It’s not often that technology can lift up vulnerable groups while at the same time educate the greater community on social issues.
A mobile app currently in the testing phase is doing just that.
During Singapore’s COVID-19 lockdown, schools and workplaces shuttered and families were confined at home for nearly two months.
Jobs were lost. Tensions at home — pre-existing or new — were exacerbated.
“Since COVID-19 began, we’ve actually had an increase in the number of inquiries from people saying they’re hearing shouts coming from a particular unit in their block, and they’re wondering what to do,” explained Audrey Jean, principal social worker for PAVE, a social service agency.
“There’s a child screaming and shouting. And they’re (wondering) what can be done to help this family?”
PAVE handled 516 cases of family violence during the Circuit Breaker period — what the COVID-19 lockdown was known as locally — but many more cases were unreported.
Social services partners with tech
To address this issue, a collaboration between Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), learning technology company Kydon, and PAVE resulted in the development of the Community Guardian mobile app.
Community Guardian will enable PAVE to expand its ability to detect domestic violence incidents and provide help to victims more quickly.
PAVE’s administrators will leverage the mobile app’s location detection capabilities to dispatch trained first responders in the vicinity to investigate an incident.
First responders can also input case details via the app, allowing social workers to immediately review the details of the case and assign additional support as needed.
While the app allows instances of domestic violence to be reported anonymously by neighbors, its very existence educates people in understanding that domestic violence is a community issue that can’t be ignored.
“Domestic violence is more than a family issue, but a community issue, where friends and neighbors can play a part to help build safe home environments,” said Dr. Sudha Nair, PAVE’s Executive Director.
“This partnership demonstrates a meaningful merging of the hard science of technology and the soft science of social services that we should leverage more on,” said Dr. Sudha.
The app is currently being piloted in selected communities in Singapore. Grassroots leaders and volunteers are playing a critical role in widening the detection of domestic violence as they are more likely to encounter cases first hand over the course of their community engagement work.
Training first responders
PAVE has less than 30 social workers and works with volunteers and grassroots leaders to serve their communities.
Ahead of the pilot program rollout of the Community Guardian app, PAVE was remotely training over 50 first responders and volunteers to use the app with role-playing simulations through video conferencing during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
“We used Zoom to train and we used case studies. We got a couple of colleagues to come in with their videos off, and then we made the responders knock on the door,” said Audrey.
“So it was, like, ‘knock knock knock.’ And then my colleagues will take on roles in scenarios that actually happened in Singapore, training volunteers in how to respond to the situations, using language that we taught them to use.”
Jason Pragash, a grassroots leader, was the first volunteer to respond to an incident when PAVE began the trialing of the Community Guardian app.
“I was a first responder to a report of a child who was crying and went to the home and managed to engage the family,” said Jason. “As a result of that, we managed to bring help to the family and ensure the safety of the child.”
The Community Guardian pilot began in June 2020 and is expected to continue until December 2020.
Empowering the community
Reporting domestic violence incidents has always been a manual process. Calls received from victims or concerned parties such as neighbors are first assessed. A trained social worker is then dispatched to respond to the incident.
For cases deemed to be urgent, this response can be immediate. Non-urgent ones may take a few days.
Technology is now enhancing PAVE’s ability to detect cases and shorten response times to provide faster assistance to victims. For neighbors, it empowers them to be able to do something, said Audrey.
“What the app does is it’s got so much power in that it allows people to be a lifeline and not just sit there and wait for things to happen.”