A five-year-old boy Yeung Chi-wai who suffered with mental disabilities died on 23 March 2013 with injuries found on his face, abdomen, forearm and knee. Further examinations discovered traces of methamphetamine (ice) in his body with a toxic level 7 times higher than the usual ice-related death. Chi-wai’s case was rounded up by the Coroner’s court as a misadventure on 17 March 2016.
Chi-wai was known to multi-disciplinary professionals in a case conference one month before his death. At that time, the conference defined his situation neglect, and recommended a Care or Protection Order together with out-of-home institutional care. However, it was alleged that the Order was never applied, and Chi-wai, in view of the lack of institution placement, was returned to his carers: his mother and her boyfriend, both having drug behaviors at home. One month later, Chi-wai was suspected to have picked up and swallowed a tablet of methamphetamine on the bed or floor that caused his death. Both Chi-wai’s mother and his mother’s boyfriend were charged for child neglect, but they were later acquitted due to the lack of evidence. In countries such as the UK and the US, they have already introduced legislation to penalize parents or carers who did not take proper action to protect children from abuse. Learn more about the Law Reform Commission of HK project on “causing or allowing the death of a child”.
After the incident, the Coroner advised Social Welfare Department to suggest drug taking methods, locations and drug storage requirements in the Procedural Guide for Handling Child Abuse Cases to prevent children from accidentally taking drugs. We are disappointed by this recommendation as it normalizes drug abuse, and it failed to take on the perspective of children and protect them from their substance abuse parents.
Chi-wai is not the only victim In the past 3 years, at least 11 kids were abused, neglected, poisoned, dropped from height, injured or even died as a result of parental substance abuse. Our child protection system seems to have fallen through these kids. Learn more about the Handling Procedures of Child Abuse Cases in HK.
Overseas experience told us that 40% of child abuse and neglect cases are related to parental substance misuse.
Parental substance abuse places children at high risk for medical and mental health problems that are totally preventable. If this problem is not properly addressed in the early stage, it would add up to serious economic and social costs as a result of heavy dependence on welfare services, health care, court, prison and rehabilitative systems.
In order to tackle the problems of “Hidden Harm” (i.e. parental drug/alcohol misuse, domestic violence, parental mental illness), many countries have begun proactive strategies by collecting standardized data from health care and welfare teams, improving the reporting, coordination systems and legal framework, as well as finding ways to hear the voice of these vulnerable children more clearly. Learn more about the legal and policy child protection framework of the US and the UK.
This Child Rights Review aims to explore the “Hidden Harm” problem in Hong Kong where we have yet reliable data to assess the extent of the problem. Our investigation is based on many good reports published by overseas countries as well as investigative reports conducted by some media agencies.
We hope that our efforts could help the Hong Kong community see this problem more clearly, and together we can find ways on how to address the problem for our 1.1 million children population in Hong Kong that we always call Our Future.
Vulnerable babies and children are suffering silently in “hidden harm”. The Hong Kong society needs drastic changes in policy, law, system, education and value to ensure that we are really adhere to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that Hong Kong has ratified since 1994. For this reason, The Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights appeals to the HKSAR Government to:
- Conduct a full Case Review to do justice to Yeung Chi-wai and to prevent history repeating itself and other children suffered from the “hidden harm”.
- Identify the problem of “hidden harm” to children and set a clear objective by taking a full account of the particular challenges posed by parental problem drug use when revising child protection policies and procedures, with the consequent implications for staff training, assessment and case management procedures, and inter-agency liaison.
- Make data collection on the problems, needs and challenges of children of problem drug users as a routine with the help of various services units, and set out an agreed minimum consistent set of data for collection.
- Forge links between drug misuse services, maternity services and children’s health and social care services that will enable them to respond in a coordinated way to the needs of the children of problem drug users.
- Make the voices of the children of problem drug users be heard and listened to by developing means of enabling the children of problem drug users to safely express their thoughts and feelings about their circumstances.
- Provide easily accessible and affordable support services, counselling and therapy and made widely known and available.
- Conduct a Review of the Foster Care and Residential Care System and Services to ensure every child can be accommodated in a safe and appropriate place in situations of emergency.
- Make medical experts and psychiatrists in the multi-disciplinary case conference (MDCC) a significant presence to measure the health impacts on children in the cases of “hidden harm”.
- Conduct a Review of the Child Protection System, especially the definition of child abuse to include parental substance abuse. Review the handling guidelines, the monitoring system of multidisciplinary personnel implementation including MDCC, and prompt follow-up actions for children in “hidden harm”.
- Reform the Child Protection laws to give better protection to children, eg. Give a legal definition on Child Abuse and Child Neglect; make exposure of a child to drugs a crime; make mandatory detoxification program an option for judging in court.
- Provide well-supervised home visitation program to the newborn and the mother for early identification of substance abuse parents or carers.
- Attend to the fundamental need in establishing a Children’s Commission. We need a Children’s Commission to represent children in policies and practices at all times. Otherwise, children’s problems will not be properly tackled.