Child protection system needs a drastic improvement

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2016, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 March, 2016, 5:11pm

It takes knowledge, trust and courage to report an alleged child abuse case. One will be discouraged to act if a reported case is not adequately handled and a child is pushed back into the undesirable situation.

Five-year-old Yeung Chi-wai, known to more than one professional and managed under existing child abuse handling procedures, died a shocking death (“ ‘Ice’ death prompts call for new guide”, March 17).

We want a swift case review and drastic improvement of the child protection system.

Under the existing system a multidisciplinary case conference was held just once to discuss the case. Despite the fact that marks were found on the child’s body and the carers were alleged drug abusers (methamphetamine) the conference concluded this was a child neglect rather than an abuse case. A care protection order was recommend so that the child could be placed in a special needs shelter away from his carers. However for unknown reasons the order was never applied and because there were no available places at shelters, the child was returned to his at-risk home. The coroner concluded the boy died of misadventure.

Yeung was not the only young child to die in tragic circumstances.

According to the Child Fatality Review Committee 2010-2011, out of 238 cases of child deaths, 12 children (seven aged under one) died as a result of assault and in half the cases the parents or carers were the guilty parties.

We cannot bring Yeung and these children back to life.

However, we can help to prevent other children in similar situations from suffering by widening our protection net to ensure earlier identification of children who are being neglected and in psychological danger. They could be children who witness domestic violence, with carers under the influence of drugs, or encounter online dangers including sexual abuse and bullying.

The child protection system must be tightened to make sure not only quality decisions are made, but are followed through. Service resources such as counselling, foster and residential care must be made available with training and support for caring and frontline staff and supervisors.

While young children’s safety requires immediate attention, some of our older ones are making their frustrations known sadly by violence and some by ending their own lives. The government must respond to their call through the introduction of proactive policies and action plans.

Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, vice chairperson, Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights