Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) what are the current upstream interventions to detect and prevent incidents of child abuse cases; (b) whether the Child Protective Service is adequately staffed to handle the surge in child abuse cases amid the COVID-19 pandemic; and (c) what are the Ministry’s plans to reverse this upward trend in child abuse cases.
1. Prevention and early detection are key to protecting children from harm or further harm. Social service agencies (SSAs) such as Family Service Centres (FSCs) provide community-based services to equip families with skills needed to better manage stressors and conflicts. This may include parenting programmes to equip parents to build positive relationships with their children. When families are able to manage their stressors and conflicts well, the risk of escalation to abuse or neglect of children is lower.
2. The various touchpoints in the child protection ecosystem work in partnership with MSF to detect child abuse and neglect, to keep children safe. SSAs, including FSCs and Child Protection Specialist Centres (CPSCs), preschools, schools, the Police and medical practitioners and institutions are part of this ecosystem. MSF introduced a Sector-Specific Screening Guide (SSSG) and a Child Abuse Reporting Guide (CARG) in 2015 to sharpen the ability of professionals, such as social workers, educators and healthcare professionals, to pick up safety concerns for a child and seek appropriate intervention. This includes guiding professionals on when to refer families to community agencies, such as FSCs, for early support, or to MSF’s Child Protective Service (CPS) for statutory intervention when there are more serious concerns.
3. Public education efforts such as the “Break the Silence” campaign have increased public awareness and helped to uncover child protection concerns that might have gone undetected previously. Most recently, in February 2021, MSF set up the National Anti-Violence Hotline to make it easier for anyone to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect.
4. A steady increase in child protection cases reported since 2015 is not unexpected, given that MSF and its partners have been actively raising public awareness, building capability in professionals, and providing more and multiple channels for reporting child protection concerns. We also recognise that some families may experience increased stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic, which could account for some of the increase in cases in 2020. Working closely with the CPSCs and other SSAs, CPS has thus far been able to manage the increase in number of cases. MSF will continue to monitor the caseloads closely and adjust our resources where needed.
5. In addition to MSF’s existing efforts to prevent and detect child abuse, the Taskforce on Family Violence is working on a set of recommendations which will be announced later this year. These recommendations will also go some way to further address child abuse concerns. For example, the Taskforce is looking to build on current efforts in schools, to further develop age-appropriate materials to educate children and young persons on healthy and respectful relationships, as well as protective behaviours from young.
6. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep our children safe. We urge members of the public to call the National Anti-Violence Hotline at 1800-777-0000 to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect.