Standoff put social workers to test

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2007, 12:00am

Counsellors recall their attempts to pacify a desperate father of five

As a social worker, Lung Sai-hing has seen some emotional dramas involving overstressed families struggling to raise children in Hong Kong's urban jungle. But the desperate scream of a young father as he held his baby at knifepoint in a Sau Mau Ping flat touched the core of her heart.

'Tears streamed down my face when I heard the agitated father screaming and yelling 'Give me back my children! Don't take them away from me',' Ms Lung recalled. 'As a mother of two young boys, I could feel ... and share his pain.'

She was speaking for the first time about the case of Chong Wai-hung, a father of five who kept police and social workers at bay for almost 10 hours last August.

Unable to cope with the enormous pressure of taking care of his children - nine-month-old triplets and 21-month-old twins - after his wife left him, Mr Chong had told social workers he wanted to kill them before committing suicide.

The twins were staying with their grandparents at the time, and Ms Lung and a colleague snatched two of the triplets, but Mr Chong held the third baby hostage, demanding to see his wife and all the children.

The drama began around 9am on August 7, when Mr Chong called social worker Daniel Leung Chun-fai, who had been following his case for about six months.

Ms Lung was sent to meet the 27-year-old father at 1pm, and stayed with him and the three babies until he snapped, saying he wanted to kill himself and his children.

'When I was with him before the standoff, he didn't know what he wanted to do,' Ms Lung said. 'He was completely lost.'

At about 6pm, Mr Leung and another social worker, Pang Kin-ah, joined Ms Lung at Mr Chong's flat in hope of solving the crisis by peaceful means and counselling.

'Mr Chong agreed to meet Mr Leung at 6pm, so he opened the door for them. But he became very emotional and suddenly hugged one of his babies tightly after he found out police officers were standing by outside his flat, as two of my other colleagues entered,' Ms Lung said.

Fearing a disaster was looming, she and Mr Pang each grabbed a baby and rushed out of the flat.

'There was no time for us to think or offer any counselling to him. We just took the babies and rushed out of his home as soon as he became emotional,' Mr Pang said.

Mr Chong finally gave up at 4am the next day. A month later, he was convicted of assaulting his wife and placed on 18 months' probation.

Despite his troubles, social workers continue to maintain a high opinion of Mr Chong, who is now undergoing counselling and psychiatric treatment.

'Having been his social worker for some time, I know that he is a very caring father,' Mr Leung said, adding that Mr Chong loves his children dearly and takes very good care of them, but needs help.

'He used to tell me proudly that his wife was his perfect partner to take care of the babies. But after she had left him for nearly a week, his emotions became very unstable, especially when facing five crying babies,' said the social worker.

Ms Lung also described the young father - who telephoned her and Mr Leung to apologise - as loving, caring and very thoughtful.

But the social workers believed it would be inappropriate for a parent who was on an emotional roller-coaster ride to take care of the five children, who are now in the care of the Po Leung Kuk.

'Though we took his children away from him, we were in fact helping his family to have a better and happier future,' Mr Leung said.

'We had to do what was best for the children. We do hope that the family of seven will eventually be together again.'