restorative practice as a compass  07/03/2008

Last Monday, some students in a secondary school we are working in, informed their teacher that they were bullied in class. Showing their bruises, they related how they were punched and slapped by their classmates. This Secondary 2 Normal Technical Class already has a reputation for being trouble-makers who are causing problems in school so the management acted swiftly, identified and questioned the 'bullies'. The 'bullies' denied everything and insisted that they were 'playing' & simply 'having fun'.

For the school management, suspension was the first response that came to mind but the VP, HOD and Form Teacher decided to get a Talking Circle going so that the class takes up the responsibility of addressing the issue themselves. They went ahead despite realising that one Talking Circle was not going to resolve issues and this was definitely not a quick fix.

Punishment would have been a quick resolution and a consequence but not those where the class would have to face up to their misbehaviours in an honest way. Many of these students have been punished before and yet the misbehaviours persisted. Every time a disciplinary issue arose, it felt like a war between 2 camps. No matter what the school dished out, it was not fair from the students' point of view and every incident alienated the students further. The VP, HOD and Form Teacher realised that alienated students are more likely to continue offending and suspending the culprits would only reinforce their belief that the school did not care.

On Wednesday, 16 out of 20 students showed up for the scheduled Talking Circle. The Form Teacher and 3 of us made it a Circle of 20 participants. We felt that a direct approach would push the students back into their well-rehearsed defensive positions so we avoided asking about the 'bullying' incident. Instead we asked them what they thought or felt about their class and what they wanted to see changed.

Initially, the students did not take the session seriously and were frivolous with their answers. The mood changed when one of us confronted them by observing that classmates were just out there to 'kill' each other and there was no respect for each other or the teacher. Those who wanted to study could not do so because they had to tolerate the antics of those who were trying to play cool. We were glad that several students spoke up in support of our observation and the Circle assumed an appropriate tone for meaningful dialogue.

The Talking Circle ended with a unanimous pledge to work together and be more respectful to each other and the teacher. We are hopeful that participants meant it as at the end, several came forward to shake our hands firmly and nodded knowingly. We look forward to the Form Teacher's feedback over the next week.

We updated the VP that evening and he shared that he assumed the stance of a firm disciplinarian as that was generally expected of someone in his position. He was glad that there are other approaches to discipline and encouraged us to continue the process.

For us, Restorative Practice or Justice is a compass and not a map. Re-establishing 'peace and order' by the rule book is necessary but whatever the approach we should keep in view the goals of healing injured relationships, facilitating personal and shared responsibility within the school community. Student misbehaviour is not only a violation of the school rules but a violation of people and relationships.

We are grateful for the partnership and the trust that the school has placed on us. We also applaud the school's openness to restorative practices and their courage to do something different when the usual approaches to discipline appear to be losing their effect.

Gerard Ee

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Youth and resiliency  01/02/2008

The 3Rs of Juvenile Justice are Retribution, Rehabilitation and Restoration. Retribution and Rehabilitation are commonly referred to as the 'Hard' and 'Soft' Approaches respectively. All of us would have heard the arguments for hard or soft approaches and some of us may even avoid being drawn into such a discussion as there never seems to be a satisfactory conclusion. When we go along with the hard approach we are perceived as heartless and when we try some kindness we risk being seen as naive or lacking courage.

Perhaps, choosing between hard or soft approaches is not sufficient for the management of delinquency as people are complex and neither approach puts in place a support network or what we refer to as a triangle of care around the young people at-risk. Young people-at-risk are isolated and disconnected from their families, schools and neighbourhoods and this can only be resolved when they, their families, schools and neighbourhoods regard themselves as part of the solution. Often, only the young people are regarded as the problem and that unless they change, the problem can never be resolved.

Yesterday evening and the day before, a 10 year old boy made his way to our office in Bukit Ho Swee from his home which was at least 25 km away. He was angry that his care-givers did not keep their part of a deal made 4 months ago which allowed him a couple of hours of play daily provided he attended school regularly and helped out with household chores. He was also running away from home because he was convinced his parents would file for a Beyond Parental Control Order against him today at the Subordinate Courts. To be able to make his way to our office on his own, this 10 year old obviously is rather independent beyond his years. On both nights, we sent him home and tried our best to advise his care-givers of the implications of filing a Beyond Parental Control Order. Sadly, they were advised otherwise and saw it as an immediate solution to the challenge of caring for this 10 year old.

