Current Issues

SHELTER keeps abreast of current issues by monitoring news related to children, teenagers and social work. We have included a selection of current issues with links to further helpful websites, researched and adapted by a qualified counsellor from SHELTER.



Protecting Children From Sexual Abuse

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse of children may include sexual touching, masturbation, intercourse, indecent exposure, use of children in or showing children pornographic films or pictures, encouraging or forcing children into prostitution or encouraging or forcing children to witness sexual acts. Children and young people of all ages can be victims of abuse.

Most sexual abuse of children is carried out by someone they know

Children are more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know, including relatives and family friends, than by a stranger. Children may have confused feelings if they are being abused by someone they trust. They may not realise that what is being done to them is abuse.

What kind of people sexually abuse children?

Child sex abusers can come from any social, racial or religious background and may be well-respected members of society. Those who sexually abuse children within families include fathers, stepfathers, live-in partners, brothers, uncles, male cousins, grandfathers, father figures and close family friends. Sometimes the sex abuser could also be the mother or a female relative. Those who abuse children in one family may also abuse children in other families.

Targeting children

An abuser may target girls or boys or prefer children of a particular age. Child sex abusers often appear kind, concerned and caring towards children in order to build close relationships with them. They may observe a child and spend a long time building up the 'friendship'. They may form a relationship with a single parent in order to get access to the children.

Grooming children

Child sex abusers may spend a lot of time building the relationship before the abuse begins. This often results in the child trusting and becoming dependent on them. This is called grooming. The abuser may seem to be a safe and reassuring figure. He may also convince himself that he is doing no harm to the children.

Keeping secrets

As the child becomes more dependent on the abuser, and in order to keep the abuse secret, the abuser will use the child's natural fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening to make the child keep quiet. A child who talks and shares his/her feelings with parents and others is less likely to become dependent on a single abusing adult.

How can I keep my child safe?

  • Build open and trusting relationships with your children
  • Keep an eye on any changes in your child's behaviour
  • Make sure your child understands about sex
  • Talk to your children about sexual matters when they start to show an interest
  • Explain the difference between 'good' and 'bad' secrets
  • Sexual behaviour between children can become abusive. Seek advice if you are worried. You could talk to your doctor, to a paediatrician, or to any other professional who works with children.

How will I know if my child is being abused?

When abuse has been discovered, parents often say there were no obvious signs to make them suspect their child was being abused, even when the abuser was their partner. However, although the following behaviour does not necessarily indicate abuse, sometimes a child who is being abused will:

  • Start to show fear or avoid being alone with a particular person
  • Appear unusually clingy or show other changes in their behaviour
  • Talk about secrets or ask anxious questions
  • Describe possible grooming behaviour by an adult
  • Display sexually precocious behaviour
  • Appear depressed or withdrawn.

What should I do if I suspect that my child is being abused?

  • Talk to your child
  • Be reassuring - tell them that you love them and nothing will change that
  • Allow your child to tell you their story in their own way without interrupting them with lots of questions
  • Believe your child
  • Tell them that they have done the right thing in telling you
  • Tell them that what has happened was not their fault
  • You need to share your concerns: Please call SHELTER (603-79550663) if you need some advice and are not sure what to do.

Could my family be broken up and my children taken away from me?

In most cases it should be the abuser, rather than the child, who is removed from the family home. However, this will depend on whether a criminal charge is brought against the abuser and there is a conviction, or if the court decides that your child needs to be under the care of your local Social Welfare Dept in a Place of Safety. Priority must be given to your child's long-term safety and well-being.

How should I react if my child tells me that he or she has been abused?

  • Your child needs to know that he or she is not to blame
  • Make it clear that you believe what he or she says
  • Allow your child to talk about what has happened, but don't force him or her to do so
  • Tell your child that he or she has done the right thing in telling you. Don't blame him or her if the abuse occurred because he or she disobeyed your instructions (for example, going out without permission)
  • You may feel very confused, particularly if the abuser is a relative. You may want help in coping with powerful and conflicting emotions about the abuse. These could include shock, anger, disbelief, self-blame and fear.
  • What should I do about the abuse/abuser?
  • Be careful about confronting the person yourself. They may try to silence, threaten or confuse your child.
  • You should get advice before you take any action.
  • Call SHELTER at 603-79550663. We can also assist you in making a report/referral to the relevant agencies
  • Call your local Social Welfare Department
  • In an emergency, call the Police

Useful Link

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is not acceptable - ever!

