Last week, I urged the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to “wear shoes of those affected” by its policies. Sadly, the case of a 14-year-old boy who was determined by the Coroner’s Court to have died from an accident provided yet another example of failure in delivering the promise to serve.
Leung Chi-chun, the boy who fell to his death at a care home in Kwai Chung five years ago, was moderately handicapped mentally and autistic. He had emotional and behavioral problems and there were reports of physical abuse by his father. The mother reluctantly put him into a residential care home for persons with disabilities to avoid family violence. Given that government-subvented service centers have a long waiting list, the mother had to put up with private-run care centers that are underfunded and understaffed. While staying at Hong Kiu Home, a hostel for the disabled, Leung was found to have endured injuries of unknown origin. In 2016, the boy was found unconscious in a back alley of the hostel, apparently having fallen from a height.
Magistrate Wong Wai-kuen who presided at the Coroner’s Court was shocked to find that while the Social Welfare Department’s Code of Practice for Residential Care Homes for Persons with Disabilities says that these hostels should promote social life, and should meet residents’ needs for recreation and development, foster a homely atmosphere, and organize activities for residents’ participation, the support in terms of resources to realize these lofty objectives is totally lacking. In particular, the Code of Practice says the minimum manpower requirement was one care worker/ancillary worker for every 40 residents for a “medium care level home” and one care worker/ancillary worker for every 60 residents for a “low care level home”. Given that some residents are likely to have behavioral problems and require more attention, the lofty goals remain far-fetched, and stand no chance of being realized.
The government needs to ensure that all RCHDs (residential care homes for persons with disabilities) have the required resources to offer services consistent with the Code of Practice, and to provide the necessary oversight to ensure that licensed RCHDs are up to standard
The case in Hong Kiu Home shows that privately run RCHDs not only often lack manpower resources, but also a mechanism for holding them accountable. A former director of Hong Kiu was involved in many cases of sexual assault on mentally challenged female residents. The new director allowed CCTVs to remain out of service for years since the police investigated the sexual assault cases. One of the recommendations of the jury at the Coroner’s Court was to ensure that surveillance cameras be installed and stay in operation.
As Hong Kong has a policy of compulsory education for children aged six to 15, being only 14, the boy was supposed to be at school. Given his circumstances, he was supposed to be in a school with boarding facilities, and the government had a responsibility to ensure that the boy was not denied that opportunity. The magistrate at the Coroner’s Court said that if the boy had been admitted to a boarding school, the tragedy most probably would have been avoided.
On the record, there were only 323 boarding school places for moderately handicapped children in 2016-17. By 2020-21, the number increased to 371, representing an increase of 48 in five years. There are plans to add 200 new boarding school places by 2026.
Going back to the subject of residential care hostels for those with disabilities and for the elderly, I recall hearing a caller to an RTHK phone-in program mentioned how she was appalled at the conditions of a facility to which she had submitted a job application. The sight, the smells, and the atmosphere were so depressing that she withdrew her application right away. If a visitor could be so appalled at the conditions of such a hostel, those who work and live there must be extremely depressed. The irony is that residents in these substandard homes are typically paying more than those in subvented homes. They are paying more and getting less. Why then would families allow their loved ones to be accommodated in such substandard homes? The only reason is that they do not have a choice. As Chi-chun’s mother found out, the waiting time for obtaining a government-subvented place is too long. They could not afford to wait.
The lofty goals mentioned in the Code of Practice for Residential Care Homes should be taken seriously. Indeed, “physical and mental wellness” is not too much to ask for. But without adequate resources, how can underfunded private-run care centers ensure the physical and mental wellness of their disabled residents? The RCHDs are supposed to organize activities that cater to the “different ages, developmental needs, personal interests and capabilities” of the residents. But who is going to deliver these nice things? Are there personnel to take charge of the activities? Without the resources to back them up, however heavenly these care centers appear to be on the web, they will end up as hell-like places where no surveillance or supervision is available to hold the evildoers accountable.
The government needs to ensure that all RCHDs have the required resources to offer services consistent with the Code of Practice, and to provide the necessary oversight to ensure that licensed RCHDs are up to standard.
The author is a senior research fellow at the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS