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No need for parental consent to report suspected child abuse, Hong Kong education officials say

Government guidelines on handling such cases come two weeks before new school year amid criticism of slow action

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 10:58pm

Teachers and schools did not need parental consent to report suspected child abuse to the authorities, the Education Bureau confirmed, as it issued guidelines on handling such cases two weeks before the new school year.

But Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung did not say if schools would be dealt with harshly if they were found not to have reported suspected cases at an earlier stage.

“We have said it very clearly that if the schools have noticed some abnormalities, they have a duty to report to the relevant authorities. Under the same rationale, if they have noticed cases that are justified for reporting to the ­police, they should do so,” he said.

He also cautioned there might be instances of “slight misunderstanding or inconvenience” if schools took proactive steps.

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Yeung appealed for parents to cooperate with schools, because when schools referred cases “the first consideration is to protect the pupils or their safety”.

A 14-page circular issued on Monday by the bureau to all kindergartens, primary and secondary schools stated that they did not need to get prior consent from parents when referring suspected child abuse cases to the Family and Child Protective Services Units of the Social Welfare Department, if they had reason to suspect parents or guardians of being the source of abuse.

If schools needed to contact the parents during the process, they could check in with the units.

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It also listed in an appendix the indicators of possible child abuse, such as the appearance of bruises and lacerations, or even developmental delay, and included forms to refer cases to the department and lodge a police report.

Yeung said new guidelines had already been issued in the past school year and the circular was meant to consolidate them in one official document.

Teachers and social workers have been criticised for being either too slow to react or not vigilant enough, especially in the wake of several troubling cases in the past year, including one in which a five-year-old girl died after being repeatedly thrown at the ceiling in her home and poked in the chest with scissors.

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Lee Suet-ying, principal of Ho Yu College and Primary School welcomed the guidelines.

“In the past, the Family and Child Protective Services Units might not accept suspected cases without the parents’ consent,” Lee said, referring to cases that might not be severe enough to warrant a police complaint.

But the social welfare lawmaker, Shiu Ka-chun, said the guidelines were inadequate as they did not state what would happen if schools ignored them.