Domestic violence affects people of every class, age, race, disability, and sexuality. The violence can begin at any stage of a relationship and may continue after the relationship has ended.

It's usually women who are at the receiving end of domestic violence, and it is often men who are responsible. The violence may involve physical abuse, sexual assault and threats. Sometimes it's more subtle, like making someone feel worthless; not letting them have any money; or not allowing them to leave the home. Social isolation and emotional abuse as well as physical violence can have long-lasting effects.

Worried about the effect of violence on your children?

Here are some examples of how children can be affected by domestic violence:

  • The children can also be physically abused
  • Witnessing the violence can be damaging
  • Children often try to intervene to protect the adult victim, which puts them in a dangerous situation
  • Children can copy the violent behaviour they witness, both as children and as adults
  • They can develop stress-related illnesses
  • They can lose confidence, be afraid and angry, and blame themselves for what is happening

How can I keep my child safe?

It's really important to take some action to protect yourself and your children. You may worry that seeking help means your children will be taken away by the Social Welfare Department. This is very rare and only happens in the most serious cases. Talk to your children about how they feel.

Counselling

You may be experiencing violence at home, but you may want to stay with the person and try to sort out some of the problems. There are professionals who can offer counselling. Please contact SHELTER and we may be able to put you in touch with someone who can help.

Threats of further violence

Victims of domestic violence may be frightened that if they seek help the violence will get worse. However, you have the right to be protected and live in a safe environment with your children.

If you do decide to leave your spouse, there are places where you and your children can go to in an emergency. For example, Women's Aid Organization offers a safe refuge and ongoing support to families fleeing domestic violence. You can contact them at 603-79563488.

Useful Links

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Drug and alcohol abuse by parents can have a serious effect on their children. Though not all parents who abuse drugs or alcohol mistreat or neglect their children, sometimes, the children can be put at considerable risk.

Risks to children

There is an increased risk of violence in families where there is substance abuse. Children can also suffer from lack of parental supervision - establishing boundaries and discipline, and live chaotic lives. This can seriously affect their psychological and emotional development, and may cause problems with their relationships later on in life. In addition, the children may copy their parents' behaviour. Another problem may be the isolation of the family from neighbours and other support.

Children who are most at risk

The children who are most vulnerable are those whose parents are violent, aggressive or neglectful. These children can remain 'invisible' from the services created to support such children, unless the children's behaviour attracts attention at school or elsewhere outside the home.

Children are less likely to be affected if their parents' behaviour is not too severe and their lives have some order. It also helps if they have strong relationships outside the family. Some are better able to cope than others, show great insight into their parents' situation and take on responsibilities which they should not normally have.

Getting help

If you are a parent and you feel your ability to care for your children is affected by drug or alcohol abuse, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. He or she will be able to refer you to other professionals who specialise in drug and alcohol problems. The important thing is that you should get help as soon as possible.

Leaving Children at Home Alone

What the law says

There is no law in Malaysia that states the minimum age that a child can be left alone at home. However, it is an offence to leave a child alone when doing so puts him or her at risk.

How do you decide if you can safely leave a child alone?

There are many important things to consider before you decide to leave a child alone. These include:


  • The age of the child
  • The child's level of maturity and understanding
  • The place where the child will be left
  • How long the child will be left alone, and how often
  • Whether or not there are any other children in the household

For example, most parents would think it is okay to leave a sixteen-year-old alone for the evening, but to leave them for a week may well be unacceptable to some.

Many young children play outdoors with other children without a parent or carer being present. Most people would agree that outdoor play is an important part of growing up but in reality, as they are unsupervised, they can be considered 'alone'.

You are the best judge of your child's level of maturity and responsibility.

