Darrell Loh, counsellor from the Pre-Family Guidance Order (Pre-FGO) programme under Singapore Children’s Society, shares that it takes more than just professional knowledge to help people.
I have been working as a social service practitioner with Singapore Children’s Society for five years. My job as a Pre-FGO family therapist in the last three years involves assisting families who require guidance to steer their children away from risky and worrying behaviours prior to court intervention (e.g., applying for Family Guidance Order) by having families participate in a family-based therapy. Working with pre-FGO youth and families has been a humbling and eye-opening experience. For me, it is about understanding each family’s unique challenges and strengths and providing them our understanding and patience to help them to reconnect and work through obstacles they may encounter.
The work of a family therapist in pre-FGO is challenging and emotionally charged. Our clients share with us their most vulnerable side and look to us for help when they feel that they have exhausted all options to make things right. As trained professionals, we are often tasked with managing high levels of conflict within families and helping them navigate through difficult situations and decisions. For example, when youth are involved with bad company and engage in behaviours that put their future and well-being at risk, how can parents decide if it will be in the child’s best interest to apply to the court to place them in an out-of-home care environment. As a parent, it is never an easy decision to send your child away. Therefore, it is our job to manage their emotions while mediating the situation for an ideal intervention.
During these three years, I have learned a lot about love, humility and forgiveness from the families whom I have had the privilege to work with. I recall one incident where a youth I was working with repeatedly ignored my calls and messages and ran away from home for several weeks. For her safety, I had to discuss with her parents about taking the next step to apply for a Family Guidance Order (FGO) and potentially placing her in a Voluntary Children’s Home (VCH). Yet, during this discussion, her parents decided to give their daughter another chance before asking the Court to place her in a VCH. They said to me, “We are her parents, if we don’t forgive her and believe that she can change, no one else will.”
Their words moved me and made me want to work even harder to connect with this youth and show her that I believed in her as much as her parents did. After receiving trust and support from her parents, she returned home and accepted family therapy eventually. She had to own up to her mistakes and the hurt she had caused her family. She made several difficult changes in her life to mend her ways such as distancing herself from negative peer groups and returning to school after being away for a long time. Through the programme and her family’s support, she was able to tide through these challenges. The youth and her parents showed incredible openness to being introduced to new ways to settle their conflict and disagreements. Eventually through learning together, they reconnected as a family, which supported the youth to make positive changes.
In families’ time of helplessness and darkness, it is our job as helping professionals to believe in their potential and encourage them to exhaust all mediative alternatives to ensure the youth navigates the challenges of adolescence under the loving care of their family before an FGO is considered. Though it can be challenging, reminding myself of this motivates me to not give up, and to continue supporting youth and their families through their challenging times.
To find out more about the pre-FGO programmes and eligibility, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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