Dispute over child sleep service puts spotlight on lack of regulation in Hong Kong

Experts have called for more stringent requirements for care providers in the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2017, 10:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 11:47pm

Working mothers in Hong Kong who claimed they were duped by a “baby sleep consultant” have turned the spotlight on the lack of regulation in infant care services.

At least three mothers told the Post that they were having a dispute with a British woman whose job is to put babies to sleep for their mothers.

According to the group, they failed to have their payments refunded when they decided to cancel the service, which costs HK$15,000 for six nights.

But the consultant in question has disputed such claims and denied any wrongdoing.

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An industry representative said disputes over infant care services were extremely common, because specific services, such as making sure a baby went to sleep, have become increasingly popular with working mothers.

In one case, Katherine, an expatriate in a highly paid job, who preferred to use a pseudonym, said she paid Liane Dalby, who introduced herself as a “baby sleep consultant”, a total of HK$15,000 for a six-night service in February last year to help her then five-month-old daughter learn to sleep better.

“I was going back to work,” she said. “As a sleep-deprived mother, you are so desperate to get somebody to help you out. It’s like torture if you can’t sleep.”

An agreement signed between the mother and Dalby stated that two nights of payment would be forfeited if a cancellation was made with a minimum of 48 hours notice, or no refund at all if less than 48 hours notice.

Katherine said, owing to a trip, she had informed the consultant about a cancellation 13 days before but her payment was not refunded.

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In a second case, another mother, Samantha, who also declined to use her real name, said she had a similar experience in which cheques prepared by Dalby could not be cashed.

She said that this was despite the fact that she had cancelled the service about two days before the booking in October last year.

Samantha said she cancelled the service because her daughter could sleep through the night by then.

She said at least 10 mothershad said in two separate chat groups, seen by the Post, that they had similar problem with the consultant.

Samantha said without knowing the address of Dalby they could not bring the case to the Small Claims Tribunal.

Yet, Dalby was described as being “very responsive and supportive” by Alexandra Overdijk, a mother who employed her to sleep train her two daughters back in 2015 and March this year.

“She is really great ... now she still contacts me and asks how my kids are getting on,” Overdijk said.

In an interview with the Post, Dalby said Katherine had asked to postpone the service to March instead of cancelling.

She added that she had been flexible in rescheduling and the refund request had come almost a year later.

But Dalby refused to comment on the case of Samantha, stressing that it should be resolved by the Small Claims Tribunal.

Katherine’s husband and Samantha approached the police separately for help but they were told the incidents did not constitute fraud.

A police spokesman confirmed two reports were received in early January, in which two people complained they had been deceived by a foreign female while employing her for a care service. However, no criminal element was detected following an investigation, he said.

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Hong Kong Doula and Nanny Industry Council president Xavier Lam said stressed parents were now looking for more specialised services, such as “baby sleep training”.

However, not many of the service providers were qualified, he said.

Lam called on the government to establish a licensing system for baby service providers, adding both employers and employees lacked sufficient knowledge in writing contracts, defining a refund policy and setting out terms in advance.

Dr Ellis Hon Kam-lun, a paediatrics professor from Chinese University, said he had never heard of baby sleep services, adding parents may have done something wrong if infants stayed awake at night.

“Babies might be hungry ... or there isn’t enough activity at daytime,” Hon said. “If parents have done all the basics correctly, it is not necessary to hire all those ‘experts’.”