A few other points to guide you

  • Never leave a baby or very young child alone at home, whether asleep or awake, even for a few minutes. It doesn't take long for unsupervised young children or babies to injure themselves.
  • Children under thirteen should not be left alone for long.
  • Children under sixteen should not be left alone overnight.

If you do leave a child alone, remember:

  • If possible, leave a telephone number where you can be contacted, and be available to answer it immediately.
  • Talk to your child about keeping safe at home and point out the potential dangers. Instruct them not to open the front door to strangers.
  • Give clear instructions about what to do if there is an emergency. All children left alone should know how to contact the emergency services.
  • Leave a list of numbers of trusted people whom they can contact.
  • Put obvious dangers out of reach of the children, e.g. medicines, chemicals, matches, etc.
  • Make sure that the child is happy about the arrangements and confident about being left alone.
  • Tell the child when you will be back, and make sure you are back on time.
  • Talk to him or her afterwards about his or her experience of being alone.

Choosing a babysitter

When deciding to use a babysitter remember to:

  • Follow your instincts - if in doubt don't use the babysitter.
  • Ask for at least two references and contact the referees yourself.
  • Choose a babysitter over sixteen years old.
  • Listen to your child. Talk to your child about any issue of babysitting that they are unhappy about. If your child is unhappy about your use of a particular babysitter, find someone else.
  • Only use recommended childminders.

Useful Links

Surfing Safety

Surfing Safely: Tips for Young People

Chat rooms and messaging can be great fun, but remember, you never really know who you are talking to online. It could be someone trying to trick you, some kind of weirdo, or someone really dangerous.

Here are some tips to help you keep safe:

  • Never use your real name in chat rooms - pick a special online nickname.
  • Never ever tell anyone personal things about yourself or your family - like your address or telephone number, or the school or clubs you go to. That goes for sending them photos as well (that way if you don't want to hear from them again, you only have to log off). Remember, even if somebody tells you about himself/herself, never tell them things about you.
  • If you arrange to meet up with someone you've only spoken to online, remember that they might not be who they said they were, so only meet people in public places and take along an adult - the person you have spoken to online should do this too, because they don't know who you really are either!
  • Never respond to nasty or rude messages, and never send any either! If you feel suspicious or uncomfortable about the way a conversation is going, or if it's getting really personal, save a record of it and stop the conversation. That way you can show someone and ask what they think.
  • Be careful with any email attachments or links that people send you - they might contain nasty images, or computer "viruses" that could ruin your PC. If you don't know who it's from, don't open it.
  • Avoid sites that are meant for adults. You might be curious, but sometimes these sites can be difficult to get out of; costs can be added to your phone bill; and the site managers can detect your email address and start sending you material you really don't want to get. If you see rude pictures where they shouldn't be, always let an adult know so they can get them removed.
  • Agree on some rules with your parents or carers about what you can and can't do on the Net. It will save arguments later.
  • Don't let the Net take over your life! Keep up your other interests and try to use the Internet together with friends and family, not just on your own.

Useful Links :

For Parents: Help Your Child Surf in Safety

  • Place the computer where the whole family can use it, rather than out of sight such as in a bedroom. Search for positive and fun sites. Many TV programmes and children's media suggest good sites to visit, in addition to their own.
  • Talk with your children to discuss what kinds of sites they are allowed to visit. Then, check regularly to make sure that they stay within these agreed limits.
  • Tell your kids not to give out their personal details, including their name, address, telephone number or school to anyone over the Net. Use of an online nickname can help here, as long as they do not pretend to be a completely different person. Make sure they do not accept gifts (electronic or otherwise) from strangers, or arrange meetings with new friends unless you go with them.
  • Chat sites are the main way to meet people online and can be lots of fun. But since they can be open to misuse, make sure your children are as cautious of strangers online as they would be in the real world. If they see or receive any obscene, abusive or threatening messages, they should not respond. They should let you know, and you should consider telling your Internet service provider. Some chat rooms are moderated, so messages get screened to some extent, but this is not an absolute guarantee.
  • Filtering software is available to screen out some inappropriate sites. But filters aren't foolproof - sites and users can get round them - so do stay involved.
  • Make sure your children know that they should tell you if they come across anything bad. If you or your child come across material that is illegal or harmful, be prepared to report it to the Internet service provider and the Internet Watch Foundation (the IWF acts against material which is dangerous or against the law but cannot do anything about material that is offensive).
  • Limit the time your children spend online - not only does this keep expenses down, it also stops the Internet taking over their lives.

