SINGAPORE – A safe haven for abused children set up about 120 years ago is building a new home and expanding its services for children and families suffering from trauma.
The Children’s Aid Society, which was set up in 1902 and is one of Singapore’s oldest charities, is planning to build Melrose Village in Clementi Road. It is targeted to be completed in 2026.
The village will consist of Melrose Home and a second Melrose Care centre.
Melrose Home provides a safe refuge for children and youth aged between six and 21 years to help them heal from the trauma of being abused or neglected by their loved ones.
The children’s home, Singapore’s oldest, moved from the Clementi Road building it had occupied for about 50 years to a temporary site in Boon Lay Avenue in 2019.
“There was an asbestos issue, which prompted us to move out as it’s not safe for housing children,” said the society’s executive director, Mr Alvin Goh.
Asbestos, which was once used in building materials, can cause serious health issues such as cancer. Its use has been banned in Singapore since the late 1980s.
Melrose Home director Cindy Ng said its residents are referred to it by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), and they need refuge as they are in imminent danger of being harmed in their own homes.
She said: “The cases are getting more complex. We are seeing more serious harm done to the children, like sexual abuse or very serious physical abuse that borders on torture. The emotional damage and trauma suffered (by the child) is greater.”
More children have been admitted to Melrose Home in recent years, Ms Ng said. This comes as MSF’s Child Protective Service investigates a rising number of cases. In 2021, the CPS probed 2,141 cases – 63 per cent more than the 1,313 in 2020.
Besides the fact that more people are trained to spot and report abuse, Ms Ng said the Covid-19 pandemic has led to more stresses, like financial woes and relationship conflicts, in some families. These factors could have led to more child abuse cases.
In 2019, Melrose Home admitted five new residents. In 2020 and 2021, the number went up to eight and 14 respectively. There are currently 47 children and youth in the home.
The new home will be able to accommodate 60 residents, the same as in the current home, but it will have more facilities, such as for music, sports and recreation.
Melrose Care offers specialised counselling and therapy services to those suffering from trauma, such as bullied students or children whose parents are going through an acrimonious divorce.
The society started the first Melrose Care centre in 2019 in Woodlands for families and children living in the north to plug a gap in affordable therapeutic services to help people cope with trauma, said Mr Goh.
Each session at Melrose Care costs no more than $50, depending on the person’s income. This is a fraction of the $150 or more charged in private practice, Mr Goh added.
The charity started out as St Nicholas Home in the 1880s. But it shut down, and in 1902, a group of people, including the former governors of the Straits Settlements, Sir Cecil Clementi and Sir Shenton Thomas, set up the Children’s Aid Society.
The society originally housed orphans and abandoned children of European or mixed heritage, but it has evolved with the times to now provide refuge to abused or neglected children of all races.
At the new purpose-built Melrose Home, up to six residents will share an apartment, instead of the current set-up, where up to 14 children live in a dormitory.
It is easier to manage their behavioural and emotional issues if they live in a smaller home-like environment, Ms Ng said.
She added: “We counsel them to help them address some of the harm done to them by their loved ones. We also help them find the resilience to accept what has happened and to move ahead (with their lives).”