Tailor-made help for children of ex-offenders

Ms Anne Rita Francis, 37, and her son Aloysius Joseph Solomon, 14, outside their two-room flat in Bedok.

SINGAPORE - Eight years after her ex-husband began receiving letters from Iscos, Ms Anne Rita Francis still takes part in its activities with her 14-year-old son Aloysius Joseph Solomon.

Her former partner had been in and out of prison several times and despite being an Iscos member, was "not interested" in its programmes, she said.

The 37-year old divorcee believed the activities would help her only son, who is hyperactive and dyslexic, "to be sociable and to learn to open up to people".

It was not easy at first but she found solace through people she met there. "I felt our family was not complete but I got to know people from similar backgrounds. Some were in situations worse than mine, but they managed to overcome their pain."

Ms Francis lives with Aloysius in a two-room flat in Bedok. Currently working as a part-time playgroup teacher, she earns just $430 a month and is supported financially by Iscos and other organisations.

Iscos has also helped Aloysius through its Fairy Godparent Programme. He has received book grants and was awarded a tuition bursary in 2011 sponsored by law firm Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow. The year he was in Primary 6, he was also attached to a lawyer mentor from the firm.

Said Aloysius, who hopes to be a policeman: "My mentor helped me to understand why studying is important. He also took me to do prawning and watch movies. I want a good future for myself."

Ms Francis said they will continue to go to Iscos events, and hopes they will help keep Aloysius on the "right path".

Her greatest fear is that he will mix with the wrong company and drop out of school. "I don't know how long I can be there for him," she added. "I just hope he will be wise in handling all that has been given to him."

Tailor-made help for children of ex-offenders

Parental conflicts, homes with no tables for students to study at and even grimy rooms infested with bed bugs.

Such conditions are all too familiar to case workers who seek to help the children of ex-offenders.

However, back in January, the Industrial and Services Cooperative Society (Iscos) launched its revamped Fairy Godparent Programme, which aims to give these youngsters better family support and a conducive home study environment. Supported by the Yellow Ribbon Fund charity, it has since helped more than 170 children and their families.

Iscos is a social organisation that helps former offenders reintegrate successfully into society and its Fairy Godparent Programme looks to minimise the risk of inter-generational re-offending.

A study carried out here in 2007 revealed that children of incarcerated fathers are eight times more likely to offend than those in the general population.

When the old Fairy Godparent Programme was reviewed, Iscos focused on three areas: student development, family support and home environment.

Previously, help in these areas was carried out separately or performed on an ad hoc basis, but now, all three aspects are offered to a student categorised as having "high needs".

In general, those needing academic assistance are given tuition while those doing well receive bursary awards. The child is also attached to a mentor who provides positive adult role modelling, emotional support and guidance.

Parents are encouraged to attend various parenting and family workshops and family bonding activities. A proper study corner is set up for those without a conducive studying atmosphere while parents are educated and assisted on other aspects of the home that impair a child's studying capacity.

Iscos case workers told The Straits Times they had observed households with no chairs or tables for children to work at while others were grimy and unhygienic.

"Some children chose to study on the floor or in front of the television," said senior social services executive Nasyrah Bee Mohamed. "When the children don't like to study at home, they loiter outside or at others' homes and play all day long."

Iscos' executive director Phang Seok Sieng said: "The revamped programme has been warmly received by the beneficiaries and my case workers are determined to bring the programme to its full potential.

"In the long run, our hope is for the child to achieve his academic potential, to be employable and financially independent; a contributing law-abiding citizen."

She hopes Iscos will increase the number of students and families it helps by 20 per cent a year - though this depends on funding. So far, it has received only half of the $400,000 it needs to run the programme this year.

Iscos is also seeking more mentors trained to help such families. It currently has 73 - including more than 20 from law firm Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow.

Staff said they signed up because they wanted to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children.

Lawyer Koh See Khiang, 35, sometimes takes the elder of his two sons along to Iscos activities. "I don't want my boy to grow up cloistered. I want him to grow up with people from all walks of life," he said.

"My day-to-day interactions are with people from a certain segment of society who may not be representative of our population at large. While I appreciate the privilege of being able to add value to the firm's clients, I cherish the opportunity to add value to someone's life even more."