PTU News Reporter
A recent case of child abuse in Tuen Mun sparked heated debates, where a five-year-old child was fatally assaulted. Media follow-up revealed other cases of child abuse, arousing discussions. Meetings were called by the Panel on Welfare Services and the Subcommittee on Children’s Rights with respect to consecutive cases of child abuse, pressuring the government to review policies concerning child abuse, and to ensure child safety.
Mr. Fung Wai-wah, and Mr. Chong Yiu-kwong, President and Vice President (Internal Affairs) of the HKPTU respectively, attended two special meetings called by the commission, demanding the government to recognize and to tackle the issues of shortcomings found in the non-attendance reporting mechanism as well as the issues of insufficient resources faced by schools. Citing Article 19 (1) of the United Nations?Convention on the Rights of the Child, Chong demanded the government to assume responsibilities, ensuring policies can effectively prevent, recognize, intervene and handle cases of child abuse, enforcing zero tolerance towards child abuse.
Lack of A Unified Non-Attendance Report Mechanism
Speaking in the commission meeting, Fung pointed out that schools are crucial means in preventing and recognizing cases of child abuse at its early stages, but the procedures of handling non-attendance students cases varied greatly. Non-attendance students are handled in a more detailed and tight-knitted system in secondary and primary schools. Guidelines issued by the Education Bureau require schools to report immediately to the Bureau with no delay should students be absent for seven days. Cases of non-attendance will be referred to teachers at school responsible for student guidance or to be referred to social workers, providing said students with counselling services. Should the situation of the student continue with no improvement, the Non-attendance Cases Team of the Education Bureau will be in touch with school and parents to look into reasons leading to non-attendance and follow up on related issues, include providing relevant counselling services and issuing attendance orders to parents of the said student.
In kindergartens, however, guidelines issued by the Education Bureau require schools to report students?non-attendance only when a student is absent for 30 days, with reported information serving only to aid the Kindergarten Administration Section of the Education Bureau in deciphering the issue of subsidies. No follow-up action will be taken to investigate into the non-attendance of students in this case.
The HKPTU deems it unreasonable for differentiated report mechanisms of non-attendance in pre-school education and primary/secondary school education. We urge the Education Bureau to review the relevant mechanisms and policies, and look into the need of standardizing the report mechanisms of non-attendance in kindergartens, levelling with primary and secondary schools. We urge the Education Bureau to ensure cases of non-attendance are given appropriate attention with proper follow up, and to make referrals to the Social Welfare Department when necessary.
Insufficient Resources Provided To School In Dealing With Cases of Child Abuse
Further explaining, Fung pointed to the importance of awareness, experience and understanding of child abuse among frontline education professionals and social workers stationing at schools, for schools can effectively recognize and handle cases of suspected child abuse. As the government is not providing social worker service subsidy to kindergartens, education professionals teaching in kindergartens are often left with little assistance in recognizing, handling and reporting cases of child abuse.
Chong also explained that “the key to zero tolerance of child abuse lies in proper resource arrangement”, yet counselling services in primary and secondary schools had not been evaluated for over a decade; and there were no regular stationing social workers in primary schools; schools are required to purchase counselling services through tendering every three years. Insufficient resources had resulted in a severe loss of manpower in counselling services in primary and secondary schools, hence challenging for counsellors to establish a trusting relationship with students, making it difficult to recognize suspected cases of child abuse.
The HKPTU demands the Education Bureau and Labour and Welfare Bureau to evaluate counselling service in primary schools, and to provide stable and sufficient manpower to schools, with at least one teacher and one stationing social worker; we also urge the government to provide kindergartens with social workers and counselling professionals. We urge the government to reinforce counselling and support services at schools in order to recognize and handle suspected cases of child abuse in time, preventing the reoccurrence of similar cases in the future.