Hong Kong schools

Death of girl, 5, sparks calls for more help for Hong Kong schools in tackling child abuse cases

Government guidelines on how to handle abuse cases are not clear enough, says chairman of Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Association

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2018, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 5:57pm

Representatives from a school principals’ association and a social worker group have called for more help from the Hong Kong government, such as clearer guidelines and training for staff, following the shocking revelations of a five-year-old girl dying from alleged child abuse last week.

On Saturday, the girl was rushed to hospital unconscious and covered in bruises. She was certified dead upon arrival. Some of her wounds were older and had been infected.

It was revealed in court on Tuesday that her siblings told police she and her eight-year-old brother were also assaulted almost daily. The girl’s father, 26, a transport worker, and stepmother, 27, a housewife, were in court facing a murder charge.

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Cheung Yung-pong, chairman of the Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Association, told a radio programme that government guidelines on how to handle abuse cases were not clear enough.

He noted that while the Education Bureau did issue notices telling schools to consult related departments and adopt appropriate procedures, and even mentioned guidelines from the Social Welfare Department, it was a different story when it came to execution.

“When our teachers call the Social Welfare Department, we are asking for help,” he said.

“I think more can be done. If our colleagues do not have enough experience, then [the help] given to the child could be cut off.”

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Cheung said the guidelines had many flowcharts, which confused school staff as to which path to follow.

Raymond Fung Hing-kau, from the Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union, noted that school-based social workers may not be that familiar with handling abuse cases as they were only a small part of the many they had to deal with. As such, the department’s expertise was needed.

While Fung noted that social workers were aware of the difference between consulting the department and making a case referral, he said the department might not accept cases that were considered less serious as its workload was too heavy.

The girl’s case drew public fury with blame thrown at the schools of both the girl and her brother, the school-based social worker and the department for not following up, which many believed may have saved her life.

Her brother’s school said that it had referred the boy’s case to a social worker, who then referred the case to the department’s Family and Child Protective Services.

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However, a department spokesman said it was approached by the school over the boy’s welfare in November, but the child and his family were not referred to the relevant parties after the consultation.

Fung called on the department to provide more feedback to schools after a consultation, especially with school-based social workers having less power to execute certain tasks. For example, they were not able to send children to hospitals for checks, something the department had the right to do.

Cheung urged the government to conduct a cross-department review among social welfare, education and health authorities and to provide more effective guidelines. He also suggested holding forums and workshops to equip school staff with skills in handling abuse cases.