Over the past 4 months this boy's care plan worked without a hitch and whenever we called or visited, things were well. As we analyzed the situation we realised that the plan started breaking down this year because the important support person he had in school was transferred to another school. Feeling betrayed and insecure, he was observed to be defiant and his care givers at home and at school decided that he needed to be educated within an institutional setting. Just a couple of weeks ago, we had a dialogue with the Family & Juvenile Justice Centre of the Subordinate Courts and they described the state run facilities as ‘Youth Prisons’. This 10 year old had a need for a stable care arrangement and it saddens us that his care-givers believed that it should be provided within a ‘Youth Prison’.

The Courts administer justice and uphold the rule of the law, they do not provide welfare or social services for care-givers and their children. Many care-givers go to court as a means of gaining assistance for their parenting problems and some even see the courts as a bogey-man who would scare their children back to them. Little do they appreciate that once within the Court System there is no U-turn and their children will have to bear with the due processes and live with experiences that may not be helpful for their development e.g. being housed at the Boys' Home(Youth Prison). Quite frequently after more information is available, it is realised that the care-givers or parents had contributed to their problems significantly and a child may not have been beyond parental control as initially thought so. Then, family reconciliation work will be an uphill task as family relationships would have been damaged somewhat.

John A. Calhoun*, Founder of the National Crime Prevention Council and a former United States Commissioner for the Administration for Children, Youth and Families commented that restorative justice or restoration is needed to help young people at risk to achieve positive life outcomes. Besides building a positive support network for these young people, restoration focuses on nurturing the resilience within these young people by attending to their four basic needs:

1. Every Child Feels the Need for Belonging ("I mean something to you.")
2. The Need for Mastery ("I am good at something.")
3. The Need for Independence ("I have the power to make decisions.") &
4. The Need for Generosity ('I have purpose in my life.")

*adapted from his Forward in the Resilience Revolution - Discovering Strengths in Challenging Kids
by Larry K. Brendtro & Scott J. Larson

We at Beyond have found the restorative approaches very helpful for the young people we serve as well as for ourselves. When faced with a challenging behaviour, we do not have to react in an energy-draining way but respond in a life-giving manner that fulfils an unmet need within the young person. Over time, trust is established and a helping relationship is formed. By helping young people-at-risk to meet the 4 needs described above, we have found pathways into their world.

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Creating inclusive schools  04/01/2008

"Inclusive schools are about embracing the idea that diversity is the reality and, therefore, each child is a unique learner. In order for each child to maximally benefit from education, we need to organize our schools, curriculum, and teaching with this reality in mind."
Elizabeth Kozleski, Director of the National Institute for Urban School Improvement.

For those of you serving in Primary Schools, you may have identified by now, some Primary One students who have never had any form of pre-school education. Such students start off trying to catch up with their peers and from what we understand, would be placed in the Learning Support Programme.

From our experience many of these students would have attended pre-school if their families had received some social support. To identify these children early, we are one of the operators of the Healthy Start Programme which actively reaches out to children from families who would benefit from social support. We have teams conducting outreach activities at neighbourhoods around Ghim Moh, MacPherson, Queenstown, Redhill and Whampoa areas. We also have a community worker based at the 'C' Wards of the KK Women's and Children's Hospital and are supported by a network of other Healthy Start Programme providers who operate around Singapore. The nurses and doctors at the hospital help us identify newborns who may need support and refer them to us for placement in the Healthy Start Programme.

Upon identification, infants and pre-school children are linked to appropriate early childhood programmes near where they live and their families are supported to deal with the various challenges facing them. The earlier such children are identified the higher the chances of providing them a strong foundation for primary school education. Last year, we at Beyond served 1029 children and 623 of their care-givers through the Healthy Start Programme.

From what we have seen it is highly likely that among siblings, when an elder one is in pre-school, the rest are likely to follow suit. Sadly, the reverse is also true and we will be glad to offer some social support to families of your students who did not receive any pre-school education so that their younger siblings can be better prepared for Primary One. The Healthy Start Programme is funded by MCYS and these families will not need to pay for the support we render. Please contact me by replying to this email if you like to connect us to such families because by supporting them we will be preventing their young children from falling through the cracks.

Often when we meet children experiencing difficulties, there is a tendency to lament about the quality of parenting they have received. Sometimes, we even think that their parents are inadequate and we recommend that they attend all sorts of programmes to make them better parents. We do forget that these parents are doing the best they can and as fellow members of a community we should be supporting their right to live together with us in a fulfilling manner because insisting that they conform to our expectations will very likely marginalise them further.