Useful Links :

Mental Health Problems

Parents with mental health problems

A lot of people do not understand and are therefore embarrassed by mental illness. That can make it difficult for mentally ill people and their friends and families to seek help. But mental health problems are actually very common - at any one time at least one in six people can be mentally ill. About 40% of people diagnosed with mental illness have at least one child who lives with them.

Protecting children

Many mentally ill parents can care for their children despite being unwell. But for some, their illness can affect their ability to give the children all they need to grow and develop, both physically and emotionally.

Occasionally, children are at risk of suffering significant harm because of their parents' illness. In this situation, it may be necessary for a child to be looked after in a "Place of Safety", under the direction of the Social Welfare Department.

If you think you may have a mental health problem or you are worried about someone else suffering from it, it is very important to contact your doctor so that you can get help, advice and treatment.

Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is a very common problem

  • Between 50 - 80% of all mothers have "postnatal blues"
  • Of these, up to 22% may experience depression
  • Only a very small number go on to develop very severe depression


Some signs of depression are:

  • loss of enjoyment and interest in things around them
  • feeling down
  • lack of energy and feeling exhausted
  • lack of self-esteem and self-confidence
  • feelings of guilt and pessimism

These come at a time when mothers feel they should be happy and fulfilled, which can make it more difficult for them to admit to the problem and seek help.


If you are feeling depressed, it is important to contact your doctor for advice and treatment. Other family members should be helpful and supportive, for the baby's sake as well as the mother's. It is very important that a baby feels safe and secure in the first few weeks of his/her life, and an adult needs to provide this security.

Young people with mental health problems

Children can have mental health problems too - between 10 - 20% of children and young people under 18 have experienced such problems. This can be very distressing for the child, parents and family. Like adults, they can vary from common disorders to serious mental illnesses.

If you're worried about your child, contact your doctor. It is also often helpful to talk with teachers and other professional people who know your child. They may be able to give you help and advice.

Useful Links

Parenting

Parenting Tips for Dads

Traditionally, the family focus is on the mother-child relationship and it is easy for dads to feel a bit left out. To help dads with their crucial parenting role, we have listed the following useful tips:

  • Learn to listen - It's never too early to learn to recognise the signs your child gives you. Remember, crying is a baby's main language and is designed to alert parents to their needs. In the early days, respond as quickly as possible to your child's crying.
  • Repetition - Annoying as it can be, children repeat behaviour, even after you have told them not to do something. It is important to remember that this behaviour is normal and that the child is not being naughty.
  • Set boundaries - It is still important to set reasonable boundaries for your child and to stick to them: children feel happier when they know where the limits are.
  • Don't shout - When you set the boundaries, it is important not to be intimidating. Shouting may seem to work in the short term but it is more likely that a child will concentrate because of your behaviour rather than because of the rules you are stressing.
  • Get down to their level - When a child is testing your limits, try and see things from their point of view. If they see an adult directing anger at them, it can be very scary. This not only means considering their opinions and listening to what they have to say, but literally kneeling down and addressing them at their level.
  • Get physical - Provide plenty of opportunities for physical exercise. Make sure your child has the opportunity, every day if possible, to run around and do energetic things, such as playing with a ball, cycling or skipping. This is particularly useful for the child who seems to have too much energy.
  • Praise - Give lots of specific praise when your child does something to please you. Try concentrating on the good behaviour and ignore minor naughty misbehaviour.
  • Don't hit out - Smacking may look like it has the desired effect in the short term but ultimately you are teaching your child that hitting others will resolve a conflict. Sometimes, parents feel they need to smack a few times in order to get results - this is a dangerous spiral.
  • Ask for help - Parenting is tough. Don't be afraid to seek help when you need it. If you feel you do not want to speak to your family or friends, you could call SHELTER (603-79550663).

