Twice a week, public relations officer Mohamed Fawzi Ali, 46, visits the families of inmates in Macpherson, where he lives.
He fondly recalls how he had helped a 10-year-old girl whose father was in jail. After visiting the child and her mother two years ago, he introduced the girl to a weekend madrasah at a nearby mosque. She has been attending classes there since.
"The kid studied well (at school), but what they wanted was something for the inner self," said Mr Fawzi, a volunteer with the Yellow Ribbon Community Project since 2012. The project helps the families of inmates.
Grassroots volunteers like him will soon receive further training, an add-on to the one-day programme they now undergo to learn the skills required for the job. This will help them to identify vulnerable children of inmates and provide deeper community support for families, said Parliamentary Secretary (Home Affairs) Amrin Amin yesterday. The training will start this year, and more details will be released later.
Mr Amrin announced this at the annual workplan seminar of Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (Care) - a network of agencies that helps rehabilitate former offenders.
Last November, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which provides financial support for programmes and services for former offenders, became part of the Care Network, allowing better coordination for fund-raising efforts, he said.
Highlighting the need to deepen community involvement, Mr Amrin added: "Without proper family support and a conducive growing- up environment, the children will be at a higher risk of developing anti-social behaviours or may face difficulty coping in school."
Under the new training programme, volunteers will learn to identify the needs of the children of inmates and connect them to Care Network agencies.
Mr Amrin said volunteers will be encouraged to introduce the families of inmates to grassroots community programmes to widen their social support network, rather than just link them up with resources. Volunteers can also encourage inmates to keep in touch with their family members, added Mr Amrin, a Sembawang GRC MP.
Currently, with inmates' consent, volunteers approach their families, encouraging them to visit their loved ones in prison.
On average, 70 per cent of newly-admitted offenders agree to take part in the programme.
Since its inception in 2010, the Yellow Ribbon Community Project has helped more than 4,000 families. It has more than 800 grassroots volunteers, up from about 60 in 2010.
Ms Edlyn Tan, 28, a volunteer of three years, hopes more young people can come on board as "it's never easy to find suitable volunteers for this role".
She said, for example, that volunteers have to be sensitive to families' needs by carrying out visits discreetly if the families have not told their children or neighbours about the incarceration.
Noting that he now sees more young families of inmates in Macpherson, Mr Fawzi said he encourages his three sons to help too. "I tell the kids, if I'm not around, please continue this work."
This article was first published on May 13, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.