Intervention and education can reduce likelihood of toxic stress

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2009, 12:00am

I refer to Jack Shonkoff's article ('Reducing toxic stress for children - and society', May 7).

Against Child Abuse could not agree more with the notion of acting now in the best long-term interests of children.

Hong Kong needs leaders with the will, determination and political wisdom not only to manoeuvre economic decisions but also to shoulder moral responsibility and leverage knowledge to impact social changes.

Hong Kong encounters challenges of various kinds, including deterioration of family solidarity.

Continued reporting of child deaths, domestic violence, various forms of abuse and neglect and risky situations such as the enormous number of cross-border families with newborn babies contributes to 'toxic stress' and reduces the resilience of our young pillars of society.

Hong Kong still appears reluctant to step up home visits for newborn families and legal protection of unattended children, ban corporal punishment and to set up a child-sex offenders' register. Our new child fatality review mechanism has only just started and has yet to prove its worth. Child advocates continue to urge an independent platform: a commission to represent the best interest of children.

Some 30 countries have shown more determination and set up such mechanisms, introducing proactive policies, putting resources in place and reviewing the law. And 24 have tried hard to ensure positive discipline and parental support and have banned corporal punishment of children in their society.

Prevention is better than cure and, to be cost- effective, early childhood education, as well as child rights, should be made mandatory in education, from primary school to tertiary college.

Parents' education should be supported by funding and committed personnel who are trained in children's rights. Civil servants and professionals should also receive child-rights and -protection training to ensure service users' rights are respected.

We must address now the circumstances that produce toxic stress and create the right conditions for early childhood development, rather than waiting until we have to 'put out the fire'.

Priscilla Lui, director, Against Child Abuse