Whenever we gear up to assist troubled families or to manage juvenile delinquency, it is as if we are gearing up for war. However, these families and young people are not our enemies and as fellow members of our community we are not embarking on a war but a peace-building process that promotes mutual understanding, respect and opportunities for harmonious living where people look out for each other.

The problems are not inherent in the students or their care-givers. Troubled families and juvenile delinquency are by products of a complex society or even a community like a school. They serve to remind us that as we progress there will always be some who are trying to catch up. An inclusive society or an inclusive school environment is one where those ahead believe that looking out for those behind is a measure of their strength and maturity.

Thanks for listening and may courage and wisdom be with you as you face the challenges of another school year.

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The Talking Circle  07/09/2007

A teenager came by with his family or rather he was dragged down by his family to see me regarding his poor attendance at school. Before the meeting started proper, his mother commented that I had probably encountered at least a hundred other situations that sounded similar. She was right but this time, I decided that I was not going to play the role of a counsellor but that of a circle keeper. 

A talking circle is a conversation among a group of people using a talking piece. People can only talk when they have possession of the talking piece. My role as the circle keeper was to ensure that this simple procedure was respected and adhered to. It was a position of responsibility rather than one of leadership. I participate in the talking circle on the same terms as everyone else and any influence that I could have would have to be from a position of a fellow participant. 

A talking circle is an important tool taken from the range of restorative justice practices. It is an ancient technique brought forth from a time when people sat around a campfire, a table or on the floor at the village assembly area to find solutions for their difficulties. Many of you have been trained as circle keepers and you know exactly what I am talking about but I just wanted to share this story as a way of encouraging us to continue using this respectful way of communication and problem solving. 

My choice of the talking piece was a Sponge Bob Square Pants soft toy. I knew nothing about Sponge Bob except that he is a cartoon character so I began by asking the teen if he could tell the circle a little about him. Boy, he almost could not stop talking and his family and I simply listened in amazement at all the nuggets of information including results of internet surveys that rated Sponge Bob as the most popular cartoon character second only to Mickey Mouse. 

When the small talk passed, the first statement that the teen made was "I find it extremely demeaning that I have to see the school counsellor! Every one is looking at me like I am an oddball or something." His request was to be taken out of counselling. I could see his family members wanting to jump in to have their go at his statement but without the talking piece they had to listen and digest what was being said. 

As the talking piece was passed around, the circle listened to the teen's struggles at school, his disappointments, his loneliness and actually, his will to succeed despite it all. His family always thought that he had given up on school and it took them a while to register that this teen was telling them how determined he was in wanting to do well in school. This declaration may never have surfaced if we went about trying to figure out what's wrong with this teen with a 'school refusal problem'. 

The talking circle is not therapy where someone is the identified patient. It is simply an opportunity for honest interaction among people; talking and listening from the heart. When we left the room his mother came up to thank me as it has been a while since she has experienced any good in her son. For the first time in a long while she is hopeful that he will turn out right. I told her what I saw was a good kid with a very supportive family. 

Enjoy your weekend. 

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The Restorative Discipline Approach  07/09/2007

Understanding is living in house where every room has a point of view. - Noah ben Shea 
Hope you had a meaningful Teacher's Day that stoked your passion for the teaching profession. This month we had numerous queries about restorative discipline programmes in schools and so we thought that we might as well share with everyone what we have been saying. 

Discipline is generally regarded as the practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not. The results of this training are controlled behaviours and situations but often the sustainability of these results is dependent on the presence of a disciplinarian. 

There is definitely a need for discipline as I have just described and which we see as an important aspect of a holistic value educational programme that is known as Restorative Discipline or Juvenile Justice. Such a programme works toward self-discipline, consideration for others, respect for structure and honouring relationships. 

Restorative discipline takes the view that offending or misbehaviour damages the very relationships that are vital for the student's well being. For instance, when a student is rude to his teacher, he creates a distance or a barrier that makes it difficult for the teacher to continue nurturing or educating him. If he has a conflict with a peer or a family member, he hurts ties that give him a sense of belonging and stability. If such situations persist and are not appropriately addressed, the student will experience a sense of marginalisation that usually shows up in misbehaviours driven by distrust, anger and insecurity. 

Hence, the emphasis of restorative discipline is to put right the relationships between the offender and his significant others; healing the wounds where necessary so that the structure and functions of these relationships can be re-established. Repairing the harm caused and patching relationships are the initial endeavours and the intended outcomes are accountability and responsibility through empathy and understanding on the part of the offender. 

