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24-hour emergency response team for family violence cases to be rolled out

A 24-hour emergency response team made up of social service professionals, that responds to high-risk family violence cases together with the police, will be rolled out progressively nationwide in the coming months.

The first phase of the Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team (DVERT) started in April 2023, in areas such as Ang Mo Kio, Serangoon and Sengkang that are under the Ang Mo Kio Police Division.

DVERT officers, who are Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) staff trained in areas such as social work and psychology, work round the clock in 12-hour shifts to strengthen emergency response to high-risk family violence cases, said Ms Tabitha Ong.

Ms Ong, the director of the MSF’s Adult Protective Service, gave The Straits Times an update of DVERT’s work. The new team attended to 119 households from April to December 2023, and most of these cases involved a spouse who had been physically abused, she said.

DVERT’s set-up was one of 16 recommendations from the Taskforce on Family Violence, chaired by Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling and Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, which were released in 2021.

Amid an uptick in cases of family violence, the task force was set up in 2020 to address gaps and see what more could be done to boost protection and support for victims, among other areas.

When the police get a report about family violence and assess that it is a high-risk case, DVERT officers will be activated, and they will respond to the case together with the police.

Mr Martin Chok, deputy director of family and community services at social service agency Care Corner Singapore, said the quick response of DVERT officers, such as in assessing the situation and referring the victim to help services or a crisis shelter on the spot, is critical.

Without the DVERT officers, the police have to refer the case to a Protection Specialist Centre that specialises in tackling family violence like Care Corner Project StART, but that could take one or two days, according to Mr Chok.

He said: “Time is of the absolute importance here as it could be a matter of life and death.”

Mr Chok said they had heard of cases in the past where the police did not arrest the abuser as the incident of abuse was not considered an arrestable offence. Such offences include voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons.

And the police left the house after issuing a stern warning to the abuser.

He said: “This may affect victims, (making them) think: What is the point of calling the police? And after the police leave, the perpetrator may start the abuse again.”