Youth homes tweak activities to keep residents' spirits up

For almost two months, residents at the Singapore Girls' Home and Singapore Boys' Home were unable to receive face-to-face parental visits because of circuit breaker measures put in place to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Programmes such as group sports and dance lessons conducted by external service providers had to be put on hold temporarily, too.

Feeling frustrated, this led to some residents at the Singapore Girls' Home - who are between 10 and 19 years old - acting out.

For instance, several began to show signs of distress.

Senior youth guidance officer Justina Chan told The New Paper: "Some of the girls were talking back to the staff, but I recognised this was because of their disappointment that the visits had to be ceased."

Once, a resident got upset with a staff member after being told her parental visits and home leave would be suspended on account of the Covid-19 restrictions, she said.

"It took a while for her to regulate her emotions," added Ms Chan, who then arranged a video call with her family instead.

Another senior youth guidance officer, Mr Muhamad Nur from the Singapore Boys' Home, which provides care and support for troubled boys aged 10 to 19, said although he did not observe an increase in behavioural issues among the boys, they were dejected by the no-visitors rule as well.

As a result, adjustments had to be made to help the residents pass time, said Ms Chan and Mr Nur.

"We were also responsible for keeping them updated on the Covid-19 situation, so they could understand why some rules, like not having their parents visit them temporarily, were necessary," Mr Nur said.

Ms Chan added: "We had to step up, and made it a point to conduct programmes, like having regular check-in sessions, to help them open up and get in touch with their feelings."

Meaningful activities such as weekly themed games, movie therapy and making TikTok videos were initiated by the youth guidance officers. Other activities included creative avenues of expression such as writing lyrics and visual art.

The residents also had a chance to pen appreciation messages for the front-line workers fighting Covid-19.

Ms Chan said: "Over time, they saw we were working hard for them. We were putting in 12-hour shifts and spending more time and interacting with them to help them cope."

STEPPING UP ON ACTIVITIES

We had to step up, and made it a point to conduct programmes, like having regular check-in sessions, to help them open up and get in touch with their feelings.

SENIOR YOUTH GUIDANCE OFFICER JUSTINA CHAN, on making adjustments to help the residents cope with the curbs.

During phase two of Singapore's reopening from June 19, residents at both homes can have two related visitors visiting them at once, compared with only one family member previously in phase one.

Home leave also resumed on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Nur said: "When parents came down to visit the residents, it was like a joyous reunion. But they understood the importance of social distancing measures and restrained from giving hugs."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2020, with the headline 'Youth homes tweak activities to keep residents' spirits up'. Print Edition | Subscribe