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LCQ20: Monitoring residential care homes for persons with disabilities and special schools
     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (Novermber 16):
     Quite a number of parents of persons with intellectual disabilities (PWIDs) have relayed to me that government departments have, for a long time, failed to monitor properly private residential care homes and special schools (RCH&S) for PWIDs.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as some parents have relayed that their complaints about improper arrangements of RCH&S were often unsettled due to difficulties in adducing evidence and a lack of transparency in the complaint handling procedures, whether the Government will consider requiring RCH&S, after securing the consent of the parents concerned, to install closed circuit television in rooms where PWIDs conduct their activities to facilitate the gathering of evidence, and reforming the existing complaint mechanism to enhance transparency; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) as some parents have relayed that while the quality of RCH&S varies substantially, government departments have failed to monitor (including inspection) them properly and have not set penalty for non-compliance, whether the Government will introduce a penalty point system to stipulate that residential care homes (RCHs) may have their licences revoked upon being allotted penalty points for a number of times for non-compliance; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) as some parents have relayed that they had applied for transferring their children with intellectual disabilities to other RCH&S because their children had difficulties in adaptation or were suspected to have been abused, but they had to wait for a long time (one year or more) or were even refused, whether the Government will review the relevant vetting and approval criteria as well as transfer arrangements, so that the PWIDs concerned may be transferred to suitable RCH&S expeditiously; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) of the current number of persons waiting for places in subsidised RCHs; given that some parents have relayed that the present waiting time for places in subsidised RCHs is as long as 15 years, and the Government has indicated in a paper submitted recently to this Council that it will expedite the construction of subsidised RCHs, of the reduction in waiting time as projected by the Government upon the completion of the RCHs concerned; and

(5) given that some parents have suggested extending the coverage of the Sexual Conviction Record Check Scheme to cover employees of RCHs for PWIDs, so as to further protect PWIDs, whether the Government will accept the suggestion; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My reply to the questions raised by Dr the Hon Elizabeth Quat is as follows:

(1), (2) and (3) The Licensing Office of Residential Care Homes for Persons with Disabilities (LORCHD) of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) conducts surprise inspections of residential care homes for persons with disabilities (RCHDs) from time to time, and will promptly conducts surprise inspections to the RCHDs concerned upon receipt of complaints.  During inspections, the LORCHD will check the management and service records of the RCHDs, and conduct interviews with randomly selected staff, service users and their families/carers, so as to understand the management and services of the RCHDs.  If closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance system is installed in the RCHDs, the inspectors of the LORCHD will, where appropriate, check the CCTV record to collect information.  Given that the installation of CCTV is subject to mutual agreement between the RCHDs and their service users, some RCHDs indicated that such equipment was not installed because of the privacy concerns raised by their residents and staff.  As to whether the Government should, after securing the consent of the parents concerned, require RCHDs to install CCTV in common areas for residents, SWD will consider the proposal carefully and consult stakeholders and other relevant persons timely and seek legal advice.

     LORCHD will promptly investigate and handle non-compliance reports of RCHDs, and formulate strategies and action plans having regard to the nature and items of non-compliance of individual RCHDs.  LORCHD will, depending on the nature and severity of the irregularities identified, issue to RCHDs advisory or warning letters, or written directions on remedial measures under the Residential Care Homes (Persons with Disabilities) Ordinance (RCHD Ordinance).  If the RCHDs persistently fail to make improvement, LORCHD will, according to the RCHD Ordinance and the actual situation of non-compliance, take prosecution actions against them, or consider revoking or refusing to renew their licence or Certificate of Exemption.  SWD will step up the relevant work, including engaging, on contract terms, retired disciplined service officers to assist the professional team of LORCHD in carrying out inspections to RCHDs and strictly enforcing the law.  LORCHD will also work closely with the Department of Justice so that LORCHD can take prompt and effective prosecution actions against RCHDs with irregularities and poor track records.  SWD will also seek legal advice to explore the possibility of making public the warning records of non-compliant RCHDs with a view to enhancing transparency.

     When handling transfer applications submitted by residents of subsidised RCHDs, the case social worker will assess the applicant's service needs to identify the type of service required, and then forward the assessment result together with the referral letter to the SWD for follow-up actions through the Central Referral System for Rehabilitation Services.  The figure in 2015-16 reflected that priority placement cases for admitting to Hostel for Moderately Mentally Handicapped Persons, Hostel for Severely Mentally Handicapped Persons and Care and Attention Home for Severely Disabled Persons on average need to wait for 3.5 months.  If the social worker, upon assessment of the applicant's situation, considers that there is an urgent transfer need, he/she will refer the case to the SWD for detailed consideration. 

