Child abuse video campaign launched to help pre-school teachers spot, handle cases

Neglect cases made up the bulk of the investigations, more than doubling from 375 in 2020 to 910 in 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new video campaign on child abuse will help pre-school educators, whom children commonly come into contact with, to better tackle the issue.

Casa Raudha, a charity that runs crisis shelters for women and children, launched the project on Saturday.

The video covers signs to look out for, such as a child who is non-responsive, withdrawn from friends or inappropriately touches other children.

It also addresses common concerns of teachers, such as whether reporting suspected cases of abuse will affect the child's safety and what if the reported cases turn out to be false.

Casa Raudha said in 2021, more than half the children aged below seven admitted to its two shelters had experienced abuse – up 17 per cent from the proportion in 2020.

The charity has trained more than 200 pre-school teachers on how to handle family violence. Recognising the difficulty of reaching out to every early childhood educator, it produced the video so that teachers can learn at their own pace.

The video will be distributed to the Early Childhood Development Agency's network of more than 1,000 pre-schools.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) Child Protective Service investigated a record 2,141 cases of child abuse in 2021, a 63 per cent increase from the 1,313 in 2020.

Neglect cases made up the bulk of the investigations, more than doubling from 375 in 2020 to 910 in 2021.

MSF told The Straits Times that about one in four protection cases investigated by Child Protective Service in 2021 was referred by schools, through teachers or school counsellors.

Casa Raudha executive director Zaharah Ariff said the most common cases seen at its two crisis shelters involve physical abuse, but they have also dealt with children who suffered emotional, psychological and sexual abuse.

In one case, a child, who was emotionally abused by his father after being blamed for his parents' divorce, developed suicidal thoughts.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, who sits on the board of directors at Casa Raudha, officiated at the launch of the video campaign on Saturday.

He said the charity, which was set up in 2008, has helped more than 1,000 victims and survivors of domestic abuse for more than a decade.

Although its primary service is to protect women, it has seen an increasing number of child beneficiaries over the years.

Mr Zhulkarnain said: "It is heartbreaking to think that at such a tender age, these young children have had to undergo such painful experiences and abuse... Children as young as pre-school-going age have already been exposed to violence at home."

While most primary and secondary schools have counsellors, it may not be the case for most pre-schools, he noted.

Various efforts have been made to raise awareness of child abuse and train more people to spot cases.

In a joint reply to a letter in ST Forum page earlier in September, MSF and the Ministry of Education said the Nurturing Early Learners Framework guides pre-school teachers on how to teach children appropriate behaviours that promote personal and group safety.

An updated version will be launched at the end of 2022, covering the importance of teaching children body safety awareness, such as recognising safe and unsafe touches; how to talk about feelings; and how to seek help from trusted adults when feeling hurt or unsafe.

MSF will also be launching a Web channel as an additional means of reporting cases to the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline by end-2022.

Mr Zhulkarnain said: "The vision must be our children must feel safe no matter where they are and that in generations to come, there will be no more need for children to seek refuge in shelters because of abuse and violence at home."

Madam Zaharah said the abuse can have lasting impact on children, resulting in low self-esteem, emotional and psychological distress, and a lack of social awareness.

She added: "There is a critical need to provide timely intervention to address the trauma as this may help to end the inter-generational cycle of violence."

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