Help on way for youngsters at risk

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 November, 2010, 12:00am

Victims of child abuse nowadays do not always have scars on their bodies, but damage to their mental health can be just as serious.

And as often as not, such children are damaged by parents who are mentally ill. 'Mentally ill parents very often cannot take good care of their children,' Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, director of Against Child Abuse, said. 'A very few may stab their children with a knife, but neglect and verbal abuse are common.'

She gave an example of a mentally ill mother who, dissatisfied with her treatment in society, staged protests and waved banners outside the offices of organisations she held responsible. Eventually, she started bringing her son with her.

'When he grew up and reached his teens, his behaviour was very similar to his mother's,' Lui said.

In the coming two years, Against Child Abuse, a beneficiary of this year's Operation Santa Claus, will run the Joyful Heart Child Development Project - co-organised by RTHK and the South China Morning Post - to help families with mentally ill parents. It will train 30 volunteers, and plans to reach 40 children and 80 parents.

Lui said it was difficult to get such families to co-operate, and the organisation was looking for volunteers with time and passion to take up the challenging work. 'Those children usually feel very hopeless,' she said. 'We hope they can tell what they think through the programme, so others can understand what it's like.'

At the same time, a second Operation Santa Claus project will cover a related issue from a slightly different direction. The suicide-prevention group The Samaritans will train dozens of teenagers in local schools to identify emotional problems in young people and to learn counselling skills.

In the coming year, 60 young Samaritans between 16 and 19 will be trained in communication skills, offering peer support and identifying the signs of depression.

The Samaritans believe peer support is very important in suicide prevention among young people. 'When teenagers are unhappy, very often they won't talk to their parents,' Samaritans' project manager Lin Pui-lam said.

'They spend most of their time at school with friends, so peer influence can have a strong effect on them. When their friends tell them they are upset, they [counsellors] will know the right way to help them out,' Lin said. After the programme ends, they will give presentations at schools, talking about their experiences.

The Samaritans has given similar programmes in English over the past decade, aimed mainly at international schools and local English-medium schools. But the coming programme will be in Chinese, so more local students will be involved.

Lin thinks The Samaritans will have to run the programme in local schools differently from international schools. 'Timetables in international schools are more flexible, and the students are more willing to talk about the obstacles they are facing.'

The Samaritans' programme will focus on secondary schools in Kwun Tong, and she hopes it will eventually reach schools in all districts.

Lives lost

Hong Kong suicides rose the most last year among males aged 15-24

In the 2009-10 school year, 15 high school pupils committed suicide, an increase from the previous year of: 4

The group Against Child Abuse will train this many volunteers to help families threatened by mental illness: 30

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