Pioneering social worker Janet Yee dies aged 85, remembered as compassionate and nurturing leader

Veteran social worker Janet Yee was inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame in 2015 and was known for championing the rights of abandoned babies to Singapore citizenship.
Veteran social worker Janet Yee was inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame in 2015 and was known for championing the rights of abandoned babies to Singapore citizenship.PHOTO: DESMOND LEE/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Veteran social worker Janet Yee, recognised as a pioneering social worker and advocate of children's rights here, died last Friday (Oct 25) at the age of 85.

She was inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame in 2015 and was known for championing the rights of abandoned babies to Singapore citizenship, which paved the way for social workers to seek medical and schooling benefits for them.

It is understood that she died of complications due to old age.

She leaves behind two sons and a daughter.

On Wednesday, Minister for Family and Social Development Desmond Lee hailed Ms Yee as a tireless pioneer on Facebook.

"Janet continued to be active in social services well after her retirement (from public service) in 1989. At MSF (the Ministry of Social and Family Development) and the social services, we pay tribute to her for her many contributions," wrote Mr Lee.

Ms Yee joined the Government's Social Welfare Department as an assistant youth officer in 1955 and quickly rose through the ranks, overseeing 11 welfare institutions, including boys' homes and welfare homes by 1986.

Former colleagues remembered her as kind and caring at work.

Ms Ang Bee Lian, MSF's director of social welfare, said Ms Yee was more than a passionate colleague - she was also her first boss.

"I remember her as a very motherly and nurturing figure. Her presence was reassuring to new recruits like me, who would often seek her advice when we were presented with difficult cases," said Ms Ang, adding that Ms Yee was very generous with sharing her insights and knowledge on social work.

"She lived a wonderful, full life and achieved many things."

As many poor families with many children prepared to put up their babies for adoption in the 1960s and 1970s, Ms Ang recalled Ms Yee stepping in to ensure parents were well-informed about the decisions they were taking.

"Janet would coach us on how best we could communicate with these parents, and provided counselling and marital advice to couples as well. For her, the child was central to the family. She always reminded us that a child was a unifying factor to solve discord in a family, but should never be used as a pawn," she said.

Ms Yee was also a trailblazer for women's issues at the regional level.

From 1988 to 1990, she was president of both the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) and Asean Confederation of Women's Organisation (ACWO).

Dr Anamah Tan, a former president of SCWO, worked closely with Ms Yee and remembered her fondly.

"Janet was a very practical person and well-grounded in her views culled over her years of experience as a social work activist," Dr Tan said. "Whenever I was in doubt and I asked her for her advice, she always said at the end: 'Do your best and the results will show for it.' "