Questions as father jailed for child abuse

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 July, 2009, 12:00am

A welfare official has admitted there might have been holes in the assessment of an unemployed couple who were allowed to keep their younger son after they were convicted for hitting his older brother three years ago.

On Thursday, the husband was jailed for two years for severely injuring the younger boy. He had pleaded guilty to wounding with intent.

Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare Paul Tang Kwok-wai said there could have been problems with the Social Welfare Department's assessment of the couple.

He said the department decided whether to remove a child depending on the family's situation and the parents' relationship with their children. Removing a child would have a great impact on that child.

'I think professionals would only do it when they have no other choice,' he said.

The 24-year-old man and his wife were placed on a two-year probation order in 2006 after police found their elder son bound on a mattress with injuries. The boy, then about two, was sent to a foster home.

The father kicked his younger, three-year-old son about five times on December 20 at their home on the Butterfly Estate in Tuen Mun, after he and his wife argued over who would take a nap.

Doctors found blood in the boy's stools, a 3mm opening in his small intestine, a 4mm cut in his liver, and blood in his abdominal cavity.

When social welfare professionals find a child is a victim of child abuse, or suspect so, they should look at any other children in the same family, Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, director of the welfare group Against Child Abuse, said.

Susan So Suk-yin, director of the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children, said: 'When there is one child abuse case, we are not just talking about that child's needs. If the parents are not able to take care of children, it's about all the children in the family.'

However, finding out one child has been abused does not mean the child's siblings would also be taken away and sent to a foster home, both child welfare group directors said. It is relatively unusual for child welfare professionals to take away a number of children from one family.

Both boys in the latest case have been placed in a foster home. The woman had a daughter last year.

Ms So said the family had very intensive needs and the parents' ability could be limited. The father was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after a traffic accident in 2005 and the mother has lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease.

Such families, in which a parent has psychological problems, and where the parents have money problems and are young, would be considered at risk. However, Ms Lui and Ms So declined to say whether it was wrong to have allowed the parents to keep their younger son in this case.

Ms Lui said the government has a mechanism for reviewing how decisions in fatal cases of child abuse were made, but it also needed to implement one for serious cases.