Consultation paper on the proposed amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act

Ministry of Social and Family Development

Ministry of Social and Family Development

Consultation Period: 08 Feb 2019 - 21 Mar 2019
Status: Closed
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Detailed Description

Aim

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) invites the public to give feedback on the proposed amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA).

Background

2 The CYPA provides for the welfare, care, protection and rehabilitation of children and young persons (henceforth “children”) below the age of 16 years. The CYPA supports children who have been abused or neglected by their parents or caregivers, those who have committed offences, and those whose parents seek the Court’s guidance to improve their behaviour.

3 The CYPA was enacted in 1949 and last amended in 2011. MSF has reviewed the Act and seeks to amend it to strengthen support for children exposed to abuse, neglect or risk. This review also affirms Singapore’s commitment to protecting children in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

4 MSF’s proposed amendments are the result of MSF’s and our community partners’ experiences working with children and their families. These amendments are also guided by the two key principles underpinning the CYPA;

a. First, a child’s parents or guardians have the primary responsibility to care for and promote the welfare of the child.

b. Second, the child’s welfare and best interests are always the first and paramount consideration when parties carry out their duties or exercise powers under the Act.

5 We recognise that:

a. The vast majority of families do their best to care for, protect and raise their children. However, due to multiple stressors, a small number of families struggle to parent responsibly. This may pose risks to the child’s safety or welfare, and may result in the child being led astray or turning to crime.

b. A child who has been harmed should be protected from further harm and given support to heal and recover. Where family support is inadequate, public agencies and community partners
1, as well as a wider community network, must band together to provide assistance. Removal of a child is the last resort, and family-based care2 is preferred among the out-of-home care options. Given the increase in child protection concerns3, more sustainable measures are needed to break the harmful and pervasive cycles of abuse and/or neglect. Only then can the interest of the child be protected.

c. Every child requires guidance and good role models to be able to make responsible decisions and stay away from risk and crime. As far as possible, these children should be supported by their family and community. For children who display worrying or harmful behaviour, residential facilities that provide care for such children must be equipped to ensure their safety. At the same time, the child must learn that he/she too has a part to play in providing a safe environment for his/her peers and fellow members of society.

Stakeholders’ Support

6 MSF has consulted and sought the views of various voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and relevant agencies in the children and youth services sector on the proposed CYPA amendments. They include the Panel of Advisers to the Youth Court, the Review Board under the CYPA, Child Protection Specialist Centres, Children and Young Persons Homes (CYP Homes), Fostering Agencies, Committee on Fostering, Safe and Strong Families Agencies, Youth Integrated Service Providers, and the Youth Advisory Group. They are broadly supportive of the proposals to enhance the protection and rehabilitation of children in Singapore. In particular, they welcomed the proposed raising of the age limit to cover children aged 16 to below 18 years under the CYPA if they are found to be in need of care or protection.

Areas for Feedback

7 MSF seeks the public’s views on the amendments to the CYPA. The key proposals are set out below, with a wider list in the Annex.

A. Ensure the long-term interest of abused and neglected children 

8 A small number of families may struggle to provide safe and adequate care for their children, even with extensive community and State support. These parents’ or guardians’ unwillingness or inability to provide a safe living environment to care for their children is detrimental to the children’s development in the long-term.

9 The following proposed amendments will help to ensure that children in need of long-term care or protection can grow up in a stable and safe environment:

a. Extend legislative protection to children below the age of 18 years who are abused or neglected by their parents or caregivers.4 We recognise that these older youths may not have the physical ability or maturity to remove themselves from harm’s way. This proposal allows MSF and our community partners to intervene and protect these older youths.

b.
Enable the Court to grant a Long-Term Care Order (LTCO) for a child who, in spite of best efforts by professionals and the community, cannot be reunified with the family. The LTCO authorises a designated person (e.g. foster parent or Head of a CYP Home), who is not the child’s natural parent or guardian, to make decisions on behalf of the child. By providing the designated person with decision-making powers usually reserved for parents or guardians, the LTCO ensures that important decisions affecting a child’s development and welfare, such as medical treatment or participation in school activities, are not delayed. Clear guidelines will be laid down with regard to the types of decision that the designated person is allowed to make.

c.
Allow the Court to waive the need for the natural parents to consent to the adoption of a child under an LTCO, where it assesses that reunification with the child’s family is unfeasible and adoption is in the best long-term interest of the child. For example, there are a small number of parents who remain uncontactable despite multiple efforts over the years to locate them. There are also some parents who refuse to provide a safe living environment for their children to return, despite the repeated efforts of professionals and the community to help them. The intent of this proposed amendment is to allow these children to be placed with families that will provide the love and care needed for their growth and development.

