SUSS Service-Learning & Community Engagement Sectors: Children & Youth

According to the Children and Young Person Act 2001, a “child” is a person below the age of 14 and a “young person” means a person who is 14 years of age or above but below the age of 16 years. The United Nations define youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. In October 1995, Singapore became signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), pledging its commitment to help children when they are in an environment of abuse and neglect. The UNCRC defines a “child” as someone below the age of 18.

While there are laws, policies, and services to protect children and youth from harm and exploitation, it is important to bear in mind that a person is part of a larger ecosystem consisting of family, peers, school, neighbourhood, community, and nation. What happens within the ecosystem will influence and impact the growth and development of a young person.

Vulnerable Children and Youths

Being vulnerable is typically understood as being in a defenseless position, liable to being hurt physically or emotionally. However, it can also be defined as “exposure to uninsured risk leading to socially unacceptable levels of well-being”.1 Hence, a young person who is exposed to unmitigated risks that affects his or her well-being in the context found unacceptable by the community can be considered to be vulnerable.

The 3 key aspects2 of dependency for a young person are:

  1. Material – food, shelter, financial, health care and education;
  2. Emotional – love, care, support, and space for healthy emotional development; and
  3. Social – peer group, role models, and guidance for healthy social-emotional development.
Vulnerable Children and Youths 

Youth at risk is a term typically used to describe young people with personal problems or adverse structural or cultural circumstances (Riele, 2006, as cited in Nagpaul & Chen, 2019). In everyday usage, youths at risk are those who may be seriously anti-social, may have dropped out of school, may be homeless, taken to substance abuse and/or engaged in illegal activities. However, such a conceptualisation misses the prevalence of those situational/institutional factors that place these young people at risk in the first place, such as poverty, family dysfunction and disturbed neighbourhoods (Nagpaul & Chen, 2019).

The Inter-Ministry Committee on Youth Crime (IMYC, 2002) defined youth at risk as “those who have been subjected to a combination of interrelated biological, psychological, and social factors that result in a greater likelihood for the development of delinquency, substance abuse, or other related anti-social and self-destructive behaviours”. These youths posses risk factors including conduct issues, family relationship issues, anti-social attitudes, criminal conduct and incarceration of parent(s)/caregiver (MSF, 2018).

This definition encapsulates youth who, (1) have had behavioural or social misconduct (individual characteristics), and (2) who are at risk due to structural or familial factors such as poverty, family issues and vulnerable neighbourhoods (Situational/ Institutional characteristics).

Individual/ Interpersonal Characteristics

Situational/ Institutional Characteristics

Aggressive Impulsive 
High daring 
School failure
Academic difficulties 
Antisocial behaviour 
Distant relations with parents/guardians

Family criminality 
Poor parenting 
Convicted parent 
Disrupted family
Not in Employment, Education and Training
Low school attainment

(Credit source: Farrington, D. P., Coid, J. W., Harnett, L., Jolliffe, D., Soteriou, N., Turner, R., & West, D. J. (2006). Criminal careers up to age 50 and life success up to age 48: New findings from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Vol. 94). London, UK: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.)

In Singapore, different agencies have varying definitions of youth at-risk. The National Committee on Youth Guidance and Rehabilitation (NYRC) from the Ministry of Social and Family Development had launched a pilot program in April 2016, called the Youth-At-Risk Engagement (YARE)3 Framework, which will help to standardise assessment tools to better assess the risk level and needs of youths.

The risk factors of vulnerability in young people can include health issues such as physical/mental disability and chronic illness, poverty, lack of social-emotional support and guidance due to absent/ abusive/ divorced/ single parents, high absenteeism for school, poor academic performance, academic stress, addictions in cyber/substance abuse/ drinking/ sexual activities/ gambling, peer bullying, etc. Besides chronic risk factors, a sudden change in the family situation (e.g. death of breadwinner, large debt due to medical illness or gambling) can also lead a young person through a downward spiral of vulnerability.

Working with children and youths

The above perspectives and factors should be considered when exploring opportunities to serve the vulnerable children and youth in Singapore. For example, when you engage a community partner to offer tutoring services, you may wish to consider the responsibility as a role model and mentor to provide social-emotional support and guidance to a young person who may lack this area of support. You may also wish to explore how to engage young people in learning to set them onto a positive cycle of increased confidence and self-esteem when they do well in school.

