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Child Protection System in Singapore

Topic(s): Protection from Domestic Violence

To report suspected child abuse, please visit NAVH for helpline. Call the police at 999 immediately if the child's life and safety is in imminent danger.

Children need a safe and nurturing environment for their growth and development. As far as possible, children should stay with their families. However, when the family environment becomes unsafe for a child, the child may need to be placed in an alternative environment for his or her safety and well-being.

Child Abuse

Child abuse is defined as any act of commission or omission by a parent or caregiver which would endanger or impair the child’s physical or emotional well-being.

Forms of Child abuse

  • Physical Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Emotional and Psychological Abuse

The Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) provides the legal framework to protect children. It allows relevant authorities to intervene if a child (below the age of 14) or young person (from 14 years to below 18 years of age) is abused or neglected.

Child Protection Concerns Exist on a Spectrum

Child abuse can be understood in terms of a range of child protection concerns.

At the lower end of the spectrum would be families with high level of emotional and financial stress. Such families could benefit from more support to help them cope with stressors and provide adequate care for the children.

Parents neglecting their children’s needs, such as failing to provide adequate food, clothing or medical care for their children would present higher level of child protection concerns.

Situations presenting with even more serious child protection concerns would be when parents deliberately cause serious injuries such as cuts, bruises and broken bones to their children and are also unwilling to work with community partners.

Network of Agencies Keeping Children Safe

The extent and intrusiveness of interventions provided to families are in relation to the severity of child protection concerns presented. There is a network of committed professionals who work together to keep children safe. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is the lead agency for protecting children from abuse and neglect in Singapore. MSF and partners in the child protection system such as Police, pre-schools, schools, hospitals, social service agencies, Prisons, Courts and Attorney-General’s Chambers work closely to safeguard the interests and welfare of children in Singapore.

Diagram 1. Continuum of interventions to address child protection concerns

Everyone has a role to play in keeping children safe. To help families early, community intervention is the first line of support. Community partners such as Family Service Centres (FSCs), Child Protection Specialist Centres (CPSCs) and Safe and Strong Families Preservation (SSF-P) community agencies can provide the first line of support to help families in the community and ensure that the children are safe within their families.

Family Service Centres (FSCs)

For families facing high levels of emotional and economic stress, which may affect the care of children in the households, FSCs can work with them to provide early intervention and support such as financial assistance or counselling to help parents cope with their stressors better and provide adequate care for the children.

Community-Based Specialist Centres

Within the community, Child Protection Specialist Centres (CPSCs) serve as specialists on child protection matters. Currently, there are two CPSCs in Singapore Big Love CPSC and HEART@Fei Yue CPSC.

With effect from 1 April 2020, Safe Space CPSC and PAVE Family Violence Specialist Centre (FVSC) operate as one to form PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection Specialist Centre (PAVE ISIFPSC). The ISIFPSC is a one-stop integrated community service for individuals and families experiencing violence. It addresses issues on violence holistically through the continuity of services related to child protection and family violence.

MSF has trained professionals from these agencies to provide intensive and specialised assessment and community-based intervention, through casework and home-based services. These agencies are able to provide early intervention and support to families with moderate child protection concerns in the community. Examples of moderate child protection concerns include inappropriate or excessive discipline towards the children but caregivers are willing to receive help and improve their parenting. These agencies work with families in the community to provide a safe and stable home environment for children.

Safe and Strong Families (SSF) Programme

To help break the cycle of inter-generational violence and improve the life circumstances of children, MSF implemented the Safe and Strong Families (SSF) programme through various community agencies. The SSF programme aims to strengthen families with child protection concerns. Families with children who are at imminent risk of being removed due to safety concerns or families with children who are ready to return home after a period in alternative care will be provided with intensive support by caseworkers from SSF community agencies. The goal is to work with parents to overcome their challenges and improve their parenting skills and family functioning to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children.

Child Protective Service

The Child Protective Service (CPS) within MSF undertakes the statutory role in investigating and intervening in situations where children cannot remain safe with their parents or caregivers. CPS only steps in for situations that present serious child protection concerns, e.g. sexual abuse, severe neglect, serious injuries inflicted by parent/caregiver.

CPS will undertake a social investigation using evidence-based tools to assess the safety and well-being of the child. CPS will work with parents/caregivers, extended family members and community partners to ensure that the child is in a safe and stable environment. Concurrently, the police may conduct a criminal investigation and determine the action to be taken for the offence against the child.

When child protection concerns are severe and parents/caregivers are unwilling or unable to ensure the safety of children in their care, CPS will place the child in alternative care such as with extended family members or friends who can protect the child. If extended family members or friends are not suitable, CPS will then place the child in foster care or a Children’s Home. When a child is placed outside of his/her parents’ care, CPS will work with parents to reintegrate the child with his/her family as soon as possible. Regardless of family background, all children have the right to feel safe. Together, MSF and partners in the child protection system work hand-in-hand towards the goal of keeping children safe.

Detection and Reporting of Child Protection Concerns by Community Professionals

To sharpen the ability of professionals to pick on safety concerns for children, MSF has trained professionals in the community (e.g. teachers, social service agency staff) to use evidence-based tools such as the Sector-Specific Screening Guide (SSSG) and Child Abuse Reporting Guide (CARG). The SSSG and CARG guide professionals to manage reports of suspected child abuse, and thereafter to ensure the safety and well-being of the children.

Find out more about SSSG and CARG

On 18 January 2021, MSF launched the dedicated 24-hour National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline (NAVH) for the reporting of violence/ abuse or neglect, including sexual violence and harassment, in a familial or non-familial setting. If you or a child you know experiences child abuse, call the NAVH at 1800-777-0000 or make an online report via the NAVH Reporting Form. If there is imminent danger to one’s life or safety, you should call the Police at 999 or SMS 71999

Additional Resources

This guide on Family Preservation by Safe and Strong Families (SSF) Programme Practitioner’s Resource Guide introduces readers to intensive family preservation in Singapore.

Click here for information on statistics of child abuse investigations by MSF.