Safe Space for kids who face domestic violence

Safe Space, which is run by family specialist centre Pave, helps children under 16 who are victims or witnesses of domestic violence. Children are referred there by the MSF's Child Protective Service, the Family Justice Courts, as well as by relative
Safe Space, which is run by family specialist centre Pave, helps children under 16 who are victims or witnesses of domestic violence. Children are referred there by the MSF's Child Protective Service, the Family Justice Courts, as well as by relatives and members of the community.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Third child protection specialist centre set up by MSF officially opens in Yishun Central

Although they were aged only eight and nine respectively, Rita and Alfred (not their real names) received no care or supervision and were expected to do all of their family's household chores, as well as look after their four younger siblings.

They loitered in the neighbourhood to beg for food and money, and were caned, slapped and hit with a belt by their father - who even threw dumbbells and padlocks at them.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) was alerted to their case last year and the family was referred to Safe Space, a child protection specialist centre. Today, they are one of the families benefiting from its support and services.

Safe Space was officially opened yesterday. It is the third child protection specialist centre set up by the MSF and is run by Pave, a family specialist centre.

The first two centres - Big Love run by Montfort Care and Heart @ Fei Yue run by Fei Yue Community Services - were set up in 2013 by the MSF to specialise in managing "moderate risk" cases.

These include children who are caned excessively by parents, and those whose welfare may be neglected by drug-addicted parents. The MSF's Child Protective Service manages the high-risk cases. Last year, social workers helped 997 clients with family violence issues.

Safe Space helps children under 16 who are victims or witnesses of domestic violence. The centre began its operations on Jan 3 last year and moved into Yishun Central early this year.

Over the past year, Safe Space has dealt with 128 cases and 239 inquiries. Children are referred there by the MSF's Child Protective Service, the Family Justice Courts, as well as by relatives and members of the community.

Gracing the opening ceremony was President Halimah Yacob, who said that young children who are witnesses or victims of violence find it difficult to articulate what had happened to them or identify who was responsible.

"The families of these children also face multiple stressors such as unemployment, homelessness, mental health issues and matrimonial difficulties. More often than not, they lack the support of an extended family and other social networks that most of us are blessed with," she said.

"Family violence is an issue that cuts across racial, religious and socio-economic lines. When all of us put children's safety and welfare first, and when we all work together, great change can happen for the most vulnerable children."

Safe Space staff work closely with government organisations such as the Child Protective Service, the health system, schools, the police, legal aid agencies, the social service system and community organisations.

Pave is Singapore's pioneer family violence specialist centre. It began as a programme initiated in 1999 by three social workers.

Pave president Michael Gray said: "If children have a Safe Space to have their voices heard and their feelings acknowledged, we offer them a different life journey - one that hopefully will allow them to enjoy their childhood and move on."

Dr Sudha Nair, executive director of Pave, said that a child protection services centre creates opportunities for children to speak up. "It sends a message to children that their voices are heard. And it also sends a message to parents that their children can have issues."


Correction note: An earlier version of this story spelt Heart @ Fei Yue incorrectly. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2018, with the headline 'Safe Space for kids who face domestic violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe