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Speech by SLW at Zonta Club Installation Ceremony (English only)

    Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the Installation Ceremony of the Executive Board of Zonta Club of Hong Kong East today (May 22):

Lucy [Wong], Vivian [Sun], distinguished guests, ladies [and gentlemen],

    Good afternoon everyone.  May I first convey my heartiest congratulations to President Sun and the new board of the Zonta Club of Hong Kong East.  I am sure under the new leadership, the club will continue to grow, from strength to strength, in the coming two years. 

    It is indeed my honour to be invited to speak at this installation ceremony and I am most delighted to meet so many distinguished guests today, who are committed to serving the community in their different capacities and improving the well-being of the underprivileged.  In particular, I note that the Zonta Club of Hong Kong East has, over the years, organised and sponsored various meaningful projects to serve underprivileged children and women.  Today, I would like to share with you the Government・s thinking on, and our efforts in helping the families in need, particularly in respect of the support for children and women, and narrowing the wealth gap.

Care for children

    :Children are our future;.  Their welfare and needs are always of paramount concern within a family and the community as a whole.  I am delighted to note that the US Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007 which was released about two months ago has also acknowledged the efforts of the HKSAR Government in supporting children・s rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education, medical care, and protective services.

Child care service

    Young children, particularly those below the age of six, require constant care and attention as well as stimulation for growth and learning.  Parents・ positive interaction with them is key to the development of parent-child bonding in the long run.  There is certainly no child care service or government assistance of any kind that can substitute parental love and care.  But we are fully aware that many parents in Hong Kong may not be able to provide full-time care for their children because of work or other legitimate reasons.  To assist these parents, the Government subsidises non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide a wide range of day child care services.  These services include standalone child care centres, kindergarten/child care centres and the more flexible Mutual Help Child Care Centre (MHCCC) services.  The Social Welfare Department (SWD) also subsidises some of these centres to operate extended hours of service and occasional child care service.  At the same time, parents can make use of the After School Care Programme operated by NGOs on a self-financing and fee-charging basis that target children aged between 6 and 12.  Needy families may apply for fee subsidy.

    We fully appreciate the need for child care services with more flexible operating hours to meet the different needs of parents.  To strengthen our support to parents, the SWD has since late 2007 launched the day foster care service and day small group home service.  These are in addition to the existing residential services provided by foster parents and small group homes, and offer more extended and flexible support to families in need.  Their operating hours, for instance, can be extended to as late as ten o・clock at night.  Moreover, since early 2008, the SWD has subsidised MHCCCs to strengthen their operation in the evenings, at weekends and on holidays, and eight MHCCCs have already signed up.  With the different flexible child care services up and running, we believe that they can greatly help address the needs of most parents who require child care support due to work commitments.

    To add impetus to these existing efforts, we will allocate extra funding of $45 million over the three years from 2008-09 to 2010-11 to promote various types of child care services that offer greater flexibility, and to strengthen day foster care service.  In this regard, we will commission NGOs and district organisations to launch a :Neighbourhood Support Child Care Project; in 2008-09.  The project has two components: centre-based care group and home-based child care service, and will be implemented in phases in six locations where the demand for child care services is more pressing - Yuen Long, Tuen Mun, Tung Chung, Kwai Chung, Kwun Tong and Sham Shui Po.  The operating hours of the new services will be more flexible, including services in the evenings, at some weekends and certain holidays.  In order to promote mutual help in the neighbourhood, operators will train up local residents to become home-based child carers and assist in implementing the centre-based care group service.

    The Social Welfare Department is inviting proposals from interested NGOs and district organisations with a view to launching the new services in October this year.  The closing date for submitting proposals is June 11.  On this occasion, I would like to appeal for your help to spread the word among the community.  We need more partners from different sectors to join hands in supporting children and families in need.

    Of course the welfare of children is not confined to child care support and should be attended to in a holistic manner.  To this end, SWD has worked in close partnership with NGOs to provide a range of child-centred, family-focused and community-based welfare services to support and protect children and youth as they grow into adulthood.  Through its network of 61 Integrated Family Service Centres and two Integrated Services Centres across the territory, SWD provides a continuum of preventive, supportive and therapeutic welfare services to families in need.  These centres also proactively reach out to needy families and in so doing, network with local partners including the Social Security Field Units, Maternal and Child Health Centres (MCHCs), child care centres, kindergartens, schools, etc, to strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration and to facilitate service referrals so that needy children and families are identified early and can receive timely services.  Social workers will then assess the individual circumstances of the families and provide appropriate services such as family life education, parent-child activities, counselling, etc. 

Comprehensive Child Development Service (CCDS)

    :Prevention is better than cure;.  Early childhood development is very important and early identification and intervention of problems are the most effective means of helping the needy.  With this objective in mind, we have launched a Comprehensive Child Development Service (CCDS) in phases since July 2005.  Built on the existing services provided in MCHCs, public hospitals, the Integrated Family Service Centres and pre-primary institutions, the pilot CCDS seeks to identify at-risk pregnant women, mothers with probable Postnatal Depression, children and families with psychosocial needs, and pre-primary children with physical, developmental and behavioural problems at an early stage.  Depending on their individual circumstances, children and families in need receive appropriate intervention services, such as cross-disciplinary care arrangement, psychiatric, emotional and social service support.

    The CCDS is now available in Sham Shui Po, Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun, Tseung Kwan O, Tung Chung, Yuen Long and Kwun Tong.  We will soon extend the service to Tsuen Wan and Kwai Tsing to serve more young children and families in need. 

Parenting education

    Parenting education is also very important to equip parents with the necessary knowledge and skills to bring up healthy and well-adjusted children.  Currently, different Government Departments and NGOs provide a wide range of parenting education.  Apart from SWD・s parenting education programmes, the Department of Health also provides anticipated guidance on child development, childcare and parenting to parents during the antenatal period and throughout the pre-school years of children.  A structured group training programme on positive parenting skills is also available for parents of children with early signs of behavioral problems or those who encounter difficulties in parenting.

    The Women・s Commission, as you may be aware, has also launched a Quality Parenting Pilot Project since 2006 in collaboration with the Kwun Tong District Council and the North District Council.  The pilot project seeks to promote quality parenting education and core life values for instilling in the younger generation.  It also helps to establish a support network for parents to share experience and offer mutual help on parenting issues, with the support and participation of different stakeholders including the Parent-Teacher Associations and women・s groups in the respective districts.

Community Investment and Inclusion Fund

    The community also plays an important part in supporting its member families, and having a caring neighbourhood can really make a difference.  That is why the Administration set up the $300 million Community Investment and Inclusion Fund (CIIF) to develop social capital and promote mutual help.  As an old Chinese proverb goes, :close neighbours are more important than distant relatives at times of need;.  Your neighbours can be your helping hands right next door when you are in need.  The establishment of the CIIF is to rebuild the precious relationship and trust among neighbours through various social capital development projects.

    Over the past five years, the CIIF has provided $160 million funding for more than 170 projects.  About one-third of them have a child care or after-school care element, all built upon the spirit of mutual aid in the neighbourhood.  There have been heartwarming success stories.  We shall continue to encourage the replication of successful project models in different communities in response to local needs.

Care for Families affected by Domestic Violence

    Now let me turn to another area of concern to us V families affected by domestic violence. 

    The Government is committed to tackling the problem and we spare no effort in strengthening our support for the victims of domestic violence and vulnerable families.  Over the past few years, we have devoted additional resources to strengthen the support and specialised services for victims of domestic violence.  In the coming year, we will further strengthen our direct support to victims of domestic violence and families in need, including enhancing the hotline service of SWD, increasing the capacity of refuge centres for women and residential homes for children, sustaining the effort of the publicity campaign and public education, and enhancing the training of relevant frontline professionals and childcare staff. 

    Multi-disciplinary collaboration and community awareness are also imperative in combating domestic violence effectively.  Frontline staff of the concerned departments and NGOs work closely and professionally to intervene in such incidents by bringing the abusers to justice and assisting victims and members of the family.  They co-operate at various levels to protect the victims, prevent further violence and provide necessary treatment to the victims and their families.  Apart from the Government・s initiatives, there are many non-profit organisations and voluntary groups offering a wide range of services for domestic violence victims. 

    Take the Zonta Club of Hong Kong East as an example. You have sponsored projects at one of the refuge centres for women to support the re-integration of battered women into society by providing training sessions to help them rebuild their self-confidence and handle emotional problems, and by donating clothing items, toys and books to the victims and their children.  The efforts of your organisation in this regard will definitely complement the Government・s efforts in assisting the battered women to restore their life and rebuild their home, and we do look forward to the continued support from you and other sectors in the community.

    On the legislative front, we have reviewed the Domestic Violence Ordinance (DVO) and introduced an amendment bill in June 2007 to strengthen the protection for victims of domestic violence.  The Bill is currently under scrutiny by a Legco Bills Committee and I note that Zonta Club of Hong Kong East, together with your sister clubs, have appeared before the Bills Committee and provided very useful comments on the Bill.  Among others, you have suggested that the scope of the DVO should continue to cover any minor who is living with the applicant to protect them from being molested by the applicant・s spouse or cohabitant, whether or not the minor is related to that applicant.  I am pleased to inform you that having due regard to your comments and Legco Members・ view, the Government has taken your suggestion on board and I will introduce appropriate amendments to the Bill to effect the changes.

    The Bill is now at the final stage of the legislative process and we look forward to its early enactment and commencement so as to enhance protection for the victims of domestic violence.

Narrowing the wealth gap

    Most recently, the TV series on :A million people・s story; has generated much discussion in the community on the issues of poverty and the widening wealth gap.  Rising inflation also heightens public concern over the matter. 

    The Government is very concerned about income disparity and its trend, especially the welfare of low-income workers and disadvantaged groups.  We have adopted a progressive tax system in Hong Kong and will continue to monitor the changes in income distribution and analyse the ways