Shelters taking in Hong Kong’s abused children are constantly full to the brim, with places for mentally disabled children at 98.4 per cent capacity.
That means children facing abuse and neglect at home cannot be moved to a safe place in time. And desperate social workers are resorting to unconventional measures, like calling an ambulance to get a child to hospital before possible harm.
“Some may think this is not the right use of resources, but it is what we have to do to remove a child from a dangerous situation before it’s too late,” an anonymous social worker said.
Just 64 spaces were available for children aged six to 18 with mental disabilities, with all but one of them occupied, government figures showed.
For the younger ones aged two to six with mental disabilities, there were 110 spaces with 107 of them already filled.
According to a government source, all services were actually at capacity due to a mismatch between the space available and the child in need. For example, a space may be available for a boy but it is a girl who needs it.
The issue was highlighted in March when the death of a mentally disabled child who ate methamphetamines – a drug used by his mother – was ruled a “misadventure” by the Coroner’s Court.
A month before his death, experts including a government official had recommended that the five-year-old, who had Down’s syndrome, be removed from his home. He was not and the reasons heard in court included not being able to find a placement.
“There are just two homes which would take in intellectually disabled children [aged six to 18] if they need to be removed from home,” lawmaker and social work professor Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said.
The two homes account for 16 of the 64 places for children with mild intellectual disabilities. The other 48 places are across 24 homes for regular children, which could each provide two spaces for this group.