Hong Kong’s Social Welfare Department will deploy a dedicated team to monitor the daily operation of the Children’s Residential Home in Mong Kok, after 16 members of staff were recently arrested and charged with assaulting at least 29 toddlers in their care.

In a statement issued on Friday, the department said a team of social workers, nurses and other personnel who have experience in the running of a child care centre will be stationed at the residential home from Monday.

Social Welfare Department. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The move came after police rounded up a total of 16 of the facility’s employees in recent weeks on suspicion of child abuse. According to the police, the alleged mistreatment included “head-hitting, hair-pulling, slapping, tossing the children onto the ground and towards the wall.”

The victims ranged from 1 year and 10 months old to three years and eight months old and some were non-Chinese, police said. All 29 children involved have been hospitalised for treatment.

According to the Children’s Residential Home website, the centre provided “round-the-clock care” for children who “have been referred to us by court order, abandoned by their parents, orphaned, or belong to families suffering acute social problems.”

The case is set to be next mentioned in court on February 21.

Four rounds of arrests

The scandal came to light after police received reports that some children were abused by staff at an outdoor playground at the residential home, which is operated by the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children. The force later made four rounds of arrests after retrieving and reviewing security camera footage .

According to local media, police estimated they would need at least two months to check all of the CCTV footage recorded at the playground between September 18 and December 17 last year.

Children’s Residential Home. Photo: Children’s Residential Home website.

The Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children described the incident as “extremely heart-wrenching,” saying they had “zero tolerance” for behaviour violating the well-being of children.

“For this incident to happen, we are distressed and feel very regretful,” a statement released on December 28 read.

The charity organisation said it had established a task force and launched a broad probe into the operation of the centre, including reviewing security camera footage shot from various angles. More alleged misconduct was discovered the process and four staff were suspended as a result, the organisation said.

The Social Welfare Department said it had taken a series of actions following the scandal, including sending more than 20 clinical psychologists, nurses and social workers to investigate the residential home.

During their inspection on December 27, experts checked staff work records and observed the behaviour, health and mental condition of the 70 children at the centre one by one, the department said.

The Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children’s headquarters in Mong Kok. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The executive committee and some managers of the charity organisation also met with the government on December 28 to report on the incident and their follow-up work.

“The Social Welfare Department will continue to follow up on the incident solemnly. Depending on various investigations results, [the department] does not rule out the possibility of taking further regulatory actions in accordance with the law.”

The HKSCP was issued with a written warning and a set of instructions for correction, the authorities said, and the organisation was urged to step up supervision of its frontline staff. It has to file an evaluation report to the government before January 25.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.