Restorative discipline would also work at initiating problem solving efforts, facilitating learning from consequences and if necessary, administering punishment. If placed on a ladder of action, these efforts will begin with Restoration (putting relationships right), Problem Solving, Learning from Consequences & Punishment. Restoration is Step One and if the situation can be de-escalated, learning takes place and there is no need for escalation to Step Four which is Punishment. 

This is briefly the model for a Restorative Discipline Approach and during one of our discussions with an educator, it was commented that we are too idealistic because we seem to be turning the world upside down. The usual ladder of action would begin with Punishment and end with Problem Solving. Restoration is probably still a fuzzy concept for most. Well, maybe Restorative Discipline and its range of practices is simply putting the world the right side up. 

Gerard Ee 

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The Collaborative Competency Approach  03/08/2007

Situations requiring discipline in our schools can be opportunities for learning, growth & community building. For this to happen we need to move beyond viewing discipline as punishment, or even problem solving, to a more holistic perspective that sees all behaviour as related. - Lorraine S Amstutz & Judy H Mullet 

Dear Educator 
This is the 12th email we are sending and we would like to thank all of you for the warm support and encouragement over the past year. It always made our day whenever we received comments (including the critical ones :)) about our work or when we received enquiries about Juvenile Justice. 

Recently, an educator commented that whenever we speak about Juvenile Justice, Restorative Discipline or Family Group Conferencing, we may be alienating a large percentage of other educators who associate such terms only with students who are in trouble with the law. She reckoned that what we are trying to do is to create caring climates, inclusive school environments and to teach responsibility. So, while the initial focus is on students who offend, the proposed solutions of cooperative home-school partnerships, nurturing teacher-student relationships and the engagement of stakeholders in the community would benefit just about every student in school. 

Over the last 12 months, we have shared with you various methods we have used to address student offending and these included Family Group Conferences, Community Building Exercises with teachers, students and their care-givers, Class Conferences, Time-out approaches, Moral Reasoning and so forth. While the tools are different their foundations are restorative discipline principles that work toward: 

Understanding the harm and developing empathy for both the harmed and the person who harmed; 
Listening & responding to the needs of the person harmed & the person who harmed; 
Encouraging accountability & responsibility through personal reflection within a collaborative planning process; 
Reintegrating the person who harmed (and if necessary, the harmed) into the community as valuable, contributing members; 
Creating caring climates within schools & 
Changing the system when it contributes to the harm. 
(these goals are adapted from the Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools by Lorraine S Amstutz & Judy H Mullet) 

The pace of progress towards these goals is always relative to the participation levels of all concerned. We are really heartened that in our experience, teachers and school management are always looking at how to achieve such goals within their school. 

Whenever we look at students who offend, we are inclined to dig into the root cause of the problem. We search far and wide to diagnose this young person who seems so 'unteachable'. Sometimes, we even take comfort in a label that is attached to this young person and say "Oh I see, at least now I understand."This is not necessarily wrong and it is even understandable on our part but the unfortunate thing that sometimes happens is that the label makes us helpless and we say "Oh dear this condition is beyond my expertise, better leave it to the experts." Well, expert help may be necessary and appropriate but we can still be helpful to such a young person. 

The approach we take is strengths-based or what is called a collaborative competency approach. Whenever we are with a student we want to know "What is right with this student?" rather than "What is wrong?" Quite simply a pathology needs a treatment and not all us can provide that. However, all of us can provide encouragement to a student for something right that he or she is doing. If we continue to look at what students can do, we create possibilities for their abilities. Hmmm...it will be National Day in a few days and this year's tagline is Singapore: A City of Possibilities. 

The idea of 'Possibilities' is energy giving and we look forward to another year of highlighting the positive efforts schools have taken to create caring & inclusive environments. As Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, 'The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.' 

Gerard Ee 

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Discipline and Punishment  06/06/2007

Discipline is not something I impose on you so I can control you. Rather, it is something you must develop within yourself so you can become the best person you can be, not the one who could have been.” 
Timothy F. Hough addressing his students 

It is often said that young people are an impressionable lot and so events like this give us the opportunity to impress on them that they are valued. The messages that young people receive from us often determine the way they would respond or behave. A young person who feels marginalised will figure that he has nothing to lose by behaving in a disruptive manner and it is more likely for a young person with a sense of belonging to behave positively. 

The discipline methods we use are intended to send a message but how often do we stop to consider the value of the message we are sending out? Recently, I had the experience of dealing with the temper tantrum of a 10 year old boy. The boy was trying his best to gain an upper hand and experience a sense of control over his care-givers by engaging in behaviours aimed at frightening or immobilising them. He threatened to jump off the flat and screamed excessively as if his care-givers were hurting him. 

