24 May 2019

Child fatality review panel urges vigilance to curb suicides

A government-linked committee that looks into child death cases has urged parents to pay more attention to their children’s behavior so that they can detect early any signs of suicidal thoughts among the kids. 

In a report, the Child Fatality Review Panel said it believes many child suicides can be prevented if parents are more alert in noticing the warning signals and take remedial action in time. 

Apart from parents, schools, teachers and the society at large also have a responsibility to ensure the well-being of children and prevent avoidable tragedies, it said.

Releasing Thursday its third report on prevention of child deaths, the Child Fatality Review Panel, an entity comprising experts from various disciplines and sponsored by the Social Welfare Department, offered various recommendations for caregivers.

After analyzing 206 child death cases in 2012 and 2013 that were reported to the Coroner’s Court, the panel came up with 45 recommendations to prevent avoidable child fatalities.

Of the child death cases — referring to people who were aged below 18 — that were reviewed, 131 were deemed to have died of natural causes, while 75 cases involved non-natural causes.

According to the report, among the children with non-natural death causes, 28 died because of accidents, while 20 committed suicide. Eight died owing to assault, while one died of medical complication.

Among the 20 children who committed suicide, there were nine boys and 11 girls. The youngest one was only aged 11. Fourteen children jumped from height to their death.

Dr. Eva Dunn, convener of the suicide cases sub-group at the panel, said an analysis of the 20 suicide death cases points to various factors behind the tragedies: worries about academic studies, worries about future, family problems, love relationships, peer relationships, and mental illnesses.

According to Dunn, 70 percent of the children who died of suicide had flagged suicidal thoughts through platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp messenger to family and friends, before they took their lives.

She urged parents to more pay attention to children’s behavioral changes, for example when the kids suddenly show no interest in going to school or become reticent.

Dunn, a specialist in psychiatry, also called on parents to focus on developing children’s ability to handle adversity. The elders must communicate with the kids more to convey positive values, and focus more on the children’s strengths, instead of weaknesses.

Parents should also assist children in experiencing inevitable difficult times, and ask professionals to get involved in helping the kids when necessary, Dunn added.

Herman Hui, chairman of the Child Fatality Review Panel, said family and friends should not take lightly if any child flags suicidal thoughts.

Among other comments, Hui reminded parents that academic results do not mean everything.

Annisa Ma, acting assistant director (family and child welfare) of the Social Welfare Department, said schools, parents and the society all have the responsibility of safeguarding the children.

The Education Bureau and schools have had good preparations including training teachers to handle students’ emotional problems, the official said on Thursday, a day before a new academic year began at local schools.

If parents find it difficult to communicate with their children, or if they do not know how to handle the kids’ emotional issues, the Integrated Family Service Centres operated by the Social Welfare Department and subvented non-governmental organizations can offer assistance, Ma said.

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