SINGAPORE - A new child protection specialist centre in Bedok has opened to cater to the rising number of child abuse cases, which reached a 10-year high in 2020.
The new centre, which was initiated by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), will serve about 300 families, mostly in north-eastern and eastern Singapore.
Set up by charity Montfort Care's Big Love programme, the centre is one of four such centres in Singapore handling child protection cases, which are all supported by MSF.
Besides these centres, the ministry has its own Child Protective Service.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which hit Singapore in early 2020, forced some vulnerable families into tight quarters, increasing the chances of conflict, said Big Love director Desmurn Lim in an interview with The Straits Times last Wednesday (March 16).
The MSF's Child Protective Service investigated 1,313 cases that year, a jump of 21 per cent from the 1,088 cases in 2019.
Physical abuse cases, numbering 677, made up the bulk of the investigations in 2020, though it was cases of neglect which saw the sharpest increase, from 218 in 2019 to 375 in 2020.
The Bedok centre is the second one set up by Big Love, which opened its first centre in Toa Payoh in 2013.
Big Love, which is funded by MSF, handles cases of moderate child protection concerns, such as families facing high levels of emotional and financial stress.
The ministry's Child Protective Service deals with more serious cases, such as parents who fail to provide adequate food, clothing or medical care for their children, or deliberately inflict serious injuries on them.
Mr Lim said the upward child abuse trend could be due to heightened public awareness, brought about by campaigns, advertisements, and the set up of the National Anti-Violence Helpline last year - a 24-hour helpline for people to report family violence, as well as cases of abuse and neglect.
Big Love launched a campaign to raise awareness of child abuse and protection from March 12 to 20.
Called Give A Voice: Love In Action, the fourth run of the annual campaign featured an art exhibition at Bedok Public Library, a scavenger hunt, and an interactive talk show hosted by Big Love on Facebook Live.
Speaking about the rise in child abuse cases during the pandemic, Mr Lim said: "When the family members are able to go to school or to the office, there's a bit of distance that creates a bit more endearment to one another, but when you coop everyone up in the same household, that's when issues and tensions arise."
But he added that the pandemic merely deepened stressors that were already there.
"Even if you take away the pandemic, people could still be losing jobs. People may still be having marital tension. People may still be having communications issues, and because of the stress they may be struggling with mental health issues too."
Physical abuse formed the bulk of cases the Toa Payoh centre handles, Mr Lim said, citing cases of children who were injured in the crossfire between fighting parents.
For example, parents may hold onto the child in hopes that it would deter the spouse from hitting him or her.
In other cases, neglected and underfed children injured themselves when they were trying to do chores, or cook for themselves, Mr Lim said.
"Some parents do not have insight into what the problem is until it's too late. They think: 'I shouldn't have taken my child as a shield'. Or, 'I thought that I had control over myself and my emotions.'"
Interventions to help the families include counselling, emotion regulation, and family therapy.
Big Love's social workers also look at roping in the family's relatives to check on the children and help the parents to keep their emotions in check.
Among other strategies, they also conduct sessions to monitor progress and visits to check if the family is able to manage the situation, depending on the case, said Mr Lim.
Apart from the two Big Love centres, Heart @ Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre in Redhill also handles moderate child protection concerns.
The fourth centre here, Pave Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection Specialist Centre in Ang Mo Kio serves families with both family violence and child protection concerns.
Family violence helplines
- Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre (6445-0400)
- Heart @ Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre (6819-9170)
- Pave Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection Specialist Centre (6555-0390)
- Project StART (6476-1482)
- Trans Safe Centre (6449-9088)
- National Anti-Violence Helpline (1800-777-0000)