When he was controlled and asked to sit on the sofa to calm down, he continued to protest aggressively. I told him that his care-givers were waiting at the table and there was a seat set aside for him to join the discussion when he was ready. I also reassured him that we would not hurt him in any way and our job was to ensure that he did not hurt himself or anyone else. We would also need to help him realise the dangers of his behaviours. 

Somehow, the boy found my offer too good to be true and persisted in punishing himself. On his own accord he walked to a corner in the room and faced the wall. I guided him back to the sofa and this sequence of behaviours on our part happened a couple more times. Finally, when he started to believe that I was not going to dish out any punishment, he calmly took his seat at the table. We then had a discussion about his behaviours and mutually agreed that the behaviours endangered his safety and those around him. 

When I was debriefing the incident with my colleagues, it appeared to us that this boy was trying to regain the approval of his care-givers by punishing himself. He must have been told to face the wall previously and concluded that the best way of getting out of our disciplining process was to punish himself. He was obviously convinced that some punishment would come his way and the best way of minimising it would be to begin the punishment himself. 

The point I would like to make is that this boy must have been accustomed to punishment that was designed to restrain him efficiently but did little to help him acquire self-discipline or appreciate the dangers of his behaviours. Restorative discipline is a long-term process to help a young person develop into a responsible and caring adult. It is guiding, training, educating and an opportunity to send the message to young people that they are valued and cared for. 

As such, apart from working with students who offend, we run programmes in school for teachers as a restorative discipline environment is created by the school management. During the June holidays, we helped out at 2 school retreats and found the experience fulfilling as we found teachers generally excited when reminded of the notion that they had a role to play in their student's development outside lessons. 


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Jane’s Family Group Conference  05/04/2007

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." 

Sometimes a student in a very troubled situation appears terribly fragile and we wonder if we can actually be of any help at all. It is obvious that various helping professionals need to offer some kind of treatment. As someone who has had my fair share of meeting young people with traumatic experiences, I must say the majority of young people are very resilient and with some support and understanding from the significant people in their lives, they can move on with their lives rather well without the need for ongoing care from helping professionals. 

Jane was severely abused by her step-father. The man has been imprisoned but the relationship between Jane and her mother was strained. Eventually, she moved in with her father but Jane was not settled. While she was with her mother, she started practising a religion different from the one she was born into. Her father was extremely disappointed and this was another reminder of the time they have been apart and the distance that has come between them. 

Soon after, Jane was discovered to be engaging in a self-mutilating behaviour and this was classified as attempted suicide by the adults around her. With the information of Jane's trauma at the back of their minds, suicide seemed like a plausible course of action to them. Around the same time, Jane made a prank call to the fire department which landed her into trouble with the police. 

With the benefit of hindsight, Jane's behaviour may not have been about suicide. Perhaps there was even a very logical and well-intentioned purpose for her behaviour. Anyway, with so many issues at hand, the authorities felt that Jane needed to be housed in a residential facility for youths until there was more stability. 

After a short period at the residential facility, a family group conference was scheduled to create pathways for Jane to return to her family. Several adults involved with Jane were not optimistic that Jane could return to her family or that such a conference could get going as Jane's father had always adamantly refused to cooperate when the authorities contacted him. 

When we were asked to assist with Family Group Conference, we wondered why Jane's father was reportedly so uncooperative. Perhaps he was deeply fearful of Jane's 'suicidal' tendencies, or was he deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Jane had broken the law, or was he still angry with his ex-wife for not protecting Jane from abuse. Whatever thoughts we had were only guesses and they were only helpful for helping us think through a situation. In no way, were these guesses the underlying issues or causes of the problem. 

As it turned out, we were off the mark with our guesses. Jane's father was deeply disappointed that she had 'converted' to another religion and this was a loss of face for him which hurt him badly. He also did not want to entertain any discussion on the matter. 

The way we see it, a Family Group Conference is a process that respects and regards the people involved as experts of their own lives. These people have strengths, resources and know-how for resolving their issues and managing their lives. Our role as a Conference Co-ordinator is to bring people together and to facilitate a problem solving process which they take responsibility for. 

Jane's father began cooperating with us when he realised that we were open to the idea of beginning and ending the Family Group Conference with a prayer ritual from his religion. It was a simple but concrete gesture on our part that conveyed our respect for his faith and acknowledged his struggles with his daughter's 'conversion'. 

