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Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the National Family Violence Networking System Conference 2018

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Desmond Lee

Topic(s): Protection from Domestic Violence, Children & Families


1          I am encouraged to see so many professionals from the public sector, the social services, law enforcement agencies and the legal fraternity gathered today to talk about family violence.

2          We are honoured to have three distinguished international experts - Dr Rory Gallagher, Professor Deborah O'Connor and Professor Peter Hovmand - to share their expertise at our conference. Their research in Systems Thinking, Behavioural Insights and the application of a Relational Lens offer us the opportunity to apply fresh perspectives as we continue to find better and newer ways to better tackle family violence.

Celebrating the National Family Violence Networking System (NFVNS) Our Shared Achievements

3          Twenty-two years ago, a group of government agencies, law enforcement bodies and community agencies came together to establish the National Family Violence Networking System, or NFVNS. Over the years, this network has been strengthened and revitalised, to offer better family protection.

  • A number of developments this year will be particularly significant.
  • First, Parliament enacted the Vulnerable Adults Act (VAA).
  • This piece of legislation will enhance protection and safeguards for vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect or self-neglect.
  • We target to bring this landmark piece of legislation into force by the end of this year.

4          To prepare for this, our partners across various sectors, agencies and specialisations have been very hard at work.

  • For instance, we have been working with our healthcare agencies to ensure that the health and social needs of victims as well as perpetrators of family violence can be more seamlessly met.
  • And just last month, police officers, social workers and representatives from the Office of Public Guardian came together to study how they can better identify and respond to vulnerable adult abuse cases.

5          Beyond setting up the infrastructure, systems and protocols for agencies to work better together, we have also focused on building up our knowledge and skill so that we can better support victims of family violence.

6          So this network is 22 years old. It involves many partners and agencies - some in the public sector and law enforcement, some in the healthcare sector, some in the people sector and social services and in the legal fraternity. And it is better than an individual organisation because a network taps on the strength, resilience, awareness and sense-making of many players in the universe of the network. It is not possible to have one single agency completely responsible for identifying and tackling family violence and child abuse.

7          But having a network poses challenges of its own. First, every organisation will have its own speak, its own thinking, its own philosophy, its own biases, its own presumptions and assumptions, its own approaches. And organisations are always at risk of being in a silo. So, building a network is not something that you can start 22 years ago and just leave it be, and assume it will run. It requires constant tending to, constant organisational alignment.

8          And so, three things are essential.

  • First, at the very top, all the organisational leadership teams have to be aligned to the system and mission for the entire network. This has to be continuously reinforced.
  • At the structural and organisational level, we need to have systems, protocols, SOPs in place that link multiple stakeholders, multiple entities, multiple organisations - so that the network operates as one, rather than multiple organisations, and then linkages in an ad hoc and inconsistent manner.
  • But more importantly, are the links of the professionals in the network. And that's why like today, apart from having conference keynote speeches and conference sessions, more important are the opportunities for all of you here, from different sectors to network, exchange name cards, get to know each other well at a professional level. Then you will look beyond the organisations, look beyond the labels, look beyond the systems, structures and hierarchies that each of us report to. So that we function truly as one system, made up of many components, all working together.
  • And of course, to tie all these three pieces up organisational leadership alignment; the systems and SOPs; and the inter-professional linkages, would be the systems and databases and connectivities that allow a system to truly function as one being, with one beating heart. And so I think that is absolutely critical. Never take a system that you put in place for granted. It is a living organism and needs constant tending to, at all these levels.

9          Today, we've just launched the Sector Specific Screening Guide (SSSG) and Child Abuse Reporting Guide (CARG). These two important guides form that second layer I talked about. The protocols and SOPs that allow people with different training, different backgrounds - whether you have medical speak or social service speak or legal speak or law enforcement speak - to be able to align on the same sheet of paper.

  • The SSSG for instance, is used by frontline professionals such as teachers, doctors and social workers, who have regular contact with children. The SSSG helps guide your decision-making, on whether to discuss a child protection concern with someone in your organisation who is more familiar with child protection issues.
  • The CARG, on the other hand, is used by professionals trained in child protection issues - school counsellors, medical social workers or senior social workers. The CARG helps you decide whether to report the concern on child safety to the Child Protective Service of MSF.
  • Both tools are part of the Structured Decision Making system, which is an evidence-based decision support system. These tools have been jointly-developed by professionals from various sectors, and have been specially contextualised and tailored and customised to Singapore's circumstances.
  • Professionals across the child protection system can now use a common framework to assess safety concerns for children in a consistent manner, and report the same to Child Protective Service if the assessment warrants it.
  • We are the first in South East Asia to use Structured Decision Making. And we are the first in the world to develop and implement the Sector Specific Screening Guide.
  • Indeed, these two guides - and the use of SDM - are important levers to put all the different organisations in the network on the same page. To think the same way; to look out for the same things; to have some consistency and commonality in the way we do things. But ultimately, these guides serve professionals - and all of us - who exercise our own judgement, as a very good foundation when making decision in a professional context. And that is key.

