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Suicide risk assessments carried out, but not in every police case: Ng Chee Meng

Acting Minister for Education, Ng Chee Meng said that while all school counsellors are trained to carry out suicide risk assessments on students, the process cannot be considered completely "foolproof" due to the "dynamic psychological state of the child".

Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (MP) Daniel Goh questioned the Acting Minister for Education in parliament, if schools assess students involved in police cases for suicide risk.

Earlier this year on 26 January, 14-year-old Benjamin Lim Jun Hui jumped to his death from outside his 14th-floor HDB flat. Earlier that day, he was taken from his secondary school and held under custody by the police for 3 and a half hours for the molestation of a girl. (read the story from Benjamin's family)

In response to the question raised by MP Daniel Goh, Mr Ng stated that while all school counsellors are trained to carry out suicide risk assessments on students, the process cannot be considered completely "foolproof." This is due to the "dynamic psychological state of the child" and the fact that "subsequent developments that occur after the assessment can alter the risk profile of the student," Mr Ng said. In these risk assessments, counsellors are extremely straightforward and upfront when speaking to the student about his or her intentions regarding suicide. Counsellors are also to take note of any previous suicide attempts, the personal circumstances and medical wellbeing of the student. To ensure that staff are able to respond to such cases of students, school teachers are trained to look out for any signs of distress among students while school counsellors all have professional qualifications in counselling.

Mr Ng stated that in accordance with current procedures, prior to any police investigation, school staff are to check on the student's physical and mental well-being. However, suicide risk assessment is not always conducted for every case due to concerns that such screenings may add stress or confusion to some students, especially those who have never contemplated suicide.

Emphasis was placed on providing constant and close monitoring and support for the student amid a police investigation. Mr Ng stressed that in such cases, schools and parents must work together. He also added that the Ministry of Education was still actively reviewing the current police procedures involving minors following Benjamin Lim's suicide.

Depending on the outcome of the review, the ministry is open to the possibility of having school counsellors act as appropriate adults, Mr Ng said.