During the conference, Jane's father was very supportive of all efforts that helped Jane re-establish family ties. He agreed to spend at least a day a week with Jane and offered to cover the expenses when Jane went on outings with her siblings or other family members. He would even top up her hand phone so that it would be easier for her to keep in touch with the family. 

The teachers and the helping professionals such as the medical social worker, counsellor and probation officer were pleased with the father's involvement and wondered why he was adamantly uncooperative in the first place. Only Jane's father can really say why but I would say that families want to help themselves and have the ability to do so but helping professionals like us must respect them for who they are and trust them to do so. 

Have a restful long weekend! 


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Making others more  02/03/2007

Our work in schools brings us face to face with classes that are creating the most problems. The notoriety of the students precedes them and only the brave look forward to teaching them. From our dealings with them we realise that these students often have grouses and grudges that they believe justify their bad behaviour. In a sense, they misbehave consciously or even out of a misplaced sense of self- righteousness but what they do not realise is that they are perpetuating an unhelpful situation that hurts them and the teachers who endeavour to help them. 

Often, when we come to know of the situation, there is already a predictable pattern of interaction between the students and their teachers. There is usually an escalating tension in the relationship and sadly also a sense of helplessness, disappointment and frustration among all concerned. Should either the students or the teachers succeed in proving a point over the other, it is at best a hollow victory. 

Hence, under such situations, we will attempt to change the context of interaction between all concerned. One method we use is a series of out-of-the classroom activities we collectively call Community Encouragement. These activities create the opportunity for teachers and students to work together to resolve simple problems. Following each activity, there will be a debrief to help participants examine what happened, highlight points of learning and recommend suggestions for improvement. In a very experiential way, we are equipping students with observation, reflection and problem solving skills that we will encourage them to transfer onto their problematic situation in school. 

We have been using such an approach in schools for more than 2 years now and results have been very positive when teachers join in as participants. Often, many teachers would find it difficult to do so because of their busy schedule but when they do so, the students really value their participation. 

Once, a physics teacher in his mid 40s joined his class on an A-frame activity. The A-frame is a wooden structure of the capital letter A that participants keep up and manipulate by ropes. The teacher sportingly went on the frame and soon he was explaining the law of momentum. Then on his guidance, his students started manipulating the A-frame with ease. The students were so pleased with his contributions that they started cheering him and during the debrief he expressed that they were quick and cooperative learners. During the same activity, a Discipline Master and an Operations Managers were on other A-frames. The students who were guiding them have all been disciplined by the DM & OM at some point in time and so the A-frame presented them an opportunity to get back at these adults. However, they did not and instead expressed that they were pleased that the DM & OM trusted them enough to place their personal safety in the hands of 'naughty' students. 

Teachers who have been part of the exercises have expressed that they found it very encouraging to see their students cooperating and even excelling in such situations. Some have even persuaded their colleagues to join them and even shared about the positive attributes they noticed about the 'naughty' ones. These teachers appear a lot more hopeful about their students and we guess it is because they have chosen to focus on areas these students excel rather than just their shortcomings. 

The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own. - Benjamin Disraeli 

Being educationally inclusive  09/02/2007

"Effective schools are educationally inclusive schools. This shows, not only in their performance, but also in their ethos and their willingness to offer new opportunities to pupils who may have experienced previous difficulties." - Office for Standards of Education UK 

Dear Educator 
This month Cluster N5 began an initiative to engage some students in their schools who appear to be losing focus on their studies. Pooling their resources, these schools started the Time Out Learning Centre or TOLC for short. The TOLC utilises the YMCA's Project Bridge Centre in Woodlands which is a facility in the same vicinity. Thus, students would have no problem accessing it. 

9 students from 4 schools attend the TOLC instead of school from 8 am to 12 noon. These students are on the verge of being suspended by their schools for disciplinary problems and the schools thought that if these students were suspended, they would soon find life outside school more attractive and decide to drop-out altogether. Hence, one of the aims of the TOLC is to provide students and the teachers some time away from each other and some space to reflect on what they would like to see happen next. 

Like school, the day begins with the singing of the National Anthem and on a daily basis, the programme comprises: 
1. Revision of schoolwork 
2. 'Teacher' of the Day 
3. Experiential Learning or Moral Reasoning Training 
There is also a Project Segment where the participants have to come up with a project that they think would be beneficial to the community. 

