SINGAPORE: When a foster child returns to their family of origin, ministry care officers will continue to work with community partners for at least 12 months to ensure regular safety checks and monitoring.
The exact duration of this support depends on the needs of the family in each case, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said in a written parliamentary reply on Tuesday (Oct 3).
Mr Masagos was responding to questions filed by MP Melvin Yong (PAP-Tanjong Pagar) about the safeguards that the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has in place to ensure the safety of foster children and the period in which it continues to check on their well-being.
The foster care system came under the spotlight after a spate of child abuse cases involving toddlers.
One high-profile incident involved a two-year-old victim known as Umaisyah, whose charred remains were found in a metal pot. Her father, a 35-year-old Singaporean was sentenced last month to 21-and-a-half years in jail and 18 strokes of the cane.
Umaisyah was placed in foster care in November 2011 when she was three to four months old, as her father had been detained in a drug rehabilitation centre and her mother was deemed unable to take care of her.
She was returned to her parents in June 2013 and was abused until her eventual death in March 2014.
In August, a man was sentenced to 10 years and four weeks’ jail as well as caning for fracturing the skulls of his baby daughter and two-year-old son. Both children had been placed in foster care after MSF intervened but were allowed to stay with their parents over the weekends.
And in July, a man was accused of murdering his five-year-old daughter after months of ill-treating her by keeping her in a toilet with her younger brother. Both children had been placed in foster care by the Child Protective Service in 2014 but were returned to their father’s custody sometime the following year.
Mr Masagos stated on Tuesday that the incidents heard in court happened in different years and “do not represent a spike in child death cases due to abuse”.
The incidence rate of child abuse “remains low”, he added.
Commentary: Killed by her father – remember Umaisyah’s name as we learn lessons from her tragic death
SAFEGUARDING VULNERABLE CHILDREN
MSF continually reviews its safeguards to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable children under state care, said Mr Masagos.
In October 2019, the ministry said that it had set up the National Family Violence Networking System to tighten partnerships among stakeholders. It also strengthened the capabilities of professionals to detect abuse early and amended the Penal Code to enhance protection for vulnerable victims.
“These measures also provide support and protection to children who had been placed in foster care but were subsequently reunited with their families of origin,” Mr Masagos said.
He noted that since June 2020, the ministry has also provided training to more than 7,100 people across people, public and private sectors on spotting and reporting signs of family violence.
Since November 2020, MSF further strengthened information-sharing and coordination protocols within the community. These include procedures to guide agencies on tracing a child’s whereabouts if the child has not been regularly seen in the community, said Mr Masagos.
“Nonetheless, any abuse is one case too many,” he added.
“Each of us must also do our part to stop child abuse, by detecting and reporting to the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline if you know of or witness such incidents.”
Contact the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline at 1800 777 0000 or make an online report at go.gov.sg/navh.