Splitting of family draws Legco fire

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 May, 2006, 12:00am

Social Welfare Department challenged over 'last resort' care order from court to put one-year-old into residential home

Social welfare officials may face questions in the Legislative Council about why a 'last resort' court order was obtained to remove a one-year-old boy from his family before all other options had been exhausted.

The department came under fire yesterday from welfare-sector legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung after it said the boy would be sent to a residential home.

The boy's brothers and sister, aged two to six, have also been placed under a protection order by the department but are being left with the family in their Shekkipmei public flat.

The children came under scrutiny last month when a two-year-old boy was taken to hospital with burns after his elder brother spilled boiling water on him when they were preparing instant noodles.

Dr Cheung, chairman of the Legco welfare panel, said he was 'seriously concerned' and might ask officials to explain their child-care policies at a panel meeting.

'The department should have provided the family with all the supportive services, including day- care services for the children, before it jumped to the last resort to obtain the court order,' he said. 'I believe that the department should explain to the public clearly.'

He said a court order should only be used after all support services had been provided to the family but proved to be ineffective.

The Social Welfare Department announced on Thursday that it had obtained a child protection order for all four young children.

The department said it planned to send the youngest child to its residential home. It had also arranged whole-day school and nursery services for the other three, who would stay with the family in their Pak Tin Estate flat.

The department did not rule out the possibility of removing them if the family continued to fail to provide them with proper care.

The four were said to have been cared for by their 83-year-old grandmother.

The family is on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. Another welfare services panel member, Albert Chan Wai-yip, said the department's practices were 'very backward' and 'politically oriented' and did not consider the best interests of the children.

'The department is now trying to escape criticism from the community for failing to take care of the four children in the very beginning,' he said. 'But the psychological impact on the children who are separated from each other will be lifelong and irreparable. A court order to remove children from their families should be obtained only when the children are in immediate danger, but this is not the case.'

Mr Yip said the department should consider sending all four children to the same foster home if it insisted that they be removed.