Counselling for parents, help for kids

The 10-year-old boy was caned so badly by his father, a professional in his 40s, that he was hospitalised for a week.

The man had lost his temper after his son disobeyed his instructions to bathe and do his homework, said Ms Serene Tan, lead social worker at the Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre.

She said of the man and others she has counselled: "Their intention was not to hurt their children but to discipline them. But they could not control their anger and went overboard (in their caning)."

Big Love, which is part of Montfort Care, a charity, was appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to handle abuse cases considered moderate risk. There are two other Child Protection Specialist Centres run by Pave and Heart@Fei Yue, which are both charities. Ms Tan said about 60 per cent of the cases Big Love handles involve physical abuse, such as excessive caning.

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Its social workers counsel parents about appropriate methods of discipline, instead of caning, and rope in family members to step in to prevent the child from being hurt, among other things.

A significant number of children Big Love sees suffer from neglect. For example, their parents may be so caught up with troubles, like financial and marital woes, that they fail to protect the children or give them adequate food, care and supervision.

There was a case of a family with five children, from two and 14 years old. The father was a security guard and the mother, a housewife with depression. She spent most of her time sleeping and left it to her eldest daughter to take care of the other kids. Social workers at Big Love persuaded her to seek treatment and also taught her parenting skills. They worked with the children's school to ensure the kids attended school.

LACK OF CONTROL

Their intention was not to hurt their children but to discipline them. But they could not control their anger and went overboard.

MS SERENE TAN, lead social worker at Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre, on why some parents abuse their kids.

The children Pave helps include those who have witnessed their parents being abused. Executive director Sudha Nair said: "Child abuse is not just physical violence. Children also need help to deal with the trauma of seeing their parents being brutally abused."

Ben, eight, and his sister, nine, were sent to Pave by the Family Justice Courts after their mum applied for a personal protection order against their father. He had abused her and used his hands on the kids. Ben became so afraid his mum would die, he resented his dad and withdrew into his own world.

Pave workers helped him to eventually cope with the trauma.

Theresa Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Counselling for parents, help for kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe