Since the first incident of alleged child abuse at the Children’s Residential Home (CRH) of the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children (HKSPC) in mid-December, the Society immediately began an internal review of activity within CRH resulting in further reports to the SWD and the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) on 28 December as outlined in our previous statement.
HKPF have taken over review of the CCTV footage we have provided to them, and as reported, a number of arrests have been made, with those children involved sent to hospital. The Society is mortified.
To find out how and why these failings happened, on 3 January 2022 Executive Committee (Exco) invited Mr. Lester Garson HUANG, Managing Partner and Co-Chairman of P. C. Woo & Co., to chair an Independent Review Committee (IRC) with five other reputable experts, with support from Deloitte and Steve Vickers Associates (SVA). The IRC was asked, as Phase 1 of a broader review, to identify shortcomings in our CRH operations, and to recommend whatever actions it deemed appropriate that the Society should make to ensure the health and safety of the children in our care.
The IRC has worked extremely hard and very quickly to provide the First Interim Report (FIR) to Exco. We accept the IRC’s findings in full, and have submitted the report to the Social Welfare Department (SWD) yesterday. The Society wishes to thank Mr. HUANG and all IRC members for their efforts in this difficult job.
The IRC has conducted site visits, CCTV footage review, interviews with former staff and staff in various roles as well as the Society’s Chairman and Director, and a review of our processes has been undertaken by Deloitte.
The IRC report highlights the devastating fact that an apparent excessive focus on the physical safety of the children under our care, coupled with exceptionally high staff turnover among our child care workers (CCWs), poor supervision and management have in combination led to a deterioration in the culture and work practices amongst our CCWs. This is obviously unacceptable.
The IRC report also identifies failings of Management and at committee level. We accept the criticism, and will act on the recommendations to the fullest extent possible to improve everything about the CRH.
An Executive Summary of the FIR is attached. In the spirit of full transparency, the full-version FIR (English only) should be made available for the public upon receiving full consent from relevant interviewees, which we are seeking.
The Society will adopt all IRC’s recommendations subject to implementation feasibility. A listing of IRC’s recommendations and HKSPC’s corresponding remedial actions already introduced or planned for is attached.
‘Once again and on behalf of the Society, I whole-heartedly apologise for our failures. I am particularly sorry for our service users and supporters of the Society, whose confidence in us, I understand, may have been shaken,’ said Robin Hammond, Chairman, Exco, HKSPC.
‘The HKSPC is dedicated to keeping children healthy, happy and safe through service and advocacy. For the past 95 years, the Society has contributed significantly to our community but the problems we have identified are clearly unacceptable. They reflect that our management, monitoring and supervision have failings, and that our governance structure and team need reform,’ continued Robin.
The Society is determined to learn from the CRH incidents and reform along 3 major directions:
1. Taking responsibility
- We have accepted the resignation of the Director and have started a search for her replacement. We have already interviewed a small number of candidates, and hope to start making offers to enhance our management capabilities soon. The Director has agreed to stay to ensure a smooth transition and to assist in the IRC Phase II review as the Society may deem appropriate but she has been removed from any business in relation to CRH. There are also a Deputy Director and a management team underpinning the Director in the current structure so management continuity can be assured.
- We have also accepted the resignation of the Superintendent of CRH and appointed the Deputy Director to supervise and oversee CRH while identifying a suitable candidate as replacement Superintendent from other services in the Society within the week.
- The IRC report has indicated that a number of staff may have involved inrregularities identified. The Exco will form an HR taskforce to follow up as part of the overall follow-up to the IRC recommendations.
2. Increase budget from non-subvention resource to rebuild CRH
- One of the issues emphasized by the IRC is that recruitment and staff workload in the CRH have been challenging and stressful. Since the CRH incident came to light, we have also lost CCWs through arrests and resignations. To cope, we have introduced a recruitment and retention drive including the provision of a 6-month retention Special Allowance which also applies to the CCWs we have redeployed from other operations within the Society. To date, we have interviewed 25, successfully recruited 3, and are in the process of recruiting 11 CCWs. Reference and medical checks make this process slower than we would wish. We have also reached out to the sector and are in preliminary discussion to engage CCWs from other agencies. We welcome any support they may offer and thank them for extending a helping hand at this critical time.
- Internally, we have so far secured 7 CCWs who have responded to our request to be redeployed to CRH for the next 6 months.
- At present, CRH’s staffing level stands at 34 for 61 children so we can ensure that there is a renewed team with suitable continuity to prevent any adaptation issues on the part of our children. We will continue to build a new workforce at CRH with suitably expanded training and supervision.
- SWD has sent in a Designated Professional Team to help with supervision and improvement measures and they been working with us since 17 Jan. New training initiatives are already underway – with the first session, focusing specifically on protection of children, completed.
3. Immediately expand committees’ responsibilities, training and counselling to ensure the safe protection of children under our care
- We shall introduce board level audit/safeguarding & child protection committees to achieve adequate internal control, and strengthen Management capacity and capabilities, as well as staff training, morale and complaints handling.
- Two weeks ago, we introduced psychological support services offered by the HK Christian Service for our staff. This week we have expanded by engaging the Division of Clinical Psychology to provide broader counselling and review for children, parents and staff under the leadership of Dr. Rachel Poon. Dr. Poon will start the psychological assessment and support programme tomorrow.
‘We shall work hard to earn the community’s confidence and I sincerely ask that we be given the chance to build back CRH as a showcase of best practice. The IRC will conduct a thorough review of the entire Society as its Phase II assignment, including our governance, internal controls, checks and balances, training, reporting, and all else appropriate to ensure we operate on best practice principles. We expect the relevant work to take some months to complete but will share progress as appropriate with SWD and the public.’ said Robin.
Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children
26 January 2022