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 From Hong Kong's Information Services Department
May 5, 2004

Family solidarity a key gov't priority


Our mission is to build a caring and healthy society, a community that values family solidarity and comprises a network of mutual care, trust, support and reciprocity that embraces all individuals, nurtures their healthy development and enables them to participate in economic and social life with dignity and self-reliance.


Family solidarity comes first on our list. An integral part of family solidarity is violence-free families.


We invest substantively in the measures to promote family solidarity. In the social welfare arena, $1.7 billion is provided for family and children services in 2004-05.


This amount does not take into account the programmes and activities provided for youth and elders and across other policy areas like health, education, security, and community building which also seek to achieve similar effect of enhancing family solidarity and combating family violence.


That said, we are still some way from having a completely violence-free families environment. According to the latest statistics, the total number of newly reported battered spouse cases was 3 298 in 2003, an 8.7% increase when compared with 2002. There were also 481 newly reported child abuse cases in 2003, although this was a drop of 7.5% from the preceding year.


To tackle family violence, we need to revisit the nature of family violence and the relevant risks and protective factors identified in the researches. A better understanding of the nature of the problem would enable us to draw up effective strategic responses and develop targeted measures thereon.


Risks and protective factors

There are many possible ways to define family violence. Regardless of how it is defined, family violence is particularly appalling because it occurs within ongoing relationships that are expected to be protective, supportive and nurturing.


Studies have found that victims often feel a sense of loyalty to their abusers and are often also economically dependent on them. The associated factors and dynamics involved are therefore extremely complex and paradoxes abound.


Researchers have identified some common risk factors amongst those who applied violence, these include low self-esteem, depression, sense of incompetence, lack of empathy, poor self-control, alcohol or drug addiction, marital difficulties, and a history of abuse and neglect as a child, social isolation, and lack of support.


On the other hand, there are also some common protective factors that may provide a buffer against family violence. These include education, physical and psychological health, coping skills, the ability to manage stress, no substance dependencies, no past history of violence in one's family, high levels of family cohesion and adaptability, community support and a strong social network.


Stress produces coping cycle - or violence

Such risk and protective factors do not work on their own. It is when such factors interact with precipitating factors, for example, family problems or stress, that results either in creating a coping cycle which would uplift an individual's coping skills, or a cycle of violence.


For example, a secure relationship between family members will buffer effects of stress and facilitate the development of coping strategies. A caring and supportive social network can also provide additional strength from outside the family.


With such support, constructive resolution of conflict would strengthen the family relationship and community network. This in turn increases the resilience of the individuals.


The wide ranging nature of these risk and protective factors, from the individual to societal level, and the many permutations from which their interaction can create demonstrate that family violence carries many complicated features with no simple and straight forward preventive or remedial panacea.


It is a multifaceted problem that requires a multi-pronged response to be implemented by the concerted efforts of all relevant parties from different disciplines. While we may not be able to control many of the precipitating factors that occur in a family, the continuum of preventive, supportive and specialised services that are in place seek to enhance the protective factors and minimise the occurrence of the risk factors that I have just mentioned.


Education key among preventive measures

We attach a lot of importance in building up the protective factors at an early stage of life and changing public attitudes, particularly among young people, towards family violence.


At the parental level, the Parenting Programme provided by the Department of Health seeks to equip parents of all children attending Maternal & Child Health Centres with the knowledge and skills to bring up healthy and well-adjusted children.


Parenting skills and other support services are also provided through the services in the integrated family service centres and family service centres. Family life education programmes that seek to educate on the importance of family life and how it can be sustained.


Education is the key. Much emphasis is placed on the holistic development of students, including building their character, good conduct and inter-personal skills and nurturing them to become caring and responsible citizens.


The Honourable Chan Yuen Han referred to instilling 'into young people, through education, the concept of refraining from using violence to solve family problems.' We are indeed adopting such an approach.


School curriculum stresses positive family values

The present school curriculum places much emphasis on cultivating positive values and attitudes, including family values in both primary and secondary schools. In addition, various training courses, seminars and workshops are conducted to enhance teachers' competency in cultivating among students such concepts and values.


In the social welfare arena, cultivating positive attitudes towards life is a theme that runs through many of the services and programmes rendered by youth service units, including integrated children and youth services centres, outreaching social work teams and school social workers.