Yesterday, a mid-way programme review was held and some adjustments have been made based on the feedback of the students and the observations of the schools' full-time counsellors who were co-facilitating the programme. The students expressed some concerns about missing out on lessons and so they will attend school in the morning and report to the TOLC only after recess for half a day. This is a positive development that helps ease the students back to a regular school routine. 

The schools involved were pleased with the progress of their students and the programme's curriculum but for us, the real success was the willingness and sincerity of both the schools and the students in wanting to meet half-way. It is this effort in reaching out to each other that will eventually translate into sustainable changes for the benefit of students, teachers, parents and the school as a whole. 

We applaud the efforts of Cluster N5 for their foresight in reaching out to students who have lost focus way before they are out of their focus. 

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The door to every schoolhouse  12/01/2007

This week our Juvenile Justice in Schools Team orientated 55 teachers including the Principal and Vice Principal from Naval Base Primary about the way we will be carrying out the programme in their school. A couple of weeks ago we did the same for 60 teachers from Sembawang Secondary and next week we will be conducting the orientation for 120 teachers from Greenwood Primary. 

These are the 3 schools that our Juvenile Justice Programme will be based in over the next couple of years and we thought that it would be best to have the teachers understand the challenges we face and work at cooperation right from the start. Besides explaining the Family Group Conferencing Process, restorative justice principles and our methods of engaging and managing their students, we had the teachers try out some of the experiential learning games that we normally do. This proved to be a very helpful way of helping them reflect on the perception they had of their students. 

During Hell's Door, several teachers complained that the task of crossing through as a group of 20 persons was impossible and we were simply 'torturing' them. Some even tried to 'bribe' or 'bully' us into widening the 'door'. Thankfully at the debrief, the teachers took no offence when we asked them to reflect how difficult it must be for their students whenever they are assigned a piece of work they believe is beyond them. Even as teachers they thought that the task we assigned them was impossible so it is very likely that students, especially those from the foundational stream usually don't feel very confident or empowered in the school environment 

Another observation we pointed out was the manner they tried to 'bully' and 'bribe' us to achieve their ends. Often students do the same things to their teachers but then they will be chided or remembered as disruptive. In the end, the teachers expressed their appreciation for the manner we raised difficult issues and openly discussing them for mutual learning. 

Real partnerships do require us to communicate at a deeper level. It also requires all parties to contribute towards the partnership. I am glad that there are school partners who see it this way too. 

Enjoy your weekend, 

Humility is the door to every schoolhouse. 

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Going Beyond BPC  05/01/2007

A teenager at his rebellious best stays away from home for a few days without permission and when he returns, he is rude and even aggressive towards his parents. His grades in school are falling and he lies blatantly about almost everything. 

His parents are disappointed and deeply concerned that their child may be mixing with bad company and they seek help and advice from friends, relatives and even helping professionals. Often, in desperation they act on the advice of filing a Beyond Parental Control Complaint at the Family and Juvenile Court. 

At the Court, they will be attended by a social worker to explore if the matter can be resolved without the court’s intervention but still more that 200 young people are placed on statutory supervision each year. 

Many parents do not fully appreciate the significance of placing their children under formal supervision. In their anxiety to help their child and to alleviate their sense of helplessness, the longer-term implications of placing their child under state supervision do not sink into them Many naively believe that their child will respect the court order and their decisive action will bring home the adorable and respectful child they once knew. 

Well sometimes that happens but sometimes, the child continues to rebel and if so, the court appointed social worker recommends court intervention and the child may be end up in an Approved Home for 2 to 3 years. In the formal system, due processes are established and non-cooperation from the child will usually mean an escalation of punitive measures. 

At Beyond, we strongly believe that wherever possible we will help families resolve their problems with available community resources. Engaging the justice system will only be done so to avert life threatening situations e.g. a warrant of arrest for a teen who is about to give birth but is missing from home and refusing to cooperate with any responsible adult. In any case, the justice system is largely built for the purpose of maintaining law and order while social service organizations exist to tackle social and community problems. 

When troubled parents succeed in filing for a Beyond Parental Control Order, they surrender their authority to parent to the state and cannot interfere with due processes imposed on their child. Such a process in itself cannot be empowering or strengthening for the family and would probably be very painful too. 

Watching one’s child go wayward is heartbreaking and as people concerned with the plight of young people falling into juvenile delinquency, we must ensure that our advice and assistance does not reinforce the helplessness that such families are going through. We cannot always be helpful but for a start, we can ensure that parents, whom we advise, do not seek assistance from the justice system too readily. We must impress on these parents that with community support, caring for their children is really not beyond them. 

