Hong Kong is expected to lose close to 20 per cent of its foster care families over the next three years to health issues and major life changes such as emigration, a survey by Hong Kong Christian Service shows.

The organisation, which provides around 20 per cent of the city’s foster care services, urged the government to build a better support system for these families, such as increasing subsidies and incentives, to retain them.

From left: Hong Kong Christian Service’s Foster Care Service social worker Ip Yee-fun, Chief Supervisor Carrie Kong, foster care parent Mrs Wong. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Hong Kong Christian Service surveyed 118 foster families between April and June this year, and found that 18.5 per cent of respondents said they planned to leave the service in the coming three years. Their reasons for leaving included health issues and other life plans, such as emigration.

As of the end of March, there were more than 300 children in Hong Kong waiting to be placed in a foster care family, Hong Kong Christian Service said, while from April 2021 to March, foster families were available to only one in 10 children on average.

Carrie Kong, chief supervisor of the group’s Foster Care Service, said on Tuesday that aging foster care families was also a concern, with more that 40 per cent of respondents aged over 60 years old.

More stipend and support

Apart from the stress of having to take care of children, Kong said the lack of support and insufficient financial subsidies also deterred families from continuing as foster care parents.

Carrie Kong Ka-wei, chief supervisor of Hong Kong Christian Service’s Foster Care Service. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

In the current financial year, foster care families can receive a monthly maintenance grant of HK$6,530 and an incentive payment of HK$4,898, also monthly, for each chid they take care of.

A quarter of the survey respondents said that the maintenance stipend was not enough, and 64 per cent of foster care parents said it did not cover extracurricular activities, tutorial centres fees, and medical fees.

Those looking after children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, those on the autism spectrum, or children with mild intellectual disabilities or special learning difficulties receive another monthly payment of just over HK$1,600.

However, according to the organisation and Mrs Wong, who has been a foster care parent since 2007, the financial support was not sufficient.

Wong has taken care of four children in foster care, with two girls currently under her care. The 61-year-old said that she often had to use the incentive payment, designed to encourage people to join the foster care service, to pay for the children’s expenses.

Mrs Wong (left), a foster care parent of 15 years, talking in a press conference on November 1, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Additional costs may include tuition fees for tutorial centres, and expenses for children’s day-to-day social activities.

“[Children in foster care] tend to have a sense of inferiority… If a certain item is not that expensive, I will try my best to satisfy them, I don’t want them to feel inferior to their friends,” said Wong.

Ip Yee-fun, a social worker in the organisation, said that the government should consider launching hubs in districts with more foster care families, and also a network of families who could fill in for a short period of time if foster care providers had to go on leave.

The social worker also said that the government should consider reviewing the subsidies mechanism, and account for additional expenses for developmental activities. The government should also increase the incentive payment for parents to HK$25 per hour, Ip said.

HKFP has reached out to the Social Welfare Department for comment.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.