When Prof Sophia Law met a group of social workers five years ago and listened to their stories about Hong Kong’s problem of family violence, she was alarmed by the stark number of child victims and the on-going challenge in counselling especially the younger ones under the age of ten. In fact, government statistics show that newly reported child abuse cases in Hong Kong between 2012 and 2016 ranged from 856 to 963 per year. However, these figures are not a reflection of the full extent of the problem, as they do not capture unreported cases, or cases in which the child is not a direct sufferer but a witness. With immature cognitive and language abilities, children often face difficulties in articulating and confronting their inner feelings as a result of violence – be it pain, fear, insecurity, guilt, or trauma. This may inflict long-term negative effects on the children’s personal growth and interpersonal functioning. The strong need for mitigation and intervention sparked Prof Law’s interest in looking into innovative and alternative ways to make a difference.
As Associate Professor in the Department of Visual Studies, Prof Law has been involved in the study of art as “language written in images” since 2007. For the past several years, she has been following the problem of child victims and exploring the use of visual art as a means of intervention to help victims process emotions, express feelings, overcome adversity, and cultivate cognitive skills. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, she had worked in partnership with the Social Welfare Department’s Family and Child Protective Services Unit (FCPSU) to implement art intervention activities for child victims in Tuen Mun and Yuen Long respectively. Recently, Prof Law has secured funding from a private donor to carry on with a further three-year project titled “Art as intervention in serving child victims of family violence”. A renewed year-long collaboration with the Social Welfare Department has already been underway since September 2017, whilst a new partnership with a local secondary school is due to commence in November.
The new projects will introduce art intervention for the benefit of under-privileged children with traumatic experience as witnesses and victims of family violence. By recommendation of the social workers, children are recruited from districts such as Kwun Tong, Tuen Mun, Wong Tai Sin, Sai Kung and Yuen Long. A series of art facilitation workshops are being planned to render the children a platform to engage in free play, games, discussions as well as creative themed art-making in a joyful, supportive and safe atmosphere. In the disguise of play, and using a child-centred psycho-educational approach, the workshops will allow children to illustrate abstract thoughts, express complex feelings, and accumulate positive memories. This helps them recognise their own selves and reconcile with the reality surrounding them, thereby paving the way for healthy developmental growth.
A remarkable characteristic of the project is the inter-professional collaboration among social work, art therapy and academia. At the core of the project is a taskforce comprising not only Prof Law and her research staff, but also social workers and art therapists whose presence can facilitate effective counselling in the workshops. Prof Law envisions that, through this distinctive interdisciplinary synergy, the project will make an immediate impact by addressing the children’s emotional and development needs. As more and more social workers will be partaking in the workshops alongside children, the knowledge sharing and professional development would also be significant. By means of documentation and observation of children’s behaviours in each workshop, this project is expected to provide a child-centred perspective to inform professional social work practice for better provision of child and family counselling throughout Hong Kong in the long run.