Law change allows use of restraints in youth homes
Desmond Lee says use of restraints will be 'highly regulated' and only in extreme cases
At 15, he was already 1.83m, taller than the average adult, and the burly teenager was often aggressive in the youth home, repeatedly intimidating other residents and threatening guidance officers.
In one instance, he held a dormitory mate by his neck and lifted him off the ground, choking him and forcing staff to intervene.
This was a case study brought up by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee yesterday, when he explained the need for the use of mechanical restraints such as handcuffs or leg restraints in youth homes managed by the government.
He said: "This is one scenario where our officers find it essential to be able to deploy the use of restraints quickly, to safeguard the safety of the residents."
The amendment to section 68A of the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA), which was passed yesterday, enable a staff member at a home for children and young persons run by the Government to use a mechanical restraint on a detainee.
Mr Lee stressed that the use of restraints will be highly regulated, and will not serve as a means of punishment.
He clarified that staff will first attempt methods of de-escalation, and will employ other options like verbal warnings and therapy. Padded rooms will also be used to try and keep the individual calm.
He said: "Only when absolutely necessary will our officers use restraints to manage the resident, to minimise risk of injuries to other residents or staff."
Mr Lee listed some procedures and processes that the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will have in place to ensure proper use of the restraints, including recording each time it is used.
He added: "After the restraints are removed, an MSF officer will help the resident to process his feelings.
"Where necessary, a multi-disciplinary team comprising the caseworker, psychologist and psychiatrist will also support the youth through this process."
His assurances came after several MPs, including Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) and Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) raised concerns on the impact and risks of using such restraints.
Ms Rahayu said: "Such circumstances could add to the trauma faced by the children, and such actions seem (antithetical) to the spirit of rehabilitation."
Stressing the tough protocols that staff members will have to adhere to, Mr Lee reiterated that restraints will be used only in extenuating circumstances.
He reminded the house of the incident last year when seven residents at the Singapore Boys' Home assaulted an auxilliary police officer and two MSF officers.
The former suffered a serious eye injury and the latter two ended up with head injuries.
"Though all three officers are back at work, we must reduce the risks of such incidents repeating," said Mr Lee.
The new Bill will also raise the age limit for CYPA protection, from covering those under 16 to those under 18.
This will allow MSF to protect more children who are victims of abuse or neglect.
It will also protect more young offenders.
Other changes to the Act are aimed at helping mitigate parent-child conflict, extend rehabilitation of young offenders, and extend support for foster families.
Foster parents to get childcare leave benefits
Foster parents will soon be able to make use of childcare leave benefits, after Parliament passed the Amendment Bill to the Children and Young Persons Act yesterday.
The move will make it easier for foster parents to care for the children and is also aimed at encouraging more families to step forward and foster children, which is the preferred method of out-of-home care.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Leepointed out that just like natural parents, foster parents also need the additional time to look after their foster children.
He said the authorities resort to out-of-home care, where a child has to be taken away from his biological parents, only after they have assessed all other options.
When it comes to out-of-home care, the Ministry of Social and Family Development prefers to place children in family-based options, such as staying with a relative or with foster families, to give them a sense of family and home.
Other options include placing children in group homes.
Currently, there are 510 foster families in Singapore.
Mr Lee said that while 47 per cent of all out-of-home cases are currently in family-based care, the Government hopes more families will step up and foster children.
The target is for two-thirds of all out-of-home cases be in family-based care and MPs suggested that more incentives, like income tax relief, could further help foster families.
In response, Mr Lee said that foster parents receive fostering allowances to defray expenses.
He added: "The quantum is higher if the children have special needs. They also get childcare and medical subsidies."
MPs also suggested streamlining adoption processes.
Said Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC): "Is there a way for us to streamline the adoption process, so as to reduce the cost of adoption? Adoption costs several thousands, and this is a big cost to those from the sandwich class who are trying to adopt." - CHEOW SUE-ANN