Outreach, Welfare

‘Working with youth is challenging’


In five years, Brenda Khong has progressed from being a nervous newcomer to supervising young colleagues as Sembawang Family Service Centre’s senior social worker.


‘IJOINED Sembawang Family Service Centre (SFSC) in 2002, shortly after graduating with a degree in social work from the National University of Singapore. I work with students and their parents through our School-Based Social Work programme and with adults who come to our centre for counselling.

Part of our work with schools includes studying the trends and coming up with modules to cater to the specific needs of the student population. Among the problems prevalent in the schools are premarital issues, shoplifting and absenteeism. As a result of our work, one of the schools started a sexuality module and engaged a service provider with a well-established programme to run it.

Nowadays, schools employ counsellors to work with students on school-related issues and engage external counsellors like us to complement the service and give students and their families holistic help.

Several years ago, a Secondary 4 student in one of the schools I worked with got pregnant. She tried to hide her growing stomach by wearing loose clothing. Some time later, some of the teachers notified her parents that they suspected she was pregnant. A medical check-up confirmed the pregnancy and the student had to stop schooling because rumours had spread about her condition. Her mother and I worked together to support her emotionally.

I continued to work with her after the birth of her child and helped her to return to school. She still calls me to keep in touch, especially when she has BGR (boy-girl relationship) issues.

Many of the girls who end up pregnant have no particular issues in school. They are very good, well-behaved students in the eyes of their teachers, so people are surprised when things like this happen. Many of them have a false sense of security or are naïve (“It won’t happen to me” mentality); some also have no prior knowledge of sexuality matters.

I find it touching that the students I worked with still remember me. A boy I once helped, who is now in a polytechnic, also calls once in a while. The sweet thing is that he and other students remember my name. When we cross paths, for example, they call out my name and say “hello”. I learn from the cases that I have handled and also recall my own experiences when I work with the youth. For example, when we were younger, we also experienced some of what the youth of today are going through. So in a way, we cannot say they should behave in some other way. I also learn what would be effective and what would not work when it comes to parenting. For example, we have parents who employ what we would consider unconventional methods that work well with their children, proving that there is not only one way of dealing with children.

I find school counselling very challenging as it involves a lot of co-ordination work. Conducting programmes with students also requires a lot of energy in order keep them interested and engaged.

Each year I handle about 20 cases. As our schedule also follows the school year, we can only go for breaks during the school holidays. Managing the expectations of the schools is also a source of stress.

At the centre, I deal with adults with marital and mental health issues. I also supervise young social worker colleagues. There is still a lot for me to learn in this area.

I was 22 when I first joined SFSC. I was raw, nervous and anxious. Since then, I have learnt to appreciate people more as a result of my experiences with clients. I have dealt with people with multiple illnesses who displayed much courage coping with daily issues. These are humbling encounters because sometimes I get upset over trivial matters. I have learnt to appreciate my health and whatever I have.

I have also learnt to focus on people’s strengths instead of picking on their shortcomings. Even though some people may not be good in some aspects, they have strengths in other areas. As a result, I have become more patient even though they do not always meet my expectations of them.’

The MWS needs your support to continue to assist disadvantaged children and distressed families. In financial year ended March 31, 2007, some 5,500 at-risk children and youth, families, frail elderly, terminally ill and destitute persons were served monthly by the MWS.

Sembawang Family Service Centre is a joint community outreach of the Methodist Welfare Services and Covenant Community Methodist Church.
Address: Blk 326 Sembawang Crescent #01-52 Singapore 750326
Tel: 6754-7050, Fax: 6754-2890 Email: admin@sfsc.mws.org.sg