     As to parts (1) to (3) of the question on the concern regarding special school, the reply from the Education Bureau (EDB) is as follows:

     In respect of installation of CCTV systems, schools should decide what measures should be adopted in the light of their actual needs while observing relevant legal requirements.  If a school considers installation of CCTV systems or covert monitoring a necessary means to prevent crime having regard to its special environmental circumstances, such measures should comply with the "Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones" published by the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.  Besides, there should be a reasonable balance between security and privacy so as to ensure that privacy of students and related parties will not be unduly affected by installation of CCTV systems.  CCTV systems are not standard items of school equipment.  Subject to schools' actual needs, EDB has no objection in principle to the installation of CCTV systems in special schools.  Yet, EDB has no plan to stipulate it as a mandatory requirement for special schools.

     Regarding handling of complaints, EDB had launched a pilot project with three phases from the 2012/13 to the 2014/15 school year to try out the Enhanced School Complaint Management Arrangements (Enhanced Arrangements) to assist schools in establishing a fair, impartial and open complaint management system to effectively handle complaints from parents and the members of the public.  Participating schools, with reference to the "Guidelines for Handling School Complaints" provided by the EDB, have to establish or enhance the school-based complaint handling mechanism.  Stakeholders, including teachers and parents, should be consulted and the school-based complaint handling mechanism should be submitted to the Incorporated Management Committee / School Management Committee for approval.  To ensure transparency and legitimacy, schools should inform the stakeholders of the school-based complaint handling mechanism and procedures, through appropriate channels such as circulars, staff meetings, parent-teacher association, school website, etc.  In view of the positive evaluation results of the pilot project, EDB has been implementing the Enhanced Arrangements in the non-pilot schools by phases, and will fully implement it in all aided, caput, government and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools (including special schools) by September 2017.  EDB will also provide support for schools which include briefing sessions for stakeholders and training programmes on complaint handling skills, etc.

     EDB attaches great importance to the quality of special schools and empowers schools to strengthen their self-evaluation for continuous improvement while enhancing accountability and transparency through the School Development and Accountability Framework.  Apart from school self-evaluation, schools could gain the benefit of feedback and suggestions for improvement from different perspectives, complemented by school inspections and external school reviews conducted by the EDB.  Furthermore, Regional Education Offices are responsible for overseeing the quality of education in schools, and providing professional support to schools on administration matters as well as learning and teaching.  Schools shall comply with the rules and regulations under the Education Ordinance and Education Regulations as well as the other related ordinances; the relevant Codes of Aid; instructions as may be issued by EDB from time to time and the guidelines from the school sponsoring bodies.  If it appears to the Permanent Secretary for Education that a school is not being managed satisfactorily, or that the education of the pupils is not being promoted in a proper manner, the registration or provisional registration of the school may be cancelled.

     According to the prevailing policy, subject to the assessment and recommendation of professionals and parental consent, EDB will refer children with more severe or multiple disabilities to special schools for intensive support.  Requests for transferring from one special school to another school may arise from various reasons, for example: removal, change of the major disability of a student after re-assessment and hence the need for change to other type of special school, or serious disagreement with the learning and caring of a student resulting in loss of trust between the parents and the school concerned, etc.  Upon receipt of the application, EDB will follow up immediately and provide assistance.  Under normal circumstances, for example, in a case which all parties concerned agreed that transferring the student to another special school is desirable,  EDB will complete the transfer within two to three weeks.  The date of admission of the student to the school will depend on the student's actual situation, parents' views and availability of school placement.

(4) SWD currently provides, through non-governmental organisations, residential care services for persons with disabilities (including persons with intellectual disabilities) in need of residential care services.  As at end-September 2016, the Government provided a total of 12 931 subsidised residential care service places (including 450 subsidised places provided under the Bought Place Scheme) for needy persons with disabilities, nearly double the number of RCHD places (about 6 400) in 1997.  As at end-September 2016, the number of applicants on the waiting lists for different types of subsidised RCHDs is as Annex.

     SWD has been making strenuous efforts to identify suitable premises for setting up RCHDs and provide more residential care service places, including maintaining close liaison with relevant departments at the Government's site planning stage so as to reserve sites (such as public housing estate development projects) as well as proactively identifying sites and premises, including those government properties which will be made available owing to service re-engineering and suitable vacant school premises, for setting up facilities for providing services to persons with disabilities to provide additional service places.  The Government plans to provide about 6 000 additional rehabilitation service places, including some 2 500 residential care service places over the next five years.  In addition, the Labour and Welfare Bureau and SWD implemented the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses (the Special Scheme) in 2013.  If the 60 or so projects under the Special Scheme are all implemented, about 8 000 additional rehabilitation service places, including some 2 000 residential care service places, will be provided.

     The additional residential care and day care places mentioned above should help to relieve the pressure caused by service demand for RCHDs.  The waiting time for particular RCHDs is affected by a number of factors, including location preference indicated by the applicants, choice of specific service units indicated, user turnover rate of the service units selected by the applicants and the number of new applications. 

(5) The Government will carefully examine the feasibility of the proposal to extend the Sexual Conviction Record Check Scheme to cover employees of residential care homes for persons with intellectual disabilities.  During the process, we will listen to the views of stakeholders and other relevant persons and seek legal advice.
Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:09
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