Statements

We are always concerned about women's conditions and announce our opinions on issues in due time.
Media Inquiry: If you have any inquiries about our work, services, or issues that we concern, please feel free to contact us at 2386 6256 or email us at media@womencentre.org.hk

Back

Position Paper to Social Welfare Department on Proposed Mandatory Reporting Requirement for Suspected Child Abuse Cases

Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres (HKFWC), since its founding in 1981, has tirelessly committed to promote women's rights at the grassroots level. Due to traditional social norms, carers have needs in various aspects. Unfortunately, lack of support services is still an unsolved problem that hinders carers' personal development. HKFWC is devoted to understanding carers' concerns and introducing gender-specific support services for these caregivers. Through a bottom-up approach, HKFWC hopes to compensate for the society's service gap, for example in occasional childcare services.

 

Not long ago in April 2021, the Court heard a high-profile child abuse case resulting in the premature death of a 5-year-old girl, raising public awareness of child protection issues. Learning a lesson from this saddening case, the Social Welfare Department put forward a legislative proposal for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse cases ("Mandatory Reporting"). Children are vulnerable and have little knowledge of self-protection. HKFWC fully supports the notion of enhancing child protection and encouraging early identification of child abuse, but our reservations about the implementation of Mandatory Reporting remain.

 

Vague Reporting Requirement

Mandatory Reporting stipulates the reporting requirement of "imminent threat of causing serious harm". However reasonable it sounds, there exists different understanding of "serious harm" and "imminent threat". Yet, the consultation papers did not elaborate on the objective definition of these terms. In addition, the accumulated experience of industries tells that an "imminent threat" should point to not only life safety but also mental health and other potential impacts. It is unwise to overlook aspects other than life safety. A vague reporting requirement will cast doubts on industries working closely with children. To avoid law violation, they might report any suspected case without being quite positive themselves child abuse did happen.

 

Bypassing Effective Multi-disciplinary Cooperation

For a long time, industries have complied with Social Welfare Department's "Protecting Children from Maltreatment – Procedural Guide for Multi-disciplinary Cooperation" in handling suspected child abuse cases. Multi-disciplinary case-based meetings have been held to make plans for any dysfunctional family to receive help and recover. Multidisciplinary cooperation has been successful thanks to different sectors' contribution to complement one another. What must be emphasized here is that it takes more than one profession, let alone an individual, to determine whether a family is dysfunctional. Apparently, the consultation paper failed to acknowledge this. It seems to expect the listed professionals could make their judgement alone and file a report if necessary.[1] In other words, the whole of the investigation duty will fall on an individual professional instead of a multidisciplinary task force. The burden on social workers and other professionals working closely with children will be overwhelming. It is therefore hoped that the Department could further explain the procedural matter.

 

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Early identification and intervention are by far the most effective means to prevent child abuse. Many organizations have taken the initiative to provide relevant services, but their supply of services is insufficient to fulfill the societal demand. Criminalization of failure to report a child abuse case does not solve this problem. Mandatory Reporting proposed by the Department is remedial and punitive in nature, neglecting the more widely welcomed prevention work. The direct result of inaction in prevention is that child abuse will not be put to an end. The Department should rather sharpen frontline workers' sensitivity to child abuse so that potential child abuse cases could be exposed and intervened. Discussion on the issue should also be added into the curriculum of social worker training, so that students, soon-to-be social workers, could grasp the knowledge more quickly. As for supporting measures, the Department must allocate more resources to increase the number of served families and the service quality.

 

Deviation from People-Oriented Policy

The Social Welfare Department aims to build friendly relationships with front-line workers for the long-term goal of devising people-oriented service. Now that the Department opts for criminalization of "failure to protect a child" without targeting the core reason of child abuse, Mandatory Reporting is a sheer act of putting a horse before a cart and a disappointment to frontline workers.

 

Suggestion

Children are the future pillars of the society. The society is duty-bound to ensure child protection. That said, Mandatory Reporting has much room for improvement.

  • To clearly define the terms in the Mandatory Reporting requirements.
  • To allow a multi-disciplinary task force to investigate potential child abuse cases instead of putting the burden on individual frontline workers.
  • To focus more on prevention rather than remedial and punitive measures.
  • To avoid unnecessary criminalization from affecting the relationship between the Department and frontline workers.

 

 

Media Enquiry

Mr Alvin Chung

Senior Development Officer

alvin.chung@womencentre.org.hk
(852) 2748 8105

Remark

[1] See point 7 of the consultation paper