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LCQ8: Placement of students with emotional and behavioural difficulties
     Following is a question by the Hon Regina Ip and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (November 30):


     Under the Central Co-ordinating Referral Mechanism jointly managed by the Education Bureau (EDB) and the Social Welfare Department, ordinary schools may, upon obtaining the consent of the parents of students with emotional and behavioural difficulties, apply to the Vetting Committee under the Mechanism for referring the students to study in schools for social development (SSD) (mostly with residential homes). Currently, there are five SSDs for boys of Primary 2 or above and two for girls of Primary 6 or above. On the other hand, some teachers of a primary school have relayed to me that due to the recent admission of a Primary 4 girl with emotional and behavioural difficulties to their school, the teachers have put a lot of efforts on that girl, thus affecting the progress of teaching and learning of all students in the class. However, as SSDs do not provide Primary 1 to 5 places for girls, the Vetting Committee is unable to make a referral. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective numbers of teachers, staff members, social workers and students in each SSD in each of the school years from 2013/14 to 2015/16;

(2) of the respective numbers of applications for referral received and approved by the Vetting Committee in each of the school years from 2013/14 to 2015/16;

(3) of the number of students with emotional and behavioural difficulties, in each of the school years from 2013/14 to 2015/16, who needed to continue to study in ordinary schools owing to the unavailability of SSDs suitable for admitting them; the assistance provided by the EDB for such ordinary schools so as to ensure that the learning progress of other students will not be affected by their handling of students with emotional and behavioural difficulties; and

(4) whether the EDB has plans to provide additional SSD places for Primary 1 boys and Primary 1 to 5 girls; if the EDB does, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether the EDB will conduct a review in this regard?



     Schools for social development (SSDs) provide intensive support for students with moderate to severe emotional and behavioural difficulties to help them tide over their transient adaptation problems in the course of development, and to enhance their learning motivation and life skills so that they can resume schooling in ordinary schools as soon as possible. All along, SSDs have been effective in supporting students with moderate to severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. Regarding the question raised by the Hon Regina Ip, our reply is as follows:

(1) For the number of teachers, staff members and social workers on regular establishment provided by the Education Bureau (EDB), and the number of students in each of the seven SSDs from the 2013/14 to 2015/16 school years, please refer to Annex.  Apart from the manpower provision on regular establishment, schools may deploy flexibly various cash grants and other school resources to render appropriate support services to students, such as employing additional staff, procuring outside services or hiring specialist staff.

     Similar to other residential care services, the residential sections of SSDs provide 24-hour residential care and on-site case support for residents. Staffing provision for the residential sections includes by superintendents, social workers, house instructors, clinical psychologists, cooks and other supporting staff. Social workers are normally responsible for co-ordinating individual developmental support/welfare plans and rendering counselling service for residents. Duty instructors provide daily care and arrange after-school activities for residents under their charge. The supporting staff assist in taking care of residents and maintaining hygiene and safety of the residential sections. Currently, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) provides recurrent funding for the residential sections of SSDs under the Lump Sum Grant Subvention System. The system allows non-governmental organisations to flexibly deploy subventions among different service units for staffing necessary to maintain service quality and meet service needs, including social workers, qualified professionals and supporting staff.

(2) The number of cases received and referred by the Central Co-ordinating Referral Mechanism (CCRM) in each of the school years from 2013/14 to 2015/16 are as follows:
Category 2013/14
school year
school year
school year
Cases received 695 596 561
Cases referred 562 472 426

     As some cases have been withdrawn before vetting by the Vetting Committee of the CCRM or placement, or rejected on various grounds, the number of cases referred is smaller than the number of cases received.

(3) All applications for placement in SSDs must be vetted by the Vetting Committee of the CCRM. The Committee does not accept applications that involve students with mild emotional and behavioural difficulties, students who would benefit from other services or students who are receiving other services/treatment.  Very few applications have been rejected due to unavailability of suitable class level. There were only two such cases in the three school years from 2013/14 to 2015/16.

     In public sector primary and secondary schools, school professionals, including guidance teachers, school social workers and educational psychologists, provide support and guidance services to students with learning or adjustment difficulties, including students with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Specifically, if teachers suspect their students to have emotional and behavioural difficulties, they can refer them to student guidance teachers/personnel or school social workers for follow-ups and remedial services. If the problems of individual students persist, teachers may refer them to school-based educational psychologists, clinical psychologists or psychiatrists for in-depth assessment, diagnosis and treatment. To support students with persistent emotional and behavioural difficulties, schools can conduct multi-disciplinary case conferences as appropriate for psychiatrists, case social workers, educational psychologists and school personnel to jointly work out support strategies regarding the students' emotional, social integration and learning problems, such as cultivating a caring learning environment, adaptation in learning and teaching, and provision of counselling and peer support, etc., with a view to facilitating their integration into the classroom environment to learn with their peers.

     As for schools with particularly difficult cases, the EDB provides them with an additional grant where appropriate for employing teaching assistants to help the students concerned establish classroom routines. If the students have not shown a marked improvement despite the school-based remedial support, schools may refer them to our adjustment programme for pull-out remedial support.

(4) Referral for placement in SSDs is an important decision to students concerned. To protect the interest of the students, their progress after receiving the support services rendered by schools as mentioned in part (3) of this reply must be taken into consideration in assessing the applications. Only those students who show no improvement after receiving the support will be placed in SSDs.

     The level of classes which SSDs should operate is based on professional considerations. We note that there is gender difference in the extent of students' emotional and behavioural difficulties, which is line with findings of other countries. Generally speaking, pre-adolescence boys display more externalising problems, such as inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, rule breaking, conduct problems and aggressive behaviour, than pre-adolescence girls. From a professional perspective, Primary 1 students should be given more support and time for observation of their adaptation to help them adjust to learning in primary school progressively. Since fewer pre-adolescence girls display the above-mentioned externalising problems, the current arrangement of having Primary 2 and above classes in SSDs for boys but only Primary 6 and above classes in SSDs for girls is basically aligned with service demand. Should we observe an upsurge in the number of Primary 1 boys or Primary 1 to Primary 5 girls with moderate to severe emotional and behavioural difficulties, the EDB will review the class structures of SSDs, and examine, together with the SWD, these students' need for residential care services with a view to providing them with appropriate services.
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:10
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