SUMMARY OF FEEDBACK FROM CONSULTATIONS ON
AMENDMENTS TO CHILDREN AND YOUNG PERSONS ACT
Since 2018, MSF has consulted over 300 stakeholders and Social Service Agencies (SSAs) in the children and youth services sector e.g. the Youth Advisory Group, Committee on Fostering, Children and Young Persons Homes, amongst others. MSF has also received over 40 written responses during the public consultation held from 8 February to 21 March 2019, including from SSAs like the Singapore Children’s Society, Focus on the Family and Youth Work Association (Singapore).
2. The feedback has been generally supportive. Many contributors agreed that the Bill would complement the role of the family in looking after vulnerable children and noted the importance of upstream intervention. MSF’s responses to the main issues are set out below.
Higher age limits in the CYPA
3. Contributors strongly supported the amendments to extend the CYPA to include children who are abused or neglected, and young offenders aged 16 to below 18. Contributors agreed that these older children lack the cognitive maturity of adults and may be exposed to harm.
Safeguards against enhanced powers
4. Contributors welcomed the enhanced powers of MSF and partners to intervene and provide expedient care for children who have been harmed. At the same time, they highlighted the importance of having safeguards. For example, one contributor suggested that the proposal to enable foster parents to make decisions for their foster child has to be accompanied by more stringent screening before appointing foster parents. MSF agrees and has also incorporated legislative safeguards such that more sensitive and significant decisions are made only if tighter conditions are met. For example, parental consent is not required for day-to-day care decisions like personal grooming or vaccinations. On the other hand, care-providers may make healthcare decisions, such as surgery, only after consulting medical practitioners. Selected decisions such as a change of name require the care-providers to apply for a Court order.
Appropriate use of terminology
5. MSF had initially proposed to empower the Youth Court to grant “Long-Term Care Orders” to provide stability in care arrangements for abused children up until they are 21 years of age. Contributors felt that the terminology “long-term” was not accurate as the Order would cease by age 21, and could be confused with the long-term healthcare needs of seniors. The Bill now uses “Enhanced Care and Protection Orders” instead.
6. Contributors generally supported MSF’s proposal to replace the term “Beyond Parental Control” (BPC1) with more neutral terminology, to avoid stigmatising children. However, some felt that the proposed term “children in need of statutory supervision” continued to ascribe blame solely to children, without recognising that the parent-child conflict can contribute to challenging behaviours in children. The Bill uses the revised term “Family Guidance Orders”, to reflect the responsibility of both parents and children.
Family Guidance Orders (FGOs)
7. Contributors generally supported MSF’s proposal to mandate the attendance of both parents and child at a family programme that addresses the parent-child conflict, before a Court application for a FGO is made as a measure of last resort.
8. However, there was no consensus amongst contributors relating to the FGO age limit. Some contributors, including SSAs who work with youths, saw merits to retaining the maximum age limit at 16. This avoids worsening the parent-child relationship that arises from the resentment felt by older youths who are brought to Court by their own parents. Others felt that the CYPA should enable parents to seek guidance for their children aged between 16 and 18. MSF has decided to retain the age limit at 16 years and focus the mandatory family programme on the needs of younger children. The proposed CYPA amendments will enable youths aged between 16 and 18 to be protected when there are safety concerns and/or offending behaviour.
Differing needs and risks of young offenders
9. While contributors broadly agreed that the CYPA should be extended to young offenders aged 16 to below 18, some were concerned about the implications of having to rehabilitate a wide age range of children within the same residential facility. For example, the needs and risks of a small child and a physically larger youth would differ, and present different challenges. Our proposed amendments will enable the youth justice system to account for the differing needs and risks of children, in order to provide for age-appropriate interventions.
Capacity of MSF and stakeholders to operationalise amendments
10. Some contributors stressed the importance of strengthening the ability of MSF and SSAs to operationalise the amendments. They expressed concern over capacity and capabilities to manage not only a higher number of children but also a new profile of older children with differing needs and risks. MSF agrees and will work in close partnership with stakeholders to determine how best to implement the different changes and allow sufficient time.
11. MSF would like to thank our stakeholders and members of the public who took time to provide feedback on the proposed amendments. If passed by Parliament, the Bill will strengthen Singapore’s legislative framework for protection and rehabilitation of children. The best interests of children are an utmost priority and it is our collective responsibility to break cycles of abuse, neglect and offending.
1 While not offenders, some children display behavioural problems in school or at home. Their behaviour may be serious enough that parents might apply to the Court for a BPC Order, for assistance in managing them.
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.
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 partners1, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.