Boys’ Town is a charity started by the Brothers of St. Gabriel and they provide residential care, street outreach, fostering, and community and school-based programmes for families, children, and youth-in-need.
They extend a helping hand to children and youth who come from disadvantaged families and may have faced hardship due to various reasons such as financial struggles, family issues, emotional trauma, and abuse. Through their services and programmes, the children and youth are equipped with skills that they need to become responsible and contributing members of society.
Kids World met up with Irene Loi, the Executive Director of Boys’ Town to find out more about Boys’ Town, what they stand for, what they hope to achieve, and the problems that they face.
Starting Out, Still Going Strong
When Boys’ Town first began in 1948, they were an institution that provided a place to stay, vocational skills training, and education for street kids and orphans. Over the years, they started to include underprivileged youths, ones who experienced family-related challenges, and those who have learning difficulties.
Along the way, they’ve also introduced new services such as Street Outreach, Fostering, Clinical Intervention, and an Adventure Centre. These introductions help steer Boys’ Town towards becoming a one-stop children and youth centre.
Irene told us: “Our first and foremost goal is to have the youth returned back to their families, but as long as they’re staying with us, we will provide the best care that we’re able to provide for them.
“Our residential facilities are good for the children to stay in, but nothing can replace the experience of being in an actual family for them. When they grow up, what we want for them is to have that same experience of being in a loving family passed on to their own families. That’s one of the reasons why we started our Fostering Service two years ago (in 2015).
“Annually, there are about 100 boys staying in our residences, we’re helping about 300 outreach youths, and 120 children who are being fostered. To help these children and youth, we provide counselling and group therapy, alternative education programmes, and other developmental programmes like sports and arts.”
Unfortunately, some of their Boys’ Town children are not able to return to their family due to various reasons such as: the death of their parents, long-term incarceration, parents who are still struggling with accommodation/financial issues/mental health issues, etc. What then happens to these children who are slowly but surely growing up into adults?
Irene said: “For older youths that aren’t able to be reunited with their families, we do have a Hostel for them. We teach them financial management and independent living. We’ve got youths who are in NS and ones who are doing their tertiary studies living in our Hostel, and when they’re able to, we help them search for affordable rental options to live independently.
“They check back in with us once in a while, or when they need someone to talk to… for example when they’ve broken up with a girlfriend! It’s like we’ve become part of their family as well.”
Challenges They Face
Running a residential institution, providing education, and giving youths in need a safe and caring environment for growth are all already difficult tasks, and when the fostering services are included, their difficulty spikes up even more!
Irene said: “Right now, Boys’ Town has two Fostering Programmes. Fostering Agency, which started in November 2015 and is for the cases referred to us from the Child Protection Services of Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), where our social workers work closely with the MSF to help look for suitable foster families. And Sanctuary Care, which is a shorter-term fostering service referred from other Social Service Organisations/hospitals/Family Service Centres etc. We’ve helped more than 120 children through our fostering services.
“However, we do have some very committed foster parents who have great hearts to reach out to these needy children. The demand for fostering services is on the rise as we would like more children to grow up in a family setting in the community.
“The qualities a foster parent should have are the same as any other parent out there. Foster parents need a bit more understanding and perseverance because the foster child isn’t perfect, and will need time to adapt to a whole new family, environment, and family culture.”
There is an increasing number of children looking for foster families, but the number of foster families isn’t increasing in line with the children. However, that isn’t the only challenge that Boys’ Town faces – their facilities and services need funding through donations, and it’s getting tougher for them to get those donations. Given the economic uncertainty and the decline in the overall donations to charities in Singapore, Boys’ Town also suffered a reduction in the collections from donations. It is very challenging to raise funds to support our programmes under these conditions.
As mentioned before, Boys’ Town expanded the services that they provide their youth – with a Street Outreach, Clinical Intervention, and Adventure Centre. These services and facilities provide both tangible and intangible benefits for the youths by building an emotional and physical foundation for them.
The programme helps vulnerable boys and girls who are typically between 10 to 21 years old. They’re facing a range of issues such as self-harm, struggles in school, association with gangs, under-aged sex, conflicting relationships, and addictions.
They employ a youth-centred and strength-based approach in their outreach, developmental programmes and specialised intervention to aid and enhance personal, social, and education growth in the youths and help them reach their full potential.
As social media and videogames have changed the landscape of searching for youths in need, Boys’ Town has adjusted their scope of places in which they do their Street Outreach – they’ve got social workers on social media and games looking out for and reaching out to youths. They believe in using methods that engage the youths.
Their Clinical Intervention Centre aims to provide their youths with psychological interventions through assessments, counselling, psychotherapy, behavioural management, group work, and other psychological services.
Services under Clinical Intervention
Their Adventure Centre delivers adventure-based programmes to fuel their youths’ active learning and character development through identifying, challenging, and relating to their fears. Using the great outdoors, whether it’s scaling a natural rock wall or traversing water rapids, participants are made to reflect and learn hands-on to work around the environment that they’re in.
As youth-in-need of today face increasingly complex and multi-faceted issues in modern society, adventure therapy provides an avenue for holistic treatment that is new but gaining popularity among them due to its physical and engaging nature.
The customised adventure therapy programme offered by our Adventure Centre utilises physically and psychologically demanding adventure-based activities, such as high adventure and wilderness, with the aim of targeting changes in behaviour, affect and/or cognition of youth-in-need. For instance, harnessing the potential of rock-climbing activities to build endurance and perseverance in participants.
For more information on Boys’ Town, please visit their website at www.boystown.org.sg or you may give them a call at +65 6690 5420.
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