HK society should take better care of vulnerable individuals


HK society should take better care of vulnerable individuals

By Lau Kin-shing

The recent heartbreaking case of two intellectually disabled brothers who starved to death at Sau Mau Ping Estate’s Sau Wai House brought the issue of hidden vulnerable individuals into the spotlight. This tragic incident revealed the risks that such individuals face in Hong Kong.

The two deceased brothers in this case had been living with their elderly mother, who is approximately 70 years old and suffers from cognitive impairment. One can only imagine the immense challenges they faced in their daily lives. Sadly, their elderly mother was hospitalized in May due to a Candida infection, and she had not been discharged when the tragic incident occurred. The two brothers were left to fend for themselves, and it was only when the building’s security personnel detected a foul odor during their rounds that they alerted the authorities. It is suspected that, because of their inability to care for themselves and the absence of caregivers, the brothers starved to death after a prolonged period of isolation.

The family concerned was receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). The relevant government agencies, being fully aware of the family’s situation, should have taken a more proactive approach to understanding the family’s needs. Learning a lesson from this tragic incident, the relevant government agency should enhance the CSSA program by introducing mechanisms to ensure that those in need receive prompt support.

The Hospital Authority should improve its sensitivity, particularly toward elderly patients and special-needs families. When a family member is hospitalized, healthcare institutions should assess their family background and provide appropriate support. Furthermore, if patients discontinue medical checkups, hospitals should follow up to understand the reasons and ensure their healthcare needs are met.

In this incident, relatives attempted to visit the family but were turned away. This highlights the importance of community care. Society should emphasize the spirit of mutual assistance among neighbors. When individuals identify someone in need of help, they should demonstrate increased concern and offer help. The government can promote awareness of such situations through education and public awareness campaigns, encouraging people to get involved.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government established District Service and Caring Teams (Caring Teams) throughout the 18 districts last year. The primary purpose of these teams is to consolidate community resources and efforts to support government district work and strengthen community networks.

Caring Teams visit those in need, and assist in handling emergencies and unforeseen incidents. With regard to individuals residing in their homes who require assistance, Caring Teams can play a significant role. I believe that Caring Team members, driven by their knowledge of the community and their dedication to service, would be willing to do more. However, such efforts require the support and cooperation of various sectors of society.

It may be beneficial for Caring Teams to maintain close contact with the Social Welfare Department to identify areas where they can complement each other and identify the needs of vulnerable individuals as early as possible. On the other hand, the District Officer in his/her role as future District Council chairperson, can also lead efforts to strengthen home visits conducted by the district council.

The goal is to extend assistance when necessary and prevent tragedies such as the starvation of intellectually disabled individuals in their homes from being repeated. Furthermore, residents should be encouraged to report potential vulnerable individuals to these teams. This would help prevent similar tragedies by facilitating timely assistance.

The government should consider allocating additional resources to community organizations, especially those dedicated to supporting hidden vulnerable individuals. Relying solely on voluntary assistance may not meet the needs of these special families. Therefore, the government should provide more support to ensure these families receive proper care.

The government should contemplate establishing a case manager system specifically responsible for addressing the issues of vulnerable individuals. This will facilitate early intervention and prevent tragedies. In some cases, families might initially refuse assistance, but their attitudes may change over time or because of changing circumstances. Social workers providing assistance should possess the necessary sensitivity and awareness to build trust and provide essential support.

The Sau Mau Ping tragedy serves as a stark reminder that both the government and society must take a more proactive stance in assisting the vulnerable. The government should enhance CSSA mechanisms, and healthcare institutions should increase their sensitivity. Society should prioritize neighborhood care and support the development of care teams. Collaboration between the government and society is essential, ensuring adequate resources and the establishment of a case manager system to provide better support and prevent similar tragedies. This will contribute to creating a more caring and supportive society for the vulnerable. The government should make every effort to strengthen the social welfare safety net. This includes the launch of a caregiver hotline and the establishment of a one-stop website to provide relevant information.

The author is vice-president of Hong Kong Psychological Counselling & Consultation Society, a Senior Chinese Psychological Counselor and Course Instructor and full member of Asian Academy of Family Therapy.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

【CDTT Newspaper Article】Lau Kin-shing:HK society should take better care of vulnerable individuals (China Daily HK Edition, 13 Nov 2023)

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