For several hours four times a week, even in the wee hours of the night, these social workers comb the void decks and parks in search of youths.
Their aim: To reach out to youth-at-risk in the community, in hopes of engaging them and providing them with guidance and support, if needed.
Run by the Central Youth Guidance Office (CYGO) under the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, the Youth GO! Programme (YGP) is a youth outreach programme modelled after established street services in countries like Hong Kong.
Voluntary welfare organisation Care Corner Singapore was appointed to run the pilot programme in the North East district in February, and it was rolled out in the North West district in May, with Fei Yue Community Services appointed to run it.
The YGP is targeted at youths aged 12 to 21. At present, there are six social workers – termed outreach workers – in the North East district and three in the North West district.
“We hope to help as many youths as possible (to) stay crime-free and lead a productive life,” said Mr Tan Hock Seng, Assistant Director (Development) of CYGO. From February to May, outreach workers reached out to 595 youths in the North East district.
Skateboarding with kids
These outreach workers, who normally work in pairs, spend three to eight hours at the void decks or parks during each shift. They have several shifts, including one that ends at 6am.
This reporter shadowed the outreach workers twice and observed how they engaged the youngsters. To break the ice, they try to participate in the activities the latter are engaged in. For instance, when an outreach worker approached teenaged skateboarders, he tried to skateboard as well.
Ms Janet Lim, a social worker at Care Corner Singapore, shared how she once approached three youths who were performing stunts on their BMX bicycle, and was invited by two of them to ride on their bicycle.
“I was a bit intimidated but you cannot reject … It’s a kind of invitation, a form of acceptance,” said Ms Lim. She was then asked to show them how to dance hip-hop and, in return, the youngsters taught her how to shuffle.
Such “sharing”, she said, encourages the teens to talk to them and not see them only as “authority figures”.
This reporter observed how outreach efforts paid off when one youth approached a worker – who had befriended the youth a couple of months ago – to organise an activity.
In March, the outreach workers found out that one youth had run away from home. Worried, they called him the next day. While the youth went home two to three days later, the outreach workers still call him once every two to three weeks to check on him.
At times, the workers are rebuffed. Once, they approached a group at a void deck only to see the teens leave.
The workers usually end the engagement by handing out their name cards and explaining the services they provide, such as being a listening ear or helping youth go back to school.
As a pilot programme, the outreach workers faced some challenges, including having to build their confidence.
“Everybody in the team doesn’t have experience in outreach work, even though we all have experience in youth work. But outreach work is a bit different, and it’s also different to get out, to start a conversation cold,” said Mr Low Kar Leong, a counsellor at Care Corner Singapore.
To help them, a social worker from Hong Kong has been supervising the Youth GO! workers in the North East district since March. In April, four workers were also attached to two outreach organisations in Hong Kong for 10 days. The outreach workers were then able to engage with local youth for at least 15 to 20 minutes, compared to only three to five minutes previously.
There are plans to roll out the Youth GO! Programme nationally.
“We are using the two pilots to evaluate the service model and fine-tune the system and framework,” said the CYGO’s Mr Tan. “With the evaluation and refinements, we will then roll out islandwide.”