Early support needed to help youth at risk: Desmond Lee

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said early intervention could help youths at risk turn their lives around.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said early intervention could help youths at risk turn their lives around.PHOTO: ST FILE

Such intervention can help them turn lives around, break cycle of abuse: Desmond Lee

Caught in the grip of a tough family situation, a teenage boy started skipping school and mixing with the wrong crowd.

His father, who had been in and out of prison for drug offences, was having an affair. His mother had lost her job recently and often returned home late after a night of drinking. Bereft of parental guidance, the boy returned to an empty home after school. Growing up in such a challenging environment, he easily found himself on the wrong path.

This was a case study brought up by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee yesterday, when he explained the need for early intervention and support for youth at risk.

He said: "We need to understand what puts youth at risk and address these issues as early as possible - for example, through preventative outreach, education and intervention. It also means giving our children a good start in life."

Mr Lee was speaking at a symposium discussing the early prevention of youth offending.

Organised by the National Committee on Prevention, Rehabilitation and Recidivism (NCPR), the Conversations On Youth symposium brought together 650 stakeholders for a dialogue. They included school leaders, social workers and law enforcement officers.

Mr Lee, who is also an NCPR co-chairman, said that early intervention could help youth at risk turn their lives around. He said the number of youth arrested had declined, from about 3,100 in 2014 to about 2,700 last year.


Mr Lee said: "At their stage in life, young people are significantly influenced by their environment... Youth at risk and young offenders often face challenging circumstances. They may lack family support, or mix with the wrong company. Some of this is beyond their control, but has a big impact as they are growing up."

"By providing as much help as we can upstream, we want to help our young people to form good patterns, habits and behaviour to break the cycle of abuse or offending and achieve their fullest potential," he added.

Mr Lee highlighted initiatives on providing early support to youth, such as the recent expansion of KidStart, a programme that provides advice and support to families from vulnerable backgrounds on matters such as child development, nutrition and pre-school support to enable their children to have a good start in life.

Last week, the Children and Young Persons Act - which protects juvenile youth as well as children who are exposed to abuse, neglect or risk - was amended, extending its ambit to those under 18.

Mr Lee said all stakeholders would need to work together to strengthen support for young people. "The more partners are involved, the greater the challenge to holistically address a family's needs and reach a common agreement."

Boys' Town executive director Roland Yeow said that early intervention could help youth at risk to get the help they need to turn their lives around.

"Tapping existing community resources and expertise for youth at risk is critical. With more partners coming on board, inter-agencies have a better chance to support youth at risk before further issues arrive," he said.

"I am hopeful that such a collaboration between agencies within the community would help create better interventions and outcomes in helping youth at risk to return to the mainstream or prevent future at-risk behaviour."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2019, with the headline 'Early support needed to help youth at risk: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe