LCQ12: Assaults on Social Welfare Department staff

     Following is a question by the Hon Tam Yiu-chung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 8):


     It has been reported that an incident of social workers being assaulted occurred recently at the Tuen Mun Children and Juvenile Home (TMCJH), and two female social workers were injured, and after the girl involved was brought under control, someone from TMCJH management indicated that action not be taken to avoid trouble, and the social workers being assaulted had no choice but to report the case to the Police on their own. Regarding the handling of assaults on staff members of the Social Welfare Department (SWD), will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of cases in the past three years of SWD staff being assaulted while discharging official duties; the number of staff who were thus injured or even killed; and the degree of the injuries sustained by them;

(b) whether the authorities have formulated guidelines and preventive measures in respect of assault on SWD staff; if they have, of the details; if not, the justifications for that;

(c) whether, as a general practice, SWD management refers cases of assault on staff to the Police for follow-up; if it does, of the number of cases referred to the Police for follow-up in the past three years; the number of prosecutions instituted by the Police after investigation; and, if it does not refer cases to the Police for follow-up, the justifications for that; and

(d) whether the authorities' policies or guidelines encourage not taking action to avoid trouble and dissuade SWD staff being assaulted from reporting to the Police for assistance; if they do, of the justifications for that; if not, whether any disciplinary action has been taken against those who dissuaded staff from reporting to the Police for assistance; if disciplinary actions have been taken, of the number of cases and forms of punishment?



     My reply to the Hon Tam Yiu-chung's question is as follows:

(a) In the past three years (ie 2009, 2010 and 2011), the number of assault and injury cases involving staff of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) while they were discharging official duties was four, nine and seven respectively, while the number of staff injured was five, ten and ten respectively. In all these cases, only minor injuries were involved and hospitalisation was not required. There was no fatal case.

(b) Personal safety of the staff while providing services has always been SWD's primary concern. In view of this, SWD has formulated the "Combating Violence Against Staff at Work" guidelines (the guidelines) to provide various preventive, supportive and remedial measures against assaults on staff at work. The measures include ways to identify risks of violence, methods on handling violent situations or potential violent situations, as well as office security measures, etc. According to the guidelines, staff members should seek help from the Police at an early stage in the event of severe harassment, assaults, potential violence or threats to staff safety.

     Apart from the guidelines, SWD also organises relevant training courses and sharing sessions on a regular basis for its staff to enhance awareness of violent acts and handling skills. In the past three years, SWD has organised a total of 17 training courses covering methods of handling violent acts, specific skills for handling violent acts of young people in correctional institutions, and methods of tackling workplace violence, etc. Besides, SWD's District Social Welfare Offices often remind heads of service units to take measures to safeguard staff safety at work. Unforeseen incidents would be reviewed and staff would be reminded of the salient points so as to ensure their safety and effective handling of similar incidents.

(c) If staff are concerned about their personal safety at work, or if a service user has an emotional outburst, staff may seek their supervisors' advice or directly call the Police for assistance. Generally, if any staff member was assaulted, the service unit concerned would make a report to the Police for follow-up. If it has been confirmed that a criminal offence is involved upon investigation, appropriate action would be taken by the Police having regard to the facts and evidence of the case. Among the 20 cases of assaults and injuries involving SWD staff in the past three years, 11 cases were handed over to the Police among which prosecution was instituted on six upon investigation. The remaining nine cases involved emotional outburst of clients/inmates rather than intentional assault. Moreover, since these were minor cases and the staff concerned did not wish to take the cases further, they were not handed over to the Police for follow-up action.

(d) SWD would not prohibit staff from reporting to the Police to avoid trouble. With regard to the recent incident at the Tuen Mun Children and Juvenile Home (TMCJH), the allegation that the victims had to take the case to the Police themselves as the TMCJH management refused to do so is simply untrue. In fact, the social workers concerned immediately reported the case to their supervisor and the Police in the same evening of the incident. There had never been any attempt by the TMCJH management to prohibit them from reporting to the Police.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Issued at HKT 11:30