Mother who kept girl in flat 'capable'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 12:00am

There was medical proof that the woman could look after her 10-year-old, says social welfare chief

The director of social welfare yesterday defended his department against suggestions it had mishandled the case of a mother whose 10-year-old daughter was taken from their flat after firefighters broke down the door.

Paul Tang Kwok-wai said a social worker had been following the mentally ill mother's case for a number of years and there had been medical proof the woman was capable of caring for the girl.

The girl, who had not been to school for more than a month, is staying with relatives after being removed from the Ngau Tau Kok flat on Monday night following a two-hour standoff. The mother is in Eastern District Hospital for psychological assessment.

Mr Tang said the intervention had not been an easy decision.

'We have to assess whether the intervention is in the best interests of the daughter, and we have to give consideration to the mother's feelings,' he said.

A Social Welfare Department officer and a social worker from the girl's school, Sheung Kung Hui Kei Lok Primary School - from where she had been absent since May 7 - went to the flat on Monday night with police assistance. The mother answered but refused to open the door. Fireman eventually broke in.

The school social worker had paid four visits to the family in the past month but had been unable to talk to the pair.

The case was also reported to the Education and Manpower Bureau three weeks ago.

Social welfare activist Bottle Shiu Ka-chun attacked the department for overlooking other aspects of the patient's life.

'The [department] medical social worker should not only look at the mother's physical health but also social health,' said Mr Shiu, an executive member of the Hong Kong Social Workers General Union. 'The manpower is being wasted. The department has simplified their administrative structure but it has still taken them so long to tackle a case,' he said.

The director of the support group Against Child Abuse, Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, said the department should follow overseas examples and establish a permanent taskforce to review serious and fatal child abuse cases.

The mother, 46, has been living on social welfare since 1998, when her husband committed suicide. She has a decade-old record of mental illness.

Mr Tang said did not respond directly to questions as to whether the department's social worker had been negligent.

'There was medical proof that the mother was capable of taking care of the daughter,' he said. 'We knew that the school was also following up the case since the girl had been absent. We decided to launch the joint operation when we thought the situation had turned serious.'

A department spokesman said the mother was undergoing an assessment to determine if she was capable of caring for a child.