Govt recognises families don't come in one shape or form, may be beautifully imperfect: Sun Xueling

The MSF's Child Protective Service investigated 2,141 cases of child abuse last year. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

SINGAPORE - Families are sometimes beautifully imperfect and they do not come in just one shape or form, said Ms Sun Xueling, the Minister of State for Social and Family Development.

Ms Sun said the Government recognises that families face challenges, adding: "We don't want people to go away thinking that the Year of the Family means that we celebrate one model or one form of family. That the family must be totally intact, which is father, mother, child smiling happily in one family portrait."

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has designated 2022 as the Year of Celebrating Singapore Families.

The Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships and its focal areas are structured to address the challenges that families face, Ms Sun said on Monday (April 25) when giving an update of its work.

These challenges include the rising number of child abuse and elder abuse cases and the breakdown in parent-child relationships .

The MSF's Child Protective Service investigated 2,141 cases of child abuse last year - 63 per cent more than in 2020 and the highest number in the past decade.

More recent marriages are also not surviving the test of time.

Of those who wed in 2006, 16 per cent of the marriages ended before their 10th anniversary - almost double the 8.7 per cent of those who were married in 1987, data released by the MSF previously showed.

Ms Sun launched the alliance in August last year and it brings the community and Singaporeans together to find ways to strengthen and support marriages and family ties. Its community partners include social sector agencies, companies and religious organisations.

Since its launch, the initiative has engaged almost 300 people on key social issues, such as single parenthood and the Maintenance of Parents Act, to hear their concerns and challenges.

Four out of its six focal areas seek to address challenges that some families face, Ms Sun said.

For example, one focal area looks at providing support for families with early risks, such as couples who marry young or are financially strapped or have many children at a young age.

The team for this focal area is working with partners to develop programmes, for example, that promote respectful relationships so that violence has no place at home.

It also aims to help families maintain ties when a loved one is in jail, for example, by developing materials to explain to children that their parent is incarcerated.

Besides community programmes, Ms Sun noted that the Taskforce on Family Violence released its recommendations in September last year to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse.

For example, the MSF is looking to pass laws that will better protect victims of family violence and strengthen rehabilitation for perpetrators.

She said that the rising number of child abuse cases is due to greater awareness among the community to spot and report the problem, while pandemic-related stress and situations could have led to the rising number of cases too.

There is one focal area which provides support for single parents, which is defined as unwed, divorced or widowed parents.

The team is working with various community groups to run child-minding services in selected areas.

These initiatives arose after a focus group discussion with unwed mothers last year.

Another focus group discussion with divorced or widowed fathers was held last Saturday to understand their experiences and the support they need, said Ms Sun.

Meanwhile, another focal area looks at parenting issues and the team is working with the Ministry of Education and other community partners to provide information to help parents and grandparents cope with a child's key transitions and milestones.

Parent support groups in schools are being engaged to spur them to adopt parenting programmes.

The remaining three focal areas comprise:

  • One that promotes the adoption of family-friendly practices, such as in the workplace;
  • One that encourages young couples to go for marriage preparation and enrichment courses, where the team also partners fertility health interest groups to promote fertility-related conversations; and
  • One that revolves around faith and families. The team has engaged major religious organisations across the different faiths to promote marriage preparation and parenting programmes, among other initiatives.

Mr Malminderjit Singh, chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board who is a member of the team working on the faith and families focal area, said the board is looking at normalising conversations around problems that may arise in marriages and families.

The board also wants to work with the MSF to train more counsellors in the Sikh community, among its plans to boost marriage and family ties, he added.

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