Ring of coordinated efforts to protect children in divorce

We agree with Mr Nicholas Tan and Mrs Geraldine Tan Chee Lian on how complexities in family disputes can result in emotional trauma and physical abuse for children involved in their parents' separation (Review how custody of kids is granted in divorce cases; March 4, and Look into factors leading to abuse of stepchildren; March 8) .

Divorce impacts children in more ways than just the legal dissolution of a marriage.

When couples have poor marital closure, the continual acrimony tends to spill into the parental roles and responsibilities after the divorce.

In January 2015, the Ministry of Social and Family Development appointed four Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs).

DSSA counsellors and social workers are trained to work with divorcing and divorced families.

They provide specialised information and non-legal advice pertaining to divorce, offer counselling, conduct support groups using evidence-based programmes and mediate in family disputes.

One of the key challenges faced by the DSSA counsellors is belligerent parents who are unable to co-parent successfully.

These parents often present the child with complex and antagonistic rules of engagement with the other parent.

The DSSA counsellors are committed to helping these children make sense of such situations and process any estrangement towards one parent.

The counsellors are also advocates for the child, where necessary.

To further protect the child's best interests, multi-disciplinary consultations with the courts and various social agencies, such as family violence and child protection agencies, ensure that a protective ring of coordinated efforts are in place.

Additionally, the recently formed inter-agency Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System committee involving the Family Justice Courts, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Social and Family Development seeks to further strengthen the legal framework and social support, so as to bring about better outcomes for children caught in a divorce.

Divorce ends the spousal relationship, but the parent-child bond will always remain.

It is only when divorced couples set aside personal grievances to co-parent amicably that their children can develop resilience and have renewed hope.

The state and the community will intervene when there is a need to mitigate any crisis and offer support and protection.

But, ultimately, parents are still the vested parties in safeguarding their children's future, and are best placed to provide a loving and stable environment for their children, even after deciding on a divorce.

Lynn Koh (Ms)
Family Support Division
Family Development Group
Ministry of Social and Family Development

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'Ring of coordinated efforts to protect children in divorce'. Subscribe