Through these services and programmes, young people acquire problem solving and stress management skills, thereby building up their capacity to cope with adversities and stress.


In terms of physical and psychological health, the Adolescent Health Programme enables adolescents, parents and teachers to better understand adolescents' physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual changes and needs.


The aim is to facilitate adolescents to develop proper self-image and self-esteem which again would boost their coping skills.


Community support helps build resilience

Community support is an important resilience building factor. We seek to build community support through publicity and public education, community building initiatives and investments in programmes to enhance social inclusion.


Apart from the publicity campaigns and preventive education programmes supported by the Social Welfare Department, community building activities are also provided through the District Councils and non-government organisations to promote family and social harmony.


In addition, the Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education has designated 'upholding family values and enhancing family cohesiveness' as one of its sub-themes of its core activities in the past two years.


Fund helps set up mutual help, support groups

On a more pro-active front, the Community Investment & Inclusion Fund has been providing funding to support community-initiated and neighbourhood-based projects that seek to build the capacities of individuals and groups for self help, mutual help and support, and to mobilise cross-sectoral collaboration for shared solutions to local problems.


The above measures seek to build up individual and community capacities and to develop coping skills, early identification of risk factors, to strengthen the resilience factors and to tackle the risk factors. Nonetheless, Government can only effectively act as the facilitator and enabler.


It is well recognised that the effective solutions to social problems are often found in the community itself. Individuals should be proactive and capitalise on what the community network can offer in terms of support and problem solving. This is an interactive process. The stronger the community fabric, the higher the trust and support which in turn further reinforces the supportive network.


Support measures address individual, family problems

The services and the programmes that I talked about do not shelter individuals from all vulnerabilities that we would likely face in one form or another at some stage in our lives. In some instances, individual coping skills need to be supplemented by external assistance so that individual and family problems are suitably addressed and individuals are kept away from the adversity cycle.


A comprehensive range of mainstream counseling and support services are provided by the Social Welfare Department and our NGO partners to ensure that people have sources of advice to turn to.


The Integrated Family Service Centres which comprise Family Resource, Family Support and Family Counselling Units provide a continuum of services with extended working hours to meet the changing family needs.


Resources re-distributed to provide most help

In seeking to integrate family services, efforts are being made to re-distribute the resources, based on factors like complexity of social problems and district needs. Where more immediate and intense intervention are called for, they are handled by the Family and Child Protective Services Units. These units are staffed by experienced social workers and adopt a co-ordinated approach in protecting and assisting victims of abuse and their families.


There are now five such units and the Department is planning to further strengthen the manpower by expanding to six teams. These units have also strengthened networking with non-governmental organisations.


The four refuge centres operated by the Social Welfare Department and NGOs cater for the needs of women and their children with round the clock admission, while the 24 hours Family Crisis Support Centre provides temporary accommodation for women, men and children during crisis situation.


In addition, other forms of social support like housing assistance are also available to victims of family violence cases. All these seek to provide support to victims to rebuild their lives and to provide protection for victims and their families.


Committees target child abuse, spouse battering

As I have indicated earlier, family violence is a multi-faceted problem. On this front, Government departments work closely together, and we also collaborate with our NGOs partners.


In terms of inter-department co-ordination, two dedicated multi-disciplinary committees have been set up in the Social Welfare Department to combat child abuse and spouse battering and sexual violence, respectively.


At the district level, the cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary District Coordinating Committees on Family and Child Welfare are in place to coordinate service provision relating to family violence in addition to other family and child welfare issues.


On the issues of counseling method, different counselling methods are adopted in the intervention process based on the needs and characteristics of the victims and batterers. The Social Welfare Department reviews counselling services from time to time with a view to improving the effectiveness of the various approaches it adopts.


The clinical psychologists of the department work closely with social workers to provide them with consultation and professional support, apart from taking up assessment and treatment of cases of domestic violence themselves. The assessment tools and treatment measures are continuously reviewed to match with the clients' treatment needs and changes in the clinical formulations of the cases.


Front line staff, Police have clear guidelines

Members have expressed concern over how family violence cases are handled by front line staff, and have referred to the practice adopted by the Police. The Police have clear and detailed guidelines on the handling of domestic violence.


