Four new homes for vulnerable children

They will be ready by year end, have fewer residents so each child gets more attention

Some children in residential and foster care here have had traumatic experiences ranging from severe neglect to physical and sexual abuse.

To give these children more attention and supervision, the authorities are setting up four new group homes for them.

These homes, to be ready by the end of the year and located within existing children's homes, will have fewer residents so that each child can get more attention. The homes will take in only children with higher needs, and staff will be specially trained to handle these children.

So if a child misbehaves, instead of handing out punishment, staff at the new homes will consider if his behaviour is linked to past trauma. Methods of helping the child deal with his issues range from breathing techniques to help him calm down, to walks in the garden.

The new homes will also have a smaller child to staff ratio, although the authorities are still working out what the exact ratio would be. Currently, there are 22 children's homes here with about 630 residents as of May. The staff to child ratio varies from home to home, but they are required to have a minimum of one staff for every 15 children.

In all, there are 1,100 children in out-of-home care - meaning in homes and in foster care - and the Ministry of Social and Family Development estimates about 15 to 20 per cent of them are children with higher needs due to past trauma or because they have special needs.

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Social and Family Development, announced the new homes yesterday in his speech at the Rehabilitation and Protection Care Conference. The conference, organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), was held at Orchard Hotel and attended by 450 participants from voluntary welfare organisations, family service centres, schools, hospitals and the courts.

  • 22

    Number of children's homes here

  • 630

    Number of residents as of May

  • 1,100

    Number of children in out-of-home care

Mr Tan also announced that the Government will pump in $7 million over four years - starting this year - to train those who work with children in residential care.

MSF has partnered the Social Service Institute to develop a training framework that maps out professional development for all staff, from care staff to management.

Part of this framework is that all new residential staff will, in their first year, attend a core course covering the impact of abuse and neglect, how trauma can impact a child's development, and the roles of residential staff in addressing a child's behaviour.

MSF is also reviewing the standards of care so that more stringent policies can be put in place to ensure children are only placed in care as a last resort.

Said Mr Tan: "It has become clear to me that the natural family will always be an integral part of a child. If we want to help the child effectively, we must also work with the family... Out-of-home care must therefore be a last resort and be put in place only if there are safety concerns."

Since 2013, MSF has also been trying to put more children in foster care instead of in homes. With 77 per cent more foster parents now than in 2013, the ministry has been able to place 46 per cent more children in foster care, said Mr Tan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'Four new homes for vulnerable children'. Print Edition | Subscribe