Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong asked the Acting Minister for Education (Schools) whether school counsellors are or should be required to conduct psychological assessments of suicide risks of students being investigated by the police and whether school counsellors should be required to be present when students are being interviewed by the police on school premises.
The Acting Minister for Education (Schools) (Mr Ng Chee Meng): Mdm Speaker, our schools take the psychological and mental well-being of our students very seriously. The entire system of caring for our students, teaching them skills for emotional resilience, supporting and intervening when they have greater difficulties is developed in consultation with mental health experts, including Dr Daniel Fung, Chairman of the Medical Board of the Institute of Mental Health.
Our teachers teach students the life skills to improve their emotional resilience, as I had mentioned earlier and they are the first line of support.
Currently, all our school counsellors are trained to carry out suicide risk assessments. The assessment is a comprehensive process that considers a range of acts. These include the student's personal circumstances, past and present challenges, medical status, coping ability and the level of support from family and friends. The assessment also involve direct questioning of the student's intentions and plans to take his or her own life, as well as checking for prior suicide attempts. So, it is very upfront and personal.
Currently, when the Police go to a school to require a student’s assistance in investigations, the school leaders or staff will first check on the physical and emotional well-being of the student. We do not conduct a suicide risk assessment for every case as such screening may add distress or confusion to some students, especially for those who have not even contemplated suicide. Instead, our approach is to conduct suicide risk assessments for students who show signs of serious emotional distress or who have mental health concerns that are known to the school.
Given the dynamic psychological state of a child, suicide risk assessment is not fool-proof. Subsequent developments that occur after the assessment can also alter the risk profile of the student. It is, therefore, more important to ensure that there is consistent monitoring and support to ensure the safety and well-being of the child throughout and following the period of Police investigation.
Parents and schools have to work together. Our schools monitor the student’s well-being before and during the Police interview at the school. They will continue to check on the student’s well-being after the student returns home following further questioning at the Police Station, as well as when the student subsequently returns to school. Likewise, during this critical period, parents will need to give greater attention to support their child and work with the school on any follow-up steps that are necessary.
MOE is already participating in the review of Police procedures involving juvenile offenders. Depending on the recommendations of the review, MOE is open to the possibility of school counsellors as "appropriate adults" to be present with the students.