July 21, 2020
Photos by: Bryan van der Beek | Words by: Serene Goh

(Photo Above) YouthGO!’s social workers, unable to conduct programmes at their Tampines Care Corner, have joined their outreach communities in online games such as Mobile Legends, and on apps such as TikTok and Instagram, to stay in touch with at-risk youths.

Social workers at YouthGO! Care Corner discovered that going digital had the opposite effect on their young clients — street-gang members, at-risk youth, or young offenders.

Although its staff and clients have generally been coping well with the switch to digital interaction, they noticed that young people between 10 and 19 tend to let down their guard when they’re face to face.

“When they’re online, they typically hide behind the facade, because being online allows them to show their best self,” said Mr Martin Chok, Care Corner’s assistant director of youth services.

What’s more, over Zoom, seeing others’ backgrounds at home alone can spark comparisons to their own living arrangements, resulting in insecurities that cause them to clam up.YouthGo! social workers engage with their clients

(Above) YouthGo!’s social workers turn gamers to stay connected with their young clients.

A Home Away from Home Before Lockdown
To keep their programmes to a neutral setting, a freshly renovated YouthGo! Care Corner in Tampines has been ready to welcome clients, with white-brick interior, music room, games corner, multi-purpose room and kitchenette. That is, until the Circuit Breaker shut the premises for months, leaving its social workers to rethink their outreach efforts.

“In normal situations, they come to centre, and there’s a group workshop, and intervention that calls for one-on-one sessions and face-to-face guidance counselling, using a set of curriculum,” said Mr Chok. But because they could only come in pairs, and both social workers and clients needed to wear masks, “there are limitations and challenges in engaging the youths and getting them to open up”.

“They don’t go to school, and hang out at wee hours of the night. They can be doing drugs. They could be in gangs. But we will be there to reach out to them at their natural places like a park or void deck, and divert them to meaningful avenues.”
Mr Martin Chok, assistant director of youth services, Care Corner

So, in the ensuing weeks, social workers turned into gamers and social influencers in their own right, and moved to online gaming and TikTok to continue bonding with youth.

Mr Wang Zhichao, 37, as well as Mr Sean Tan and Ms Julia Lim, both 26, say they can now hold their own in Mobile Legends. Over in-game conversations, the social workers purely befriend them, and are there when those with troubles are finally ready to talk without coming down on them.

The YouthGo! team also are on any number of youth-favoured apps such as Discord, Telegram and Zenly, because young people are multi-modal in their communications, they noted. On Instagram, Ms Lim said, it was memes and baking that tended to get them interested. Mr Tan himself practises TikTok moves to keep up with challenges.

But without the ability to drive around and meet young people who are in street gangs, they were unable to do as much as they usually do.YouthGo! social workers engage with their clients

(Above) Youth worker, Mr Sean Tan, 26, practises TikTok challenges to keep up with and engage their followers.

From Street to Sleep
“We know of youths who are at risk. They don’t go to school, and hang out at wee hours of the night. They can be doing drugs. They could be in gangs. But we will be there to reach out to them at their natural places like a park or void deck, and divert them to meaningful avenues, going back to school or looking for a job, or even to National Service.”

Over the Circuit Breaker, said Mr Chok: “The dynamic changed. Their sleep patterns have all shifted. They sleep at 2am and get up at noon. When they’re not in school, they sleep late and wake up late. You text something in the morning, and you get an answer in the evening.

“We have to adjust our expectations, because there’s a delayed response, and responses are a bit more superficial. We have to be more persistent and ask for responses.”

Now that their premises are getting back to being operational, they are waiting to restore their regular programming, so they can reach out to young people on the streets who are not meaningfully engaged.

Read more about how Social Service charities, volunteers and beneficiaries are coping during Covid-19 in Singapore:


Catch The City of Good Show, Episode 4, July 22, 8pm, Live on Facebook. Support Social Service charities such as Care Corner with the Dream Academy gang on HOME IMPROVment. The sector enhances the well-being of the community, with its professionals and volunteers working relentlessly to help families and individuals overcome issues.Play your part and support the charities at Giving.sg – The City of Good Show: Social Services


 

The Storytellers

  • Bryan is still trying to figure a way to combine his three main loves. Can anyone help him figure out how to balance his whole family on a motorbike while riding and taking photographs?

  • Serene believes in the power of good pie, and publishing stories that inspire. You can call her a pie-blisher.

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