1. What drew you into working with youths in the social service sector?
I've always had a soft spot for children and young people. I started out my journey of serving young people in my church's youth ministry where I led groups of 13 – 16 year olds for 4 years. Through this experience, I realised how much I enjoyed supporting their journeys of self-discovery and growth. Hence, I decided early on in my university days that I eventually wanted to do so as a career.
2. What would you say has been your greatest struggle and how did you overcome it?
My greatest struggle in working with adolescents thus far has been to manage my own expectations on the progress of each adolescents and/or their families. As we work with adolescents who come from complex family backgrounds with multiple stressors, there is often a need to prioritise the immediate risks and needs of the adolescent and their families (for instance addressing family violence or processing traumatic childhood experiences which contribute to the adolescent’s behaviours) while juggling the demands of the programme and ensuring continued efforts towards meeting goals and KPIs. This all happens within the 6 months to 1 year period of our time with them. As a younger worker I used to despair when I felt the adolescent did not achieve the outcome stipulated by the programme such as obtaining school attendance of more than 80%. However, I have learnt that while programme KPIs are important and we should always strive to achieve them, the building of relationships, imparting of values, knowledge and skills are invaluable even if sometimes immeasurable. I learnt to celebrate small successes with them. It can be simple things like a previously unresponsive adolescent responding to intervention efforts positively or a parent learning how to communicate more positively with his/her child. Once I shifted my perspective away from achieving programme outcomes to trusting in the process of intervention through relationship building and building human capital, I was able to do more in the interest of the adolescent and go above and beyond my core duties to care for these adolescents and their families as valuable lives rather than merely cases.
3. Care Corner’s vision is to spread care to every corner in Singapore, why do you think it is important that we go beyond to help people?
Many of us (even those in the helping profession) are often unaware of the privilege we grew up in until we interact with single parents who work multiple shifts in order to put food on the table for their 3 young children or when we make home visits to families of 8 or more squeezing in a one room rental flat resulting in some children sleeping at the common corridor. While such scenarios might come as a shock to us especially living in a developed country like Singapore, it is necessary for us as a community to go beyond expressing sympathies to taking action. I believe there is an innate ability in all of us to care for others. In fact, if we limited the role of providing care to those in the helping professions, there would probably not be enough to go around! At the end of the day, it is the duty of those of us who are in more privileged positions and have the necessary resources to care for the needs of the disadvantaged and marginalised in our society. As an organization, Care Corner Singapore hopes that through our efforts of providing quality services for those in need, working closely with stakeholders in the community through strategic partnership and mobilising volunteers, raising funds for the needy as well as raising awareness of the needs of the underprivileged and marginalised in society, we will be able to encourage and inspire the community to take action, in whatever ways they can. Ultimately, this is how I see the vision of Care Corner coming into fulfilment.
4. What do you think has been the driving force behind your passion in helping youths?
Many adolescents we work with come from extremely challenging backgrounds and tend to possess a negative sense of self and view of the world. They are often misunderstood as well due to their involvement in the criminal justice system or seemingly deviant behaviours. In Care Corner Youth Services, we embrace the period of adolescence as a second window of opportunity as evident in research. It is a time for the reshaping of young minds. With the building of trusting relationships and provision of adequate opportunities and resources, these adolescents have the potential to shine despite their difficult circumstances or backgrounds. My hope is that through our work with the systems in the adolescent’s environment such as their families, schools and the criminal justice system, we will be able to shift mindsets and perceptions of these adolescents – from labelling them as a group of dangerous or reckless people to appreciating that they are simply at-risk of getting into trouble because of circumstances that many of us have been fortunate enough not to go through. They might also be lacking in the necessary supervision needed for their healthy growth and development. Hence, as key adult figures in their lives, we can support them on their journey towards change and transformation if we take time to understand them and build relationships with them.
5. Has there been anything/anyone that has been instrumental in your journey through the social service sector? Why?
Work in the social service sector is unique in that it involves a lot of use of self in the process. This means that having good self-awareness and constantly evaluating my values and beliefs are critical in ensuring that my work is always doing justice to the people I serve.
With regards to instrumental people, I would say that there has not been one but many in my journey through the social service sector. I started out as a Child Protection Officer in the Ministry of Social and Family Development before entering the youth work scene with Care Corner. All the mentors and supervisors I have had since the start of my social service journey had a part to play in shaping me into the practitioner I now am. They have imparted invaluable skills and knowledge to me with regards to direct work with clients, leadership in the sector as well as having systemic perspectives on social concerns. My peers, likewise, have encouraged me with their unwavering passion for the various groups of people they serve. Being constantly surrounded by like-minded friends with the same desire to impact lives and transform society one child/adolescent/family at a time has been one of the most critical factors in getting me through times of uncertainty, doubt and fear.
6. What would you say to someone who is struggling right now?
Trust that everyone (including yourself) is doing their best and we all have seasons in our lives where our best isn't great but that's okay. Be kind to yourself and others! Think about the times when you overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges in your life- How did you make it through? Who or what had helped you to get to where you are today? Revisit these people and strategies and evaluate if you can rely on these resources again. Don't be afraid to reach out for help when you need. There are people in your life who care for you but might not know what you are struggling with. Reach out anyway and you will be surprised at how others can lift you up. Never be afraid to make a big deal of what's important to you. It's okay if what you're struggling with now is something that happened to you a long time ago or if it's something others might dismiss as trivial or unimportant. A difficult time is subjective to the person who experiences it and your feelings are always valid. Most importantly, trust in the human capacity for resilience and know that you will be able to overcome your challenges just as you have done so before.
7. What does thriving mean to you?
I have had this wallpaper for some time on my office computer. It says "Bloom where you are planted". I love the message as I think it encapsulates the concept of thriving and resilience. Just as how a flower is able to bloom even when a seed lands in a crack in the concrete, we too can make the best of our situations by seizing opportunities for growth. As long as we hold on to hope in life, we will be able to bloom where we are planted.