Other Service-Learning opportunities include exploring ways to help young people develop self-esteem, confidence, resilience, positive mind-set, stress management competencies, positive social relations, and healthy lifestyle against addictive and destructive behaviours.

Programmes YOU can be involve in:

The National Council of Social Service (NCCS) has categorized a list of programmes by the various social services curated intentionally to support the children and youth in their journey to maximise their potential. These programme aims to mould their personal, social, decision-making, motivational and life skills which will help develop their social emotional learning and behaviours4. Some of the programmes you can be involve in are:

  1. School-based Programme

    Programmes that community partners work closely with schools to best engage the children and youth in the most meaningful and purposeful manner within the school setting. Some of the programmes include:
    1. School-based Social Work
    2. Enhance STEP-UP
    3. Developmental Programme
  2. Community-based Programme 

    Opportunities curated for children and youth to develop their social emotional well-being for themselves as well as towards their surrounding community. These programmes also aim at supporting families and caregivers in providing necessary resources and assistance for them.

  3. Befriending and Mentoring

    Good role models and/or adults play a pivotal role in re-directing children and youth who display vulnerable or at-risk behaviours. With a positive figure journeying with them, it guides them through the different milestones of their lives.

  4. Cyber Wellness

    With digital media gaining popularity, there is a greater need to educate children and youth on proper cyber wellness values, healthy gaming habits and online cyber safety/security. Some of these programmes also aim to equip families of children and youth grow together in this digital age.

  5. Support for Children with Incarcerated Parents

    Children and youth whose parents are incarceration journeys through life differently. Many of these programmes serves to ensure that the family ties stay strong in the midst of the period of imprisonment by equipping them with the appropriate skills to improve various aspect of their lives.

See infographic for interesting facts and figures on issues impacting vulnerable children and youth.


  1. Hoogeveen, J., Tesliuc, E., Vakis, R., & Dercon, S. (2004). A guide to the analysis of risk, vulnerability and vulnerable groups. World Bank. Washington, DC.

  2. Arora, S. K., Shah, D., Chaturvedi, S., & Gupta, P. (2015). Defining and measuring vulnerability in young people. Indian journal of community medicine: official publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine, 40(3), 193

  3. Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2018, October 16). Youth-At-Risk Engagement (YARE) framework. Retrieved from andYouth/Outreach-and-Support-for-Youth/Pages/Youth-At-Risk-Engagement-(YARE)- Framework.aspx

  4.  National Council of Social Service. (2021, March 2021). Social Services.

References (for Infographics):

1. Singapore Statutes Online. (2001, December 31). Children and young persons act (chapter 38). Singapore Government Agency.

2. United Nations Youth. Definition of youth. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. definition.pdf

3. Singapore Children’s society. (2005). Protection of children in Singapore: an overview. pdf

4. Hoogeveen, J., Tesliuc, E., Vakis, R., & Dercon, S. (2004). A guide to the analysis of risk, vulnerability and vulnerable groups. World Bank.

5. Arora, S. K., Shah, D., Chaturvedi, S., & Gupta, P. (2015). Defining and measuring vulnerability in young people. Indian journal of community medicine: official publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine.

6. Yeo, S. J. S. (2016, November 13). Meet single mother Azizah, who takes care of 4 children and an elderly mum. Today. takes-care-4-children-and-elderly-mum

7. Statistics of Singapore. (2019, July 30). Marital status, marriages and divorces. Singapore Government Agency. marriages-and-divorces/latest-data

10. Wang, T.J. (2016, July 26). Teen suicides highest in 15 years but overall rate falls: SOS. The Straits Times. rate-falls

11. Department of Statistics Singapore. (2016). Population trends. Ministry of Trade and Industry.

12. Nagpaul, T., & Chen, J. (2019). Self-determination theory as a Framework for understanding needs of youth at-risk: Perspectives of social service professionals and the youth themselves. Children and Youth Services Review, 99, 328- 342.

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Facts and Figures
Vulnerable Children & Youth-1

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