A law which protects young offenders as well as children under the age of 16 who are exposed to abuse, neglect or risk may be extended to cover those under 18.
The Children and Young Persons Act - first enacted in 1949 and last amended in 2011 - provides for the welfare, care, protection and rehabilitation of children under 16. It also supports those who have committed offences; those who have been abused or neglected by parents or caregivers; and those whose parents are seeking the court's guidance to improve their behaviour. Currently, offenders aged 16 and above are treated as adults before the courts.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee introduced a Bill in Parliament yesterday to amend the Act to, among other things, extend legal protection to children under 18 years old, with the aim of enhancing care for them.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development also wants to introduce an enhanced care and protection order under the law, a court order that authorises a person other than the child's natural parents or guardians to care of and make decisions for the child.
It is to help maintain stable and long-term care arrangements if the court has assessed that it is not in the best interest of the child to reunite with his family. This could be because the family is not able to care for the child without risking his safety and the child has remained in out-of-home care cumulatively beyond a specific duration.
The order will provide the caregiver with powers to make decisions for the child, which would otherwise require parental consent, so that decisions crucial for the child's development can be made without delay, the ministry said. Caregivers will be able to make day-to-day decisions such as meal arrangements.
But as a safeguard, they will still need to get permission from the authorities or, in some cases, the court before going ahead with more important decisions such as healthcare or education-related matters. This safeguard is meant for more sensitive and significant decisions, such as surgery or a name change.
The order, which can last until the child turns 21, gives him certainty and provides a stable arrangement to help the child recover, said the ministry.
To give youth offenders who turn over a new leaf a second chance, the law may also be changed so that a youth's criminal record can be considered spent when he completes certain youth court orders, including community service orders and detention orders. This means the youth can lawfully declare that he has no criminal record.
Another change would see the identity of a child under 18 remain protected as long as he does not commit a further offence when he is older.
Other proposals include extending childcare leave benefits to foster parents. Currently, foster parents who work need to take their own leave to care for their foster children, even when the children need to see a doctor or a therapist to work through possible developmental delays or trauma from abuse. There are about 510 foster families in Singapore.
Mr Lee said in a Facebook post later that he is thankful for foster parents "who have stepped forward to give unconditional love and care to vulnerable children". He added: "We want to better support foster parents who have opened their hearts and homes, to love and care for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned."