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Protecting kids goes beyond moving them to safe environment

Posed photo of an adult scolding a child.
Posed photo of an adult scolding a child. PHOTO: ST FILE

While it is heartening to learn that there is now better detection of child abuse by agencies here, a gap remains in child protection services ("More child abuse cases being investigated"; last Sunday).

The protection of a child who experiences or is at risk of abuse goes beyond moving the child to a safe environment.

Abuse - be it neglect, physical, sexual or emotional abuse - affects children in a multitude of ways.

Its effects permeate every developmental domain - physical, social-emotion, cognition - often evident through the conduct of children.

The traumatic stress arising from abuse often results in children having difficulty in regulating their thoughts and emotions.

Whether it is difficulty with controlling emotions or just simply detaching oneself or being out of touch with reality, these all impact on how the abused child continues to function in "community" life.

In the course of my work, I have encountered a case where a four-year-old boy could not stop telling his classmates and teachers that one of his parents had recently been slashed on the face and that he had witnessed blood splattered all over.

His teacher, though empathic, was at a loss as to how to help him.

Over the weeks, the boy began to act aggressively towards his classmates. The signs of trauma were surfacing. Even if his teacher understands, how does she help? Life carries on even while a child is or has been abused.

He would go to school, childcare or kindergarten, learn in class, play and participate along with other children in the daily life of the community.

What provisions are there to help these children function in their daily routines while still bearing the effects of the trauma of abuse?

Protecting the child who is abused also entails working with those in the community the child lives in to enable him to participate as effectively as he is enabled to, while bearing the trauma of abuse.

Lucy Pou Kwee Hoon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'Protecting kids goes beyond moving them to safe environment'. Print Edition | Subscribe