Parents’ Guide to Family Guidance Orders in Singapore
Parenting a child is not an easy task, and every parent knows that disciplining their children is important to rein in any wayward behaviour. However, there may be instances where the child has serious behavioural challenges that might ultimately warrant legal intervention and assistance.
In this article, we explain Family Guidance Orders, which may be filed by parents or guardians for the rehabilitative treatment of a child with serious behavioural concerns. It will cover:
What is a Family Guidance Order?
A Family Guidance Order (FGO) is a court order issued to a child below 16 years of age and who displays serious behavioural concerns or challenges. These could include the child running away or being in the wrong company.
Replacing the Beyond Parental Control (BPC) order, the FGO emphasises the importance of the child’s family in supporting them through their behavioural concerns.
Under section 50 of the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA), the parents or guardians of the child concerned may apply to the Youth Courts for an FGO to be made against the child.
Examples of FGOs that can be issued include orders for the child and his or her parents/guardians to attend counselling, or placing the child under the supervision of a welfare officer to oversee their behaviour (detailed below).
How Do I Apply for a Family Guidance Order?
Parents/guardians who wish to apply for a FGO will first need to approach the appointed agencies – the Singapore Children’s Society and Epworth Community Services – for an appointment to undergo a Pre-FGO screening.
The screening typically entails an interview by the staff of the appointed agency with the parents and the child (if he or she is present), where they will be advised on the next steps to take based on the severity of the child’s behavioural issues.
The parents/guardians and the child will then be referred to attend a mandatory family programme conducted by either agency. The mandatory family programme is a diversionary programme that seeks to minimise the child’s exposure to the judicial system by using community-based treatment and support options to resolve the child’s behavioural concerns.
The family programme seeks to:
- Resolve any relationship problems between the child and his or her parent/guardian;
- Rehabilitate or assist in the rehabilitation of the child;
- Enable the parent/guardian of the child to manage them; or
- Enhance, promote or protect the physical, social and emotional well-being and safety of the child.
If the behavioural issues are not resolved through the mandatory family programme, the parents/guardians may proceed to make an application for an FGO through the agencies. Nonetheless, the family programme must be completed before an application for an FGO can be made.
The following documents will be required for the application:
- Birth certificate and identity card of the child;
- Identity cards of the parents/guardians;
- Any court orders on custody, care and control, guardianship or adoption;
- Police reports, if any.
What Happens After an Application for a Family Guidance Order Is Made?
First, the appointed agency will review and assess the application and make its recommendation to the Youth Court on possible intervention options for the child concerned.
The recommendation would be included in a document called a Social Report, which is a document that specifies the following in relation to the child who is the subject of the FGO application:
- The risks and requirements of the child at a particular point in time
- The proposed activities and programmes that the child or his parent/guardian, or both, should attend for the purpose of enabling the parent/guardian to address the risks and requirements raised about the child at that point in time
- Any other information as prescribed by the appointed agency
If the child is not present when the FGO application has proceeded in court, the Youth Court judge may issue a warrant of arrest for him or her to be brought to court.
What Requirements Must be Met Before the Court Can Make a Family Guidance Order?
Before the Youth Court will make an FGO, the Youth Court judge must first be satisfied that all the following requirements have been met:
- The parent/guardian is unable to guide the child and the child needs to be guided by a person other than his/her parent or guardian;
- The child and the parent/guardian have completed a family programme; and
- The court is satisfied that the parent/guardian understands the consequences that will follow from, and consents to, the making of the FGO.
What Are the Types of Court Orders that May be Issued under the Family Guidance Order?
If the Youth Court decides to grant the FGO, the child may then be:
- Placed under supervision of an approved welfare officer or some other person appointed by the court for up to 3 years;
- Committed to the care of a fit person for up to 3 years; or
- Committed to the care of a place of safety for up to 3 years.
The child and/or his or her parent/guardian may also be ordered to attend counselling, psychotherapy or any other assessment, programme or treatment that the Youth Court judge thinks would be necessary in the circumstances.
The parent/guardian may also be required to enter into a bond to ensure that they comply with the order(s) made by Youth Court.
A “fit person” refers to either a foster parent or such other person whom the court thinks is competent to provide care, protection and supervision to the child, having regard to that person’s character.
On the other hand, a “place of safety” refers to certain institutions that have been appointed by the Minister for Social and Family Development, in which the child would have to reside for the duration ordered by the court and will be cared for and/or protected.
Examples of places of safety include MSF Youth Homes like the Singapore Boys’ Home and Singapore Girls’ Home.
What Happens if a Child Refuses or Fails to Comply with the Requirements of a Family Guidance Order?
If a child refuses or fails to comply with the requirements of an FGO, such as by refusing or failing to attend counselling or therapy programmes as ordered by the court, this may constitute a breach of the FGO.
Where a child breaches an FGO, an approved welfare officer may initiate breach proceedings against him/her in the Youth Courts. The court may then make a fresh order against the child.
Consequently, the child may also be remanded in the Singapore Boys’ Home or Singapore Girls’ Home for a further report to be prepared.
The Youth Court judge will take into account the further report before making an appropriate order against the child, which may differ from the first FGO that had been breached.
What are Some Alternatives to a Family Guidance Order?
Applying for an FGO is often regarded as a measure of last resort that is reserved for children with very serious behavioural issues.
Parents or guardians are therefore strongly encouraged to approach their nearest Family Service Centres (FSC) or family welfare/youth agencies for support before applying for an FGO.
The FSCs and agencies offer various intervention programmes and services to help parents or guardians who are facing challenges addressing behavioural issues or concerns in children. Attending these programmes will also limit the need to expose the child/children concerned to the legal system at a young age.
While an FGO is intended to provide a form of reprieve for a child with behavioural issues or concerns, seeking legal recourse through an FGO should be considered only if all other options have been exhausted.
The replacement of the former BPC Order with FGO highlights the shift in focus from solely the behaviour of the child to also include the role of the child’s family in guiding him or her through behavioural issues.
Parents play a critical role in communicating with their child and should do their best to help them address their disciplinary issues.
Parents who need legal advice on FGOs or alternatives to FGOs for their child may wish to consult a lawyer for guidance.
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