Transform and Innovate

10         For our National Family Violence Networking System to remain up to date and responsive to changes in social circumstances and the kinds of challenges that our families face today, we must keep on innovating, and finding new ways to do our work better.

  • We have already started the ball rolling. In line with our conference theme this year, we called for nominations to feature innovations that you - our Networking partners - have embarked on, in the field of family protection work.
  • You can see the shortlisted entries in the foyer outside.
  • I encourage everyone - go take a look, and learn from each other, if you have not already seen the exhibition.

11         But in the interest of time, I will just highlight two of the many innovations, to pique your interest. The first is how HEART@Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre overcame a perennial problem that they had identified which is the low take-up of therapeutic services by families who require such interventions.

  • HEART@Fei Yue found that parents or carers needed these services, but often lacked the time or financial resources to head down to HEART for the sessions.
  • Undeterred, our colleagues at HEART put together modified mobile therapy toolkits in "grab and go" roller luggages and duffel bags - so that their workers could bring the services to the clients instead of asking the clients to come to them; and so addressing the barriers that many of the clients had, by removing the barriers altogether and reaching out to the clients.
  • This example shows us that innovation is really not just dependent or fixated on technology. There are some very practical approaches that we can apply, as innovation.
  • At its core, it is about being flexible in our approach, understanding barriers and thinking of ways to help our clients and partners overcome them.

12         The second example is by TRANS SAFE Centre, who championed another commendable approach.

  • As a Family Violence Specialist Centre, TRANS SAFE recognised that legal expertise was often critical in guiding interventions. This was particularly so for vulnerable adults, some of whom had diminished mental capacity or were subjugated by their caregivers.
  • However, they found that there were no legal clinics which specialised in vulnerable adult protection.
  • To tackle this, TRANS SAFE set up their own community legal clinic that would provide vulnerable adults and their families with direct access to free legal consultation.
  • Volunteer lawyers with particular interest and expertise in family law, elder and vulnerable adult abuse, work alongside social workers to extend the appropriate legal and emotional support to address the multiple needs of the families.
  • Where needed, they have also made provision for a "Lawyers-On-Wheels" service - where lawyers again - reach out directly to the clients, instead of expecting the clients to come to them, especially when they face frailty or vulnerability.
  • The beneficiaries of this legal clinic then leave with an understanding of their legal rights and jointly work on solutions with their lawyers and social workers.
  • And so the knowledge-building works both ways.
  • A transformative initiative like this nudges professionals to better understand issues from the client's perspective, leading to better policies, enhanced programmes and more effective public education initiatives in the long run.

Working together to Combat Family Violence

13         Some two years ago, we launched a campaign - "Break the Silence | Against Family Violence"

14         We have since gone on to launch another five video vignettes on MSF's social media channels, to highlight different ways for the public to safely interrupt and intervene when they come across possible domestic and family violence.

  • Our latest video, entitled "What if…" features vulnerable adult abuse - and a bystander's regret for not responding until it is too late.
  • So I would like to encourage all of us here in the network - all the partner agencies, community services and departments - help us spread the message that family violence is not a private matter. It is one thing to come up with social media campaign messages and videos; it is another for it to pervade through society and reach the communities that we need to reach out to.
  • It is everyone's responsibility to prevent, to detect and report suspected cases of abuse.

15         Last month, my colleague - Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal - also published an opinion piece in Berita Harian urging Singaporeans to care for those in need. And to step in and offer help whenever they come across possible family violence.

16         For us to tackle these problems more effectively, our prevention efforts for family violence must go upstream. My colleagues have been working on the ground to engage community partners - such as grassroots community organisations, self-help groups, religious organisations, and voluntary welfare organisations - to co-organise family violence awareness training sessions - so that even more people can become our eyes and ears on the ground to help spot possible cases of abuse.

17         I'd like to thank all members of the National Family Violence Networking System for working together for the betterment of families and individuals afflicted by domestic violence. Let's continue to foster close partnerships and keep this network thriving and going strong as we create new and improved solutions to protect the vulnerable people in our midst.

18         I would like to end off by asking the organisers to screen the video I talked about earlier; the "What if..." video - so that we constantly remind ourselves and the people around us, that we have pledged to protect them and to protect other vulnerable people as well. So I wish you all a fruitful conference. Please tap as much knowledge as you can from our experts who have flown in from halfway around the globe. They have a lot to share. Find a fresh perspective from what they have shared with us and apply them to the Singapore context. Because for a network to be effective, and to remain effective as change in society continues, we need to constantly tend to relationships, ensure leadership is aligned, ensure our systems remain fresh, remain relevant, remain vibrant and effective. So have a very good session today. And I look forward to all of you partnering each other, exchanging name cards, getting to know each other better and through professional interaction, we ensure that network remains alive. Thank you.