When social workers from the Child Welfare League Foundation visited nine-year-old "Little Ching" at his Taipei home last year, they found a dark, cluttered apartment and Ching's father passed out on his bed, used syringes piled on the nightstand.
The boy had been watching TV all day while his single father injected heroin and slept, a foundation press release said.
While some children from "high-risk" families are wary of bringing friends home for fear they might witness a family member shooting up, others live in secrecy with their parents, on the run from repo men and loan sharks, foundation representatives said yesterday.
"Nowadays, a lot of families are facing unemployment, debt, illness, addiction and jail time. The children who live in such high-risk families have to shoulder the problems and pressures of adulthood. Sometimes, their lives are endangered," foundation director Alicia Wang (王育敏) said, referring to a rash of child abuse cases last month.
Four toddlers were beaten to death by their relatives nationwide last month, with one Taichung father igniting a gas tank in his home in an attempt to kill himself and his four-year-old daughter.
Both father and daughter suffered severe burns in the explosion, which gutted their apartment.
Understaffed, overworked social affairs agencies countrywide are partly to blame for the increase in child abuse cases, foundation spokeswoman Chen Ya-hui (
The foundation said that 17 children died from abuse last year. If this year's rate continued -- four deaths in a single month -- it would prove an even deadlier year for children, the release said.
But the lack of social services wasn't the only factor contributing to the rise, representatives said, citing their survey.
Providing social services to 1,168 high-risk families from 2004 through last year, the foundation took stock of the situation, announcing grim statistics yesterday.
Amid an economic decline, 71 percent of the 1,168 families were in financial straits, with 52 percent of parents lacking basic fiscal discipline and management skills.
Fifty-five percent of parents were battling chronic illnesses, while 72 percent suffered from depression, the statistics showed.
The children growing up in such families were not faring any better: Half of the 2,030 children who the foundation cares for were malnourished. Like their parents, a third of the children were in poor health and lacked social skills. Two of out five children, meanwhile, were constantly switching homes to stay ahead of creditors, or lived in filthy homes.
Fortunately, social workers can make a difference, representatives said.
A social worker with the foundation who preferred to be identified only as Hui Min (慧敏) recounted her case with a single mother who had exhibited suicidal tendencies. Penniless and hopeless, the mother had battled to raise her children in an apartment crawling with rats and cockroaches.
"The children were having a hard time in school because they smelled so badly," said the social worker, who helped the mother land a job and apply for welfare, allowing her to move into a new apartment and buy a scooter.
"That mother went from being closed off, hopeless and on the run from creditors, to self-confident and independent," Wang said. "These people in need are our neighbors; they're right next to us every day and they need our help."
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