Best wishes for another challenging year of bringing out the best in young lives, 

Gerard Ee 

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Education by example  01/09/2006 

Education...is a painful, continual and difficult work to be done in kindness, 
by watching, by warning,... by praise, but above all -- by example. 
John Ruskin 

Dear Educators 
Happy Teachers' Day and welcome to the first issue of an email that will come to you on the first Friday of every month. You will learn about the efforts put in by educators like you and community organisations like us in managing delinquency in schools. However, please note that this is not about the 1001 ways of punishment. It is about educating a young person; making him accountable for his misdeeds, strengthening his character, sharing responsibility with parents and care-givers, creating inclusive school environments, problem solving and in short, putting things right! 

Beyond Social Services is a charity that works at keeping young people in school and out of trouble with the law. We began in August 1969 and have always focussed on reducing delinquency among children and youths from less privileged backgrounds. When we learned from police statistics that students comprise 66% of youth offenders, we decided to work more closely with school managements to address delinquency and recalcitrant behaviours among students. We began with 1 school in 2004 and at the moment, we are cooperating on delinquency management efforts with 27 secondary schools, 10 primary schools and 1 special needs school. 

The juvenile delinquency rate was steadily rising and we wanted to help curb it by helping schools deal with students who commit 'discretionary' offences. 'Discretionary' offences are crimes that the police have authorised schools to resolve out of the criminal justice system. Sometimes schools, despite their concern for the well being of the young offender, would refer the matter to the police as they lack the know-how or resources to deal with the matter satisfactorily. 

Our main tool is Family Group Conferencing, a Restorative Justice Model adopted by the New Zealand Justice System. A Family Group Conference is a decision-making meeting for the family and other significant people of a young offender and victims of such wrongdoing. The objective is to decide how the young person can take responsibility for his or her misdeed and be held accountable. The focus is on righting the wrong, rather than on punishment. 

A meeting such as this allows professionals like school staff members, social workers, counsellors, the police and other community agencies, to come together in a joint effort with the family to plan how to resolve issues surrounding the young offender's delinquent behaviour. 

So far we have carried out 12 conferences in school for 22 students. This is not a big number simply because most of the juvenile offending happens outside school. Nonetheless, we would say that the cases handled had satisfactory outcomes. Here's one story: 

The Offences 
A 13 year old boy stole $1000 from his family's safe at home and splurged it on food, clothing and jewellery together with 3 of his classmates. A few days later, together with another boy, these 3 classmates shoplifted at the OG Departmental Store; pilfering a Billabong wallet, pencil case and a mobile phone pouch. 

The Family Group Conference 
24 people attended the conference on a weekday evening during the school holidays. Those present included the 5 offenders, parents, cousins, tuition teachers, a school counsellor, a Vice-Principal, the form teachers and discipline master and 4 social workers. OG Departmental Store provided a verbal victim impact statement. 

Significant Outcomes of the Conference 
All offenders had an individualised reparation plan that had the support of their family group. 

All offenders wrote apology letters to the victim i.e. their parents and the OG Departmental Store and delivered them in person. They also verbally apologised to their teachers. 

All offenders agreed to put things right with their community and to demonstrate their remorse by willingly participating in Community Service. These ranged from the serving of meals to the elderly and the washing of dishes, maintenance of school premise and helping out at a family fruit stall. 

All offenders undertook not to re-offend, fight and to cooperate with school authorities 

9 months after, teachers have reported that all offenders are more focussed in school and have not gotten into any trouble. 

This Conference was successful mainly because the offenders' family groups undertook their responsibilities in the reparation plan seriously. Family members, the school and even concerned adults like tuition teachers looked after the young offenders diligently. In other cases where offenders defaulted, we often found that their adult support persons had let them down. 

Family Group Conferencing is also very helpful for child protection and care issues and we would be very glad to coordinate Family Group Conferences in Schools for such issues apart from youth offending. Just contact Saras our Manager for Restorative Justice Service at telephone number 63722083 or email saras@beyond.org.sg 

Beyond's approach towards helping troubled students has always been to create a "Triangle of Care" around them. The Triangle comprises the school, the parents and the community. We are from the community and when we work in schools, we play the role of the driver who facilitates the formation and strengthening of this Triangle. 

Thanks for listening and I would like to end with this anonymous quotation I stumbled upon that I found so true and appropriate for all juvenile justice efforts. 

We think of the effective teachers we have had over the years with a sense of 
recognition, but those who have touched our humanity we remember with a deep 
sense of gratitude. 

Yours sincerely, 

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