The guidelines stipulate the roles and responsibilities of police officers attending scenes of domestic violence. The guidelines also cover details about interviews, arrest actions, serving of the Domestic Incident Notice and Family Support Card, the need for briefing the victim on the process of criminal investigation and court proceeding as well as the availability of welfare services.


Frontline officers are reminded to protect the victim and his/her children from attack and ensure that they are not subject to further violence. Firm and proactive action will be taken to investigate any offences that may have been committed. The Guidelines also set out the procedures of referring the subjects to appropriate Government departments or NGOs for assistance.


Police can refer cases for follow-up

In fact, since the year 2003, there has been an enhanced referral mechanism in that the Police can refer certain cases to the Social Welfare Department for follow-up support services even without the consent of the victim or alleged offender.


Domestic violence forms part of the basic training of police officers. In the past two years, over 11,000 front line police officers have received a new training package on domestic violence and further training will be organised.


Since the Tin Shui Wai case, the Police have reminded all officers of the need of handling domestic violence cases with care. The Police will examine the existing procedures for handling domestic violence cases in consultation with other related agencies with a view of identifying any areas that require improvement, in particular on enhancing communication on domestic violence.


The Social Welfare Department has continuously conducted different training programmes for social workers as well as other professionals to enhance the skills and knowledge on handling family violence. In the past year, 1,000 professionals from various disciplines have attended the training programmes conducted by local and overseas experts.


In the coming year, such training programmes would be stepped up. Training materials will also be developed for references of related professionals who are unable to attend these training programmes.


Research aids understanding

As part of our efforts to seek continuous improvement, last year we commissioned a study on child abuse and spouse battering to enrich and update our understanding of the extent of the problems of child abuse and spouse battering, the profiles of the victims and perpetrators, the essential elements contributing to effective prevention and intervention, and the feasibility of adopting mandatory treatment in Hong Kong.


The findings of the study will facilitate further development of strategies and services to combat family violence. In addition to the findings of the study, local assessment tools for early identification of child abuse and battered spouse cases will be developed to facilitate timely intervention.


Part one of the study on the prevalence rate and elements contributing to effective prevention and intervention will soon be completed and we will implement the appropriate recommended measures as a matter of priority. We will certainly take into consideration some of the suggestions made by legislators which would help in improving our services.


Legislative changes under consideration

We are aware of the concerns on the provisions in the Domestic Violence Ordinance and that is why one of the objectives of the study that I have just mentioned is to identify the essential elements contributing to effective prevention and intervention, including whether the provision of legislative measures can facilitate prevention and intervention and to study the feasibility and implications of adopting mandatory treatment of perpetrators in Hong Kong with reference to overseas experience.


While waiting for the outcome of the study, we are simultaneously examining the legislative provisions and will consider whether, and if so how, the existing legal framework needs to be improved to the benefit of the victims.


Tin Shui Wai incident under review

Members have expressed views on the review panel set up to review the provision and service delivery process of family services in Tin Shui Wai. The panel will look into how the case was handled, including any cross-sectoral co-ordination issues.


From a wider perspective, the panel would also make recommendations on how to strengthen the effectiveness, co-ordination and other aspects of service provision and to raise other issues such as resources.


Let me reiterate, the two cross-sectoral committees are already operating under the auspicious of the Social Welfare Department to combat child abuse, spouse battering and sexual violence.


These committees would, of course, continue to seek improvements in their work. At the bureau level, while proceeding with the legislative review, we would also be keeping a close watch over the recommendations to be made by the review panel and would seek early implementation of measures to enhance our system.


Community must work together to end family violence

Harm and injury inflicted upon family members is something that no society should tolerate. The protective, risk and precipitating factors evolve all the time.


And as I said, there is no simple solution. As with many other social problems, Government effort, be it alone or together with NGOs, would not be adequate in the fight against domestic violence.


We need to work together and work harder to prevent it from happening or from recurring. Every member of the public can contribute to curbing the problem by taking an active interest in the events in our community and strengthening our community supportive network, building up our own protective and resilient factors, seeking early assistance if in need and bringing suspected cases to the attention of the relevant professionals. It is only with concerted efforts that we can stand the chance of dealing with the problem effectively.


Secretary for Health, Welfare & Food Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong gave this address in the Legislative Council on a motion to curb domestic violence. 

Secretary for Health, Welfare & Food Dr Yeoh Eng-Kiong