The police-run Social Support Centre aims to 'help those who suffer silently', confidentially handling sensitive cases.
Growing debts strain family life
ABU DHABI // Easy credit coupled with social pressures to live beyond ones means are putting family life under intense strain, officials at Abu Dhabi's Social Support Centre have warned. The centre has seen an increase in cases of domestic abuse and divorce as unpaid debts put an intolerable burden on families. Lt Col Mohammed al Hosani, the centre's deputy manager, said: "More divorces are happening and we feel as though family values and cultural values are going. "It is not as positive as before and life is more complicated. This is going to affect the quality of life. Sometimes when you are looking for better quality you can get lost." Stressing that the Government provides citizens with "more than they need", Lt Col Hosani said in his experience, the problems arose when people "exaggerate in their spending". "Expectations are too high and loans are affecting the community. The most important thing is for people to be realistic," he said. "Some people are measuring their life based on what others think of them, not on their life. A husband and wife could be very happy, but problems can come when they can't maybe afford things or when they have debts." The centre, which has branches in Al Ain, Khalifa City and Al Gharbia, works to resolve conflicts without involving the conventional police force. Managed by Abu Dhabi Police, it seeks to resolve problems while also conducting public awareness programmes on social issues and carrying out research into what problems are affecting the community. The centre's services are available to all residents, including expatriates. However, he said problems in Emirati families currently formed the bulk of its caseload. "Mostly we deal with family and neighbourhood disputes, some domestic violence and child abuse," he said. "There are fights within families and people don't like to talk about their problems, but we try to help those who suffer silently in the darkest time of their life." He said the centre used "creative" methods to mediate in disputes but cases could be referred to the police or the courts when clear legal issues were involved. The centre also provides psychosocial support for victims of crimes, including rape. Cases can be referred through local police stations and government departments. In some cases people voluntarily seek assistance from the centre. Lt Col Hosani said people who feel they have nowhere to turn are potential threats to themselves and others, and this is why the centre's services are completely confidential. "Confidentiality is the most important thing here," he said. "People can just come here and talk." The majority of cases were family-related and dealt with sensitively, he said. He gave the example of a seven-year-old boy who began turning up to classes with bruises on his arms. Rather than confront the family, the school's headmistress spoke to the child and was told that he was being abused by his mother. The case was referred to Abu Dhabi's Social Support Centre. "The boy told them that it was his mother who had done this," Lt Col Hosani said. Through investigation and visits, the centre found that the mother had been abandoned by her husband, was struggling to provide for her children and was severely depressed. The centre followed up the case, visiting the family at their home and consulting with the boy's school to monitor the situation. "[Ultimately], you have to think about the outcomes. It is solved now and we managed to keep the family together, which is better than taking the boy away." Lt Col Hosani sees the centre "as a sort of social responsibility from the police to the community, which means that our social activities help prevent crimes in the long term". While the types of services offered by the Social Support Centre are often the domain of non-governmental groups elsewhere, he said the centre's affiliations with police were a help rather than a hindrance. "We are more flexible to deal with cases and better positioned to contact the police, prosecution and the courts; there is more confidence in us." The concept for the centre was developed in 2003, when Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, introduced the system to deal with sensitive cases confidentially, build relationships with communities and reduce crime by stepping in before problems escalate. "It is really like a mediation between the police and the people in a more confidential way, while allowing people to talk about their problems." Lt Col Hosani said since 2003, people have grown to trust the centre's staff and are increasingly turning to them for help. This is reflected in the increase in the caseload, he said. Family problems account for the bulk of the cases, with a total of 336 in 2006, rising to 543 in 2007. In the first half of 2008, there were 334 such cases. Following family problems, marital disputes are frequently addressed by the centre, along with school violence, delinquency and drug and alcohol abuse. Between 2006 and 2007, the number of cases managed by the centre grew from 1,519 to 2,381. In the first six months of 2008, the centre received 1,358 cases. Lt Col Hosani, who has worked in the police force for 20 years, said: "People know us now and are aware of the help we can offer. "We have been very effective with cases where we can give solutions to the problem and we feel as though we added a lot of positive change to people's lives." While the aim of the centre is to help settle disputes in an "amicable" manner, it also works to prevent people from committing crimes. "People should not suffer silently," Lt Col Hosani said. "Most people don't understand and think that their problem is much bigger and they can make very bad decisions. When you share with others and talk it is good for everyone." * Contact the community police department at 800 5354 firstname.lastname@example.org