“I’m going to prison”, is something that the family and friends of 26-year-old Deborah Ng often hear her say. But they are never shocked or worried that Deborah may have committed a crime.
Fresh out of university with a degree in Social Work and determined to impact lives of disadvantaged families, Deborah joined TOUCH Family Services as a social worker in 2014. Part of her job requires her to visit the prison to run group counselling programmes for inmates.
“I make trips to Changi Women’s Prison about three to four times a week to facilitate a programme that aims to help women rethink their drug use, reflect on their past actions, and be empowered to make a positive change for themselves.”
Of course, the trips to prison are seldom a walk in the park. But like an eagle set on its prey, Deborah presses on, keeping her eyes glued on an eventual breakthrough.
“The programme for prison inmates comprises 37 sessions and my very first session really got me discouraged. The girls weren’t easy to work with and were hardly responsive. I found myself feeling apprehensive about the remaining 36 sessions! Nonetheless, I gave it my all. Thankfully, they slowly opened up with each session and started looking forward to our next meeting. The amount of support they started showing each other was very encouraging. A girl who was usually quiet and lacked confidence even surprised everyone when she started speaking up to share her thoughts! I was especially moved when I witnessed how determined some of them were to start a new life away from drugs.”
Apart from her work in prison, Deborah often meets up with low-income families to advise and assist them on matters such as financial difficulties, unstable housing, incarceration, family violence and parenting or relationship issues. Though meetings with the families could get messy and complicated with emotions of family members spinning out of control, Deborah finds this part of her job most fascinating.
“I appreciate the privilege of being directly involved with my clients’ families. Besides being able to play a part in improving their relationships and lives, this opportunity gives me the chance to live through their lenses for a bit. That helps me understand that every family is different and that each has its own dynamics and issues to work through.”
Being a social worker requires a heart of compassion and a selfless spirit, both of which Deborah evidently has. But what she wished she had more of is time.
“One of the challenges I face in my job is the time-crunch. With so much on my plate such as meeting families, analysing case studies, and liaising with external agencies, I need to constantly be focused to ensure that assistance is not delayed as it means the world to our clients. I also need to manage my time well.”
“Another challenge is accepting that the difficult issues faced by families may not improve overnight. Sometimes, the family may not be ready to make a change in their lifestyles and I can’t force them. Instead, I need to be patient and try different ways to work around the problem.”
Still, Deborah keeps a positive attitude and refuses to be defeated by challenges and setbacks.
“I know that my efforts have empowered families and individuals in need to rise above their circumstances, and I will not let setbacks or challenging episodes overshadow that success. After all, I don’t have the power to solve every problem out there in the world. At the end of the day, I tell myself that I’m not Superwoman, even though my clients think I am!"