Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Social and Family Development how does the Child Protective Service make known its services to young children who may be suffering physical or mental abuse by their parents or caregivers and may not have access to telephones, the Internet or any other persons outside their home to report the abuse.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Social and Family Development what are the conditions or triggers that will mandate a face-to-face meeting between children and officers from the Child Protective Service, either at home or outside of home, in cases of suspected abuse by parents or caregivers.
The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social and Family Development (Mr Eric Chua) (for the Minister for Social and Family Development): Mr Speaker, may I take Question Nos 14 through to 16 together, please?
Mr Speaker: Yes, please.
Mr Eric Chua: Thank you, Sir. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)’s Child Protective Service (CPS) investigates cases involving serious abuse or neglect of children and young persons in accordance with the statutory framework set out under the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA). The threshold for CPS to exercise various powers under the Act is predicated on whether there are “reasonable grounds to believe that a child or young person is in need of care or protection”. The fact that a child is not attending school is not, by itself, sufficient grounds to invoke CYPA powers. This is because non-attendance could be due to many other reasons.
To determine if a case meets the legal threshold under the CYPA, CPS will gather information from the child, family and professionals via phone or video calls. If the assessment is that there is immediate or serious safety concerns for the child, or when parents or caregivers are uncooperative, CPS will conduct an in-person assessment of the child and the family. CPS may also order a child to undergo assessments, examinations or treatments, or remove the child and commit him or her to a place of temporary care and protection or to the care of a fit person.
CPS must balance multiple conflicting interests when determining what is best for a child. CPS is careful in exercising its powers and will only remove a child if it is not possible to keep the child safe within his or her family.
For less serious cases, CPS will refer the child and family to a Child Protection Specialist Centre, Protection Specialist Centre or a Family Service Centre for follow-up intervention as necessary.
The nature of child abuse is that it is often not easy to detect. The professionals in CPS and the social service agencies work hard to intervene to prevent further harm, and the fate of every single life matters. Despite their efforts and that of others at the various touchpoints that children come into contact with, it is not possible to expect that every single case will be detected. I hope Members of this House can support the difficult work that they do in your communities and to rally your residents to play their part too.
Residents can support the Break the Silence campaign and attend Domestic Violence Awareness Training. Through these, members of the public are educated on potential signs of child abuse or neglect. Everyone can benefit from such knowledge, whether as a neighbour, a community volunteer or a grassroots leader. Those who see such potential signs are encouraged to report their concerns to the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline (NAVH) at 1800-777-0000.
We are also educating our children on this difficult topic of abuse in an age-appropriate manner. Preschoolers are taught how to talk about their feelings and seek help from trusted adults when they feel unsafe or hurt. In schools, students learn about personal safety and safeguarding themselves against abuse through their Character and Citizenship Education lessons. They also learn help-seeking skills, including the “Signal for Help” hand gesture. They are shown the community resources and helplines for them to turn to when their safety is compromised. They are also encouraged to look out for their peers and seek help for those who display these signs of distress.
Mr Speaker: Mr Gerald Giam.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song (Aljunied): I thank the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for his answers. Are there some specific conditions in which the CPS will forcibly enter homes to check on the well-being of children whom they suspect of being abused? Were there any instances in the past five years where these conditions were met, but the CPS did not do so? And if so, what has MSF done to ensure that such protocols are adhered to in future?
Mr Eric Chua: Mr Speaker, I thank the Member for his supplementary question. At the point of a case being referred to the CPS, we will perform an intake assessment. And at this point, when we do the assessment, we will make sure that we check for any signs of immediate safety concerns for the child, or whether the parents or caregivers are cooperative at a particular stage of investigations. If we find that there are instances where the child’s safety is immediately found to be at risk, or if the parents are uncooperative such that the CPS officers do not get to sight the child, then the CPS officer has every right to move on to the next phase to conduct an in-person assessment.
Specific to Mr Gerald Giam’s question on whether there were examples of such cases in the past five years, I will encourage him to file a separate Parliamentary Question on this if he would like to ask for the specific statistics, because I do not have them at the moment. Again, rest assured that the CPS officers, given their procedures, have the ability to step in if there is an assessed need to do so.
Ministry of Social and Family Development
20 March 2023