Encouraging Better Behaviour

Many parents say their children play the most important part in their lives. They bring joy and laughter. But being a parent isn't always easy. It can be challenging and exhausting. At such times parents who are normally loving and caring can find themselves 'losing it' and hitting their children.

Most parents think hitting children is not right, yet, in times of stress, anger or frustration, they find themselves lashing out. But many feel guilty afterwards and want to find better ways of handling difficult behaviour.

Positive parenting and positive discipline

The following techniques work with any child, regardless of temperament, background, culture or tradition. They build on a child's natural wish to please you, and will ensure a happier child and less stressed parents.

Babies behave as they do to get their needs met. When they cry or don't sleep, they are not doing this to be 'naughty' or to wind you up.


  • 'Baby-proof' your home so your baby can enjoy challenges without the battles of what he/she is not allowed to touch.
  • Use distraction with older babies - point out something happening out of the window when they head for the video player, or swap your keys for a toy if they try to grab them.


Toddlers: Most naughty behaviour in toddlers is part of normal development. All toddlers test limits, try to be independent, get into everything, get mad and have tantrums.


  • Praise good behaviour that you want to encourage.
  • If you ignore behaviour you don't like, it is less likely to be repeated.
  • Keep 'No's' to a minimum.
  • Acknowledge your child's feelings - 'I know you are cross'.
  • Remain calm and reasonable.


School-age children: Being 'cheeky' or disobedient may be an indication of the natural desire in your child to assert independence and show he/she has a mind of his/her own.


  • Listen to your child about their friends, their day, any worries that may make their behaviour worse.
  • Keep criticisms to a minimum - only criticise a behaviour, not your child.
  • A 'broken record' approach can work well - calmly repeating what you expect your child to do.


Teenagers: It is normal for young people to challenge you more - their friends start to exert a greater influence and they just can't go along with everything parents want.


  • Don't take bad behaviour personally.
  • Keep communicating.
  • Try not to use threats or orders.
  • Talk and negotiate solutions when there is a disagreement.

Saying sorry

Working at positive discipline takes a lot of energy. No parent can do it perfectly all the time. All parents have behaved in ways they regret - shouting or smacking. If it happens, say you are sorry, make up and try again. This teaches children a valuable lesson.

Why physical punishment is not a good idea

Parents may believe there are occasions when only a smack will do. For example, your child is really cheeky and disobedient; your toddler runs into the road; or one of your children bites a playmate. It can be tempting to think a smack sorts out these incidents quickly, but it does nothing to teach your child how you want him to behave. Instead, it:

  • Gives a bad example of how to handle strong emotions
  • May lead children to hit or bully others
  • May lead children to lie, or hide feelings to avoid smacking
  • Can make defiant, uncooperative behaviour worse, so that disciplining gets even harder
  • Can make children feel resentful and angry - which can spoil family relationships if it goes on for a long time.

I was smacked as a child - did my parents get it wrong?

These days we know a great deal more about why children behave as they do, and about the effects of smacking. Our parents did the best they could at the time. Modern parents choose parenting without the pain, for child or adults.

Top ten ways to be a great parent without smacking

  • Give love and warmth as much as possible
  • Have clear simple rules and limits.
  • Be a good example
  • Praise good behaviour so that it will increase
  • Ignore behaviour you don't want repeated
  • Criticise behaviour, not your child.
  • Reward good behaviour by hugs and kisses
  • Distract younger children or use humour
  • Allow children some control - choices, joint decisions
  • If a punishment is necessary, then removal of privileges, 'time out', or natural consequences all work better than smacking.

Useful Links

Running Away

Thousands of children under sixteen run away from home every year. One in eight young people have been physically hurt and one in nine have been sexually assaulted whilst away from home.


Why do young people run away?


Young people who have run away or are thinking about it may do so because they are being bullied, having relationship (or sex) problems, or may be lonely. They may be having trouble with their parents or think they're about to be thrown out. They could be living in fear. They could be facing abuse.


Useful Links