SINGAPORE: Support for abused and neglected children will be strengthened and the rehabilitation and reintegration of youth offenders improved under amendments proposed for the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) which was tabled for first reading in parliament on Monday (Aug 5).
The amendments proposed the introduction of an Enhanced Care and Protection Order (ECPO) that will authorise a designated person other than a child’s natural parents or guardians to make decisions that would otherwise require parental consent.
The ECPO can be applied in cases where despite the best efforts of professionals and the community, it is not in the best interests of the child to be reunified with his or her family.
It will last until the child turns 21, unless otherwise specified by the court.
By providing the ECPO caregiver with decision-making power, delays of important decisions can be avoided, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). This would include day-to-day decisions like daily transportation and vaccinations.
Under the amendments, childcare leave benefits will also be extended to foster parents to help them care for their foster children.
Targeted to be implemented in the first quarter of 2020, foster parents will now be accorded the same maximum number of childcare leave days as natural parents.
Currently, foster parents are not entitled to childcare leave benefits. There are 510 foster families in Singapore as of June this year, said MSF, stressing the role of foster parents and community support in looking after vulnerable children.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in a post on Facebook on Monday said: "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 ... Foster parents play an important part in our network of support for vulnerable children.
"Extending childcare leave benefits provides them more time and flexibility to care for their foster children. They can take leave to bring the foster children to see a doctor when they fall ill or to a therapist to work through possible developmental delays or trauma from abuse."
Last amended in 2011, the CYPA currently allows MSF to intervene to provide protection and assistance to abused or neglected children below 16. The new Bill seeks to extend such protection to children below 18.
This is aligned with the definition of “child” under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, said MSF.
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Similarly, the amendments also look to enhance the rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders, including those between 16 and 18.
To give young offenders a second chance, their criminal record would be deemed spent when they successfully complete specific Youth Court orders. This means they can lawfully declare that they do not have a criminal record.
Under the current CYPA, the identity of a youth offender is protected if he is below 16. The amendments seek to ensure that his remains protected for life, as long as no further offences are committed .
MSF said that the amendments took into account public feedback received and the experiences of social service agencies (SSAs) that work with children and families.
The Bill was put together after consulting over 300 stakeholders and SSAs in the children and youth services sectors. More than 40 written responses were also received during the public consultation between February and March this year.
Many contributors agreed that the CYPA would complement the role of the family in looking after vulnerable children and noted the importance of upstream intervention, said MSF.
Most agreed that older children lack the cognitive maturity of adults and may be exposed to harm, and showed strong support for amendments to extend the CYPA to include children who are abused or neglected and young offenders between 16 and 18.
More details will be made available at the Bill's second reading next month, said MSF.