MSF launches 24-hour family violence helpline

The National Anti-Violence Helpline eliminates the need to navigate multiple helplines for various types of abuse and neglect. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has launched the first 24-hour integrated helpline for people to report family violence, as well as other cases of abuse and neglect.

The National Anti-Violence Helpline (NAVH) has been taking calls since Jan 18. It will operate round the clock throughout the year, making it easier and more accessible for victims of violence and abuse to seek help.

The NAVH number is 1800-777-0000. In its first month of operation, the helpline received about 450 calls.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development, and Education Sun Xueling, who attended the formal launch of the NAVH at the MSF Call Centre on Tuesday (Feb 23), said: "We recognise that family violence is a serious issue that needs to be urgently tackled."

Previously, different hotlines were maintained by different community partners, she said. "We felt that there was a need to pull the different hotlines together into one consolidated helpline so that people who are looking for help know that there is one place that they can go to."

As a result of the stress on families caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Sun said more calls were made last year to the various helplines that dealing with family violence. They had 40 per cent more calls between January and October than in the same period in 2019.

"If we look at the average monthly number of new cases investigated by Child Protective Service (CPS) as well as Adult Protective Service (APS) between January and October 2020, the numbers have remained stable, at an average of 120 cases per month. Regardless, we still feel that it's important that we coordinate our efforts to tackle family violence effectively," Ms Sun added.

The helpline is manned by DHL customer service officers and social service professionals from Montfort Care, who provide customised support such as assessing the severity of each case, providing basic psychosocial support and referring each caller to appropriate channels and agencies.

"DHL was appointed to operate the NAVH as it has a good call centre... capabilities that can be leveraged on. Additionally, DHL customer service officers are proficient in managing general enquires well, given that it has been managing MSF helplines, such as ComCare and Baby Bonus, for several years," a spokesman for MSF said.

Both the social service professionals from Montfort Care and DHL customer service officers manning the helpline underwent training with MSF's CPS and APS to understand how to respond to family violence victims in need.

The NAVH operates primarily in English, with Mandarin, Malay and Tamil options available if needed.

DHL's customer service officers respond to a call, addressing general enquiries before referring any reports of violence to a Montfort Care social service professional.

Helpline supervisor Tan Si Yin, 30, said the NAVH allowed her to get in touch with victims she would otherwise not have been able to advise in person.

"Sometimes, if callers are not comfortable disclosing their personal information we can provide them with other community resources they can reach out to when they are ready," she said.

Members of the public and professionals can also contact the helpline to report suspected cases of abuse or make general enquiries.

Ms Tan recalled a memorable call by a member of the public who was concerned about a child's frequent crying and screaming in a neighbouring unit.

"After gathering information from her, we were able to identify the family and get our community partners to reach out to them," she said.

"We appreciate members of the public giving us a call to share their concerns with us in such cases as it gives us a chance to detect issues early. It is a fulfilling experience."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.