1 Good morning and welcome to the Children’s Conference 2011.
2 I am sure we all agree that “Every child deserves a life free of violence and abuse”.
3 Today’s conference theme, “From Trauma to Tenacity: Helping Children In Need of Care or Protection” is apt. As professionals, our duty is to ensure that individually, we have the right skills and that collectively we have the appropriate systems and processes in place to support and protect children at risk. This conference is an important step in that direction.
Abuse of, and Intervention for, Children
4 Child abuse has long term and permanent adverse developmental, psycho-emotional, and medical consequences on a child. Children exposed to violence are known to develop feelings of betrayal, confusion and self-blame in the face of perpetrators who are likely to be the very people they need to trust and regard as protective figures.
5 Effective interventionis key to restoring the lives of children affected by violence and ensuring that these children do not grow up believing that violence is part and parcel of normal family life and relationships. Only then can we ensure that the cycle of violence across generations is broken.
6 The discussions will include the impact of trauma and the effectiveness of clinical and societal interventions, therapy options for children and families, harmful sexual behaviour by children and working with special needs children in residential care.
A Framework for Intervention
We are doors to their new beginnings
7 I want to offer a possible framework through which to think about the issue of care and protection of children. The first point I want to make is that the children we work with should leave our care far better off than when they first enter our professional spaces.
8 And I think it is the same requirement we must impose on our interventions with perpetrators. Sometimes it escalates from not having the right tools to parent or discipline children. Other times, the root causes are found in parents’ own exposure to violence. We must believe that we can help individuals who want to be helped, and to equip perpetrators with the correct tools to help them on their journey as parents and responsible individuals.
9 Let me share a recent story involving my Ministry’s officers, an 11-year-old boy and his father. The Child Protection Officers were concerned about the boy’s emotional functioning and his constant threats of running away from home. And these were often triggered by his demands for gadgets not being met. At the same time, this boy was physically abused by his father – he was slapped, punched and had his hair pulled – over his insistence on wanting a PSP (Play Station Portable). MCYS officers and the school counsellors worked with the father and other family members to identify alternative disciplinary measures and support that could help the father manage the child’s demands without physically abusing him. The MCYS officers sought to restore the father-child relationship by directing everyone’s focus on ensuring the boy’s wellbeing. These included working with the father to see how the outcomes could be different, by acting and thinking differently about his son’s misbehaviours. The approach worked and reinforced the positives in the father-child relationship in many ways. It also emphasised that everyone has a role to play.
Family Violence Dialogue Group Appreciation Award
10 We must also recognise excellent service when we see it, to facilitate the sharing of best practices and to inspire others. This year, we will be presenting the Family Violence Dialogue Group Appreciation Awards to three deserving individuals and three teams who have carried out their roles well, who demonstrate adoption of best practices in working with vulnerable children, and who have helped promote inter-agency collaboration.
Family Violence Publicity Video
11 Today, we will also be launching a publicity video on family violence, covering child abuse, spousal abuse, elder abuse, and dating violence. This video is part of our added effort to reach out to the wider population on what constitute the different types of family violence and the avenues for help. Besides saying “no” to violence, each one of us in the community has a part to play to report abuse and stop victims from being hurt further.
Our systems, capacities and services must count for our clients
12 It is often said that we are only as good as our weakest link. And I believe this is true for our work in child protection and welfare. All it takes is one lapse, and every single child that is abused is one child too many.
Review of Child Protection Service and System
13 My Ministry is concluding a review of Child Protection Service (CPS) and Child Protection System in Singapore. The review, which involved multiple stakeholders and professionals, revealed a system that is generally strong and robust. However, more importantly, it also revealed areas for improvement.
14 I would like to highlight three key areas relevant to our Conference theme today. The first relates to the need to scope out a more integrated inter-agency collaborative model between Child Protection Services (CPS), and other government and community agencies. This will articulate more clearly the roles and expectations of various stakeholders within the Child Protection System. It will ensure that detection, reporting, intervention, and support for all the full range of vulnerable children’s cases are conducted in a timely and child-centric manner. As we strengthen the collaborations, there will also be an opportunity for us to look at how the policies, systems and resource situation of our partners impact the Child Protection System, and to see how adjustments may be made to ensure a more coherent and responsive system.
15 The second cluster of recommendations relates to the need for all stakeholders to have the relevant training and competency in detecting, reporting and handling of reports of child abuse. In this regard, my Ministry is looking to develop a Common Assessment and Competency Framework to increase knowledge of assessment threshold and protocols, common understanding of procedures, as well as provide a clearer definition and detection of child abuse.
16 Thirdly, findings also reflected that more should be done to develop child-centric specialised services to support children who have been victims of abuse as well as their families. There is a need for a Continuum of Care through which various types of services and programmes are offered to children in need of protection. As much as possible, we want to keep our children in their familial homes and to work with their families to better manage their parental roles. Some children may benefit from a more stable foster care arrangement. Yet, there are also others that seem to do better in the Children’s Homes where they learn how to structure their daily lives and build good habits.
17 My Ministry has been closely studying the Therapeutic Group Home concept and its effectiveness in catering to this group of children with high needs, who are more likely to have experienced familial rejection and a lack of love for most of their young lives. From studies, we know that these Homes would have to be small in size with a higher child-staff ratio to ensure close supervision, individualised attention, as well as consistency in care. These Homes should have a strong focus on building relationships with the attachment-based treatment model as its basis, and offer intensive therapeutic support based on the individualised needs of the child.
18 We are keen to see how these Homes would work in our current child protection landscape, and we invite passionate VWOs and professionals with a heart for this area of work to collaborate with MCYS in developing and managing these Homes.
Every Child Matters
19 As we look forward to the progress that we will make through these changes, we must always be mindful that every child matters. We need to remain vigilant and make the effort to listen to children and be their lifeline if needed. This is what is meant when we say child protection is everyone’s business.
20 It leaves me, then, to thank the Family Violence Dialogue Group, the inter-agency grouping charged with developing strategy and plans to combat family violence, and the Inter-Ministry Working Group on the Management of Child Abuse, the inter-agency workgroup looking at macro and systemic issues in managing child abuse in Singapore, for creating such a wonderful platform for both overseas and local professionals to share their professional knowledge, expertise and best practices, as well as to network and strengthen partnerships in supporting children impacted by abuse. Thank you very much.