SINGAPORE: Minister of State (MOS) for Social and Family Development (MSF) Sun Xueling acknowledged that the disturbing case where a teen was sexually abused by a kith caregiver, is “very regrettable” and all the professionals and social service workers, who have been in contact with the teen are shaken.
She clarified that while the adopter and his wife had expressed the desire to adopt the child, they had not taken any steps to start the adoption process.
additionally, the offenders firm was not working with the MSF but directly with the children’s home, she told the Parliament on Wednesday (10 Jan).
Ms Sun was responding to Parliamentary questions filed by Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin, PAP MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC and Ms He Ting Ru, Workers’ Party MP for Sengkang GRC.
Both MPs asked the Minister about safeguards for assessing prospective adopters’ suitability, particularly for children with traumatic backgrounds, and inquired about measures to prevent abuse, proposing enhancements in training for professionals handling vulnerable minors and improved surveillance over youth development firms exposed to such individuals.
MSF was previously under intense scrutiny following the sentencing of a 39-year-old manager from a children’s camp organization to 10 years in jail and nine strokes last November for exploitative sexual conduct with a minor aged 16.
During the parliamentary session, MOS Sun clarified that “kith caregivers” are adults with familial or community connections to a child but are not registered foster parents.
She emphasized the importance of the adoption process in safeguarding the welfare and best interests of the child.
During the first stage, prospective adopters must undergo a comprehensive adoption suitability assessment. This is conducted by Social Service staff from an accredited adoption agency.
Prospective adopters are assessed on a range of factors, including their ability to provide a protective and nurturing environment, their motivations for adoption, the stability of the marital relationship, and their overall capacity to meet the child’s needs.
She said in the recently reported case these procedures were followed by the Home, and the offender did not have a prior criminal record.
“Unforeseeability in the development of adoptive parent-child relationships”
During her address to the House, Ms Sun emphasized that the children’s home, to the best of MSF’s knowledge, had diligently undertaken measures to scrutinize individuals having contact with the child and to actively supervise these interactions.
“the social service professionals had also followed up actively with supervised visitations, check-ins and house visits.”
While striving to ensure adopted children find safe family environments, Ms Sun acknowledged,”It is not possible to predict with absolute certainty how the relationship between an adopted child and the adoptive parent develops.”
In response to Ms He’s query regarding oversight of interactions between children and staff, volunteers, and vendors, MOS Sun highlighted that social workers and professionals working at children’s homes undergo mandatory training to recognize signs and symptoms of various forms of abuse, including sexual abuse.
Professionals at MSF’s accredited adoption agencies also undergo specialized training to identify potential signs of abuse, she added.
All staff, volunteers, and personnel engaged by children’s homes undergo rigorous screening for any prior criminal records before they are allowed to have contact with children.
When WP MP Dennis Tan inquired about specific attributes sought in prospective adoptive parents, especially for children with traumatic pasts, Ms Sun explained that these potential adopters must undergo a comprehensive pre-adoption assessment to determine their ability to meet the child’s complex care needs.
Additionally, the input of the Clinical and Forensic Psychology Services team is crucial in this evaluation process.
The victim sexually abused for about three months, despite regular check-ins and therapy sessions with professionals
Ms Nadia sought further details on the assessment process for kith caregivers, emphasizing the unfortunate reality of ongoing abuse despite consistent social service support.
As earlier reported, the teenager, who witnessed her mother’s suicide in 2017 and was sexually abused by her father at 14 years old, was placed in a treatment centre designed to help teen girls who suffered trauma or abuse reintegrate back into society by the MSF in 2018.
It was during this time that the offender met the victim during a program he conducted at the treatment centre in Sept 2018.
Following an assessment, the family initiated regular meetings with the victim, initially bringing her hope for a genuine familial bond. Starting in Dec 2019, the girl started spending time at the offender’s residence as part of a granted “home leave.”
However, in Sep 2020, the man began sexually grooming and assaulting the girl. This progressed to almost daily sexual assaults, despite regular check-ins and therapy sessions with professionals, the abuse went undetected until the girl confided in a teacher in November 2020.
MSF professionals observe the couple’s supportive care to victim
MOS Sun said background checks were conducted on the man and his wife before they assumed the role of caregivers for the child. Additionally, MSF’s proficient professionals thoroughly evaluated and deemed the couple capable of ensuring the child’s adequate and secure care.
Highlighting the extent of care provided, Ms Sun emphasized the regularity of therapy sessions, check-ins, and home visits carried out by professionals. These measures were implemented both before and during the child’s home leave while under the care of the couple.
Throughout these interactions, professionals observed and noted the couple’s provision of supportive care. Importantly, they did not detect any signs or symptoms that would suggest sexual abuse by the caregiver.
The child did not disclose any abuse to the professionals until she informed her school teacher in November 2020.
Regarding further actions, she mentioned that staff at children’s homes are mandated to participate in compulsory training courses.
These courses cover various aspects, including comprehending the legal frameworks and legislation designed to safeguard children in state care.
Additionally, they receive training in strategies to detect and address child abuse while ensuring the safety of children, incorporating evidence-based assessment frameworks that hold international recognition in promoting the safety and well-being of at-risk children and young individuals.
Ms Sun advocates collaborative efforts with community partners to spot family violence
She emphasized the crucial lesson learned from this incident, emphasizing the need to continually equip the country’s social service professionals with updated training on identifying and responding to family violence, domestic violence, and sexual abuse.
“At the same time, I think it’s also a clear reminder to all of us that we have to work with other community partners including teachers, in this case.”
“We must recognize that even as our social service professionals continue with supervised visitations, home check-ins, house visits, this may not take place at daily basis, whereas you compare to a child’s interaction with a teacher at school or a neighbor to the home, which are almost daily interactions and there’s more opportunity for a child to share instances of neglect and abuse.”
She emphasized the significance of this training, noting that it goes beyond being a generic term—it is a critical tool in enabling these professionals to identify, prevent, and halt instances of abuse.
She further reinforced the challenges faced by social service professionals who manage multiple cases concurrently.
However, Ms Sun also stressed the importance of the public’s active involvement in safeguarding children.
“you can imagine for a young person or child who is experiencing this, you never know at which point and at what might trigger the child to finally open up, and when he or she decides to open up then there must be a trusted adult nearby for he or she to open up too.”
“I would say that the most fundamental and comprehensive to tackling this issue, is to raise greater awareness amongst more members of the public in particular persons who have immediate touch points with children, ” she added.
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