B. Strengthen out-of-home care for children who are not with their natural families

10 Family-based care is preferred whenever a child has to be removed from his/her family due to safety concerns and placed in out-of-home care. This ensures that the child grows up in a familial environment with individualised care and attention to support his/her development. MSF has been working closely with the community to strengthen and expand the provision of family-based care for these vulnerable children. The following proposed amendments would emphasise the importance of family-based care:

a. Formalise the roles of “foster parent” and “kin carer” in the Act, and incorporate new provisions for the Committee on Fostering (COF) in the Act. The COF comprises professionals from diverse disciplines who provide external oversight by reviewing the progress of children in family-based care, similar to the function of the Review Board that reviews children’s progress in CYP Homes.

b.
Regulate walk-in admissions of children into licensed CYP Homes. There have been several instances of parents admitting their children into residential care despite an absence of child welfare or safety concerns requiring admission. Admission in such instances is not ideal, particularly since most of these children’s needs are better supported within the community. This proposed amendment ensures that a child is placed in a residential facility only as a last option, after it has been assessed that community support and other care arrangements are not adequate to support the parents in meeting the child’s needs.

11 At the same time, residential care will continue to play an important role in caring for children with higher needs. The following proposed amendment would strengthen the residential homes’ ability to care for children who need such care:

a. Enable licensed CYP Homes to de-escalate conflicts among residents and to prevent incidences of self-harm or injury to others, through safe intervention methods and use of reasonable physical force if necessary. All staff in these facilities will be trained to respond appropriately and proportionately to the situation at hand.

C. Expanding rehabilitation options to more children with offending behaviour

12 Rehabilitation for offenders should be age-appropriate. The orders that the Court may make under the CYPA benefit younger offenders, as there is a larger emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The following amendments are to enhance their rehabilitation:

a. Extend the CYPA to cover young offenders aged 16 to below 18 years (henceforth “young offenders”). Currently, such offenders are treated as adults before the Courts. This proposed amendment allows young offenders, who may lack the cognitive maturity of adults, to benefit from more targeted, age-appropriate and rehabilitation-focused options provided by the community and inside a residential facility. The identity and privacy of these young offenders will also be protected to better facilitate reintegration into society. At the same time, while the young offender’s rehabilitation is an important goal, public safety is also important. Hence, the CYPA today provides different sentencing options, where appropriate, for young offenders who commit grave offences such as murder.

D. Promote family responsibility and community support for children who require supervision

13 Today, the CYPA enables parents or guardians who are unable to supervise their children to seek help if they are concerned about their children’s behaviour, e.g. gang-related activities, drug consumption. The parent can apply for a Court order to place their child under the supervision of a Court-appointed person or in a residential setting. These children are referred to as being “Beyond Parental Control (BPC)”.

14 Our experience shows that the behaviours exhibited by children placed under BPC orders frequently stem from serious conflicts between the parents and the child. The proposed amendments complement the Court orders while recognising the need for both parent and child to work in mandated programmes that seek to address the child’s behaviour:

a. Remove the stigmatising label of “BPC” and replace it with a more neutral term - children “in need of statutory supervision”.

b.
Mandate attendance in a family programme before the parents or guardian can file a Court application for statutory supervision. This proposal ensures that parents and guardians, together with their child, attempt to resolve their differences through community support programmes first before going to the Court. Filing for a statutory supervision order should as far as possible always be a last resort.

c.
Allow the Court to order a social report detailing intervention plans, order progress reports and bond the parents or guardian to secure their commitment to exercise proper care and guardianship for the duration of the Court order. This ensures that the intervention plans are suited to the needs of the child, and involve the parents or guardian in the process.

15 MSF is proposing to retain the CYPA age limit of below 16 years for children in need of supervision. This means that a parent or guardian can make a Court application for statutory supervision only if the child is below the age of 16 years. This proposal has generated a diverse range of feedback. Some stakeholders agree that the age limit should remain at below 16 years, because those between the ages of 16 and 18 years are more likely to resent being brought to Court by their parents, thereby worsening the already adversarial parent-child relationship. Other stakeholders have indicated that 16 to 18 year olds would benefit from the family programme and being placed under supervision, especially in years where the child has critical national examinations, to prevent a worsening of risky behaviour.

Providing Feedback

16 We invite the public to share your views on the proposed amendments with us via email to consultations@msf.gov.sg by 21 March 2019. We encourage respondents to provide your name and the organisation you represent (if any), and provide explanations, illustrations, data or examples as far as possible. This will allow us to better understand your perspectives and to follow up with you if we require further clarification.

17 We will, in due course, also publish on this website a summary of the key feedback received, together with our responses. We assure you that all feedback received will, however, be kept anonymous.

1Since 2013, MSF has established community-based agencies such as the Child Protection Specialist Centres, Fostering Agencies and agencies that run the Safe and Strong Family pilot. They are key touchpoints that provide support to children with care and protection needs, and their families.

2This comprises foster care and kinship care.

3The number of child abuse/neglect cases investigated by MSF has steadily risen from 343 cases in 2013 to 894 in 2017.

4The CYPA currently covers children below the age of 16 years.