Preliminary findings from an investigation into alleged abuse at a foster home in Prince Edward suggested that management must have been aware of the problem but did little to stop it.
The director of the Society for the Protection of Children and superintendent of the Children's Residential Home run by the society have now resigned, and the report further recommends that all childcare staff at the home should be gradually replaced.
The Independent Review Committee said staff had routinely subjected children under their care to rough physical treatment. It looked at security camera footage and found at least 10 incidents which it said amounted to abuse.
These included kids being slapped or kicked around, shaken, thrown against a padded wall, and having their ears pulled.
One child was seen to have been lifted by the collar before being dumped onto a mat.
Another was thrown into an activity area, knocking over other kids.
The report said these were not isolated incidents, and the way staff treated the kids was "generally rough, lacking in care and without regard for the feelings, respect or dignity of the children".
The chairman of the review committee, Lester Huang, said staff "generally had very rough conduct to bring the children under control as an imminent purpose.”
“Of course children need to be kept out of harm, therefore, some actions are necessary. But the staff habitually were using some very expedient ways without looking into the feelings or how the children would take their conduct."
The report also found that children were treated so roughly that there's little doubt that they would have felt “discomfort, unease or even pain.”
“Even though there was no apparent physical injury, the emotional impact on the child may be lasting," it added.
The committee also concluded that management must have been aware of how the children were treated, but considered this acceptable as there had been no intervention besides "mild reminders".
It also said there was lax supervision of day-to-day work at the foster home, and no staff had reported any problems to management because the peer-monitoring system had "totally collapsed."
Huang said the recommendation to replace staff in phases was made in the children's interest.
"The reason we are suggesting in stages is because... putting the children in the hands of total strangers will be in itself not in the children's best interest," he said.
But with the arrest and resignation of workers, Robin Hammond, who chairs the society's executive committee, said easing the workload of existing staff has been difficult, especially after its volunteer programme ended in recent years.
"We had approximately 120 volunteers on our roster. So these are an extra pair of hands and independent observers within the room in the Children's Residential Home. And in retrospect, if we can go back and keep that running, I think that's one of the things we did that I regret the most, was stopping the volunteer programme," Hammond said.
"Obviously now with Covid coming up again, it's probably not something we can do today."
In a statement released late on Wednesday, the Social Welfare Department reiterated that the incident is “totally unacceptable”.
The department noted that its monitoring system has room for improvement, adding it will require all residential childcare service units to install security camera systems to facilitate supervision.
Police are continuing their investigation into the case. Twenty people have been arrested so far, and the number of alleged victims stood at 35.
Last updated: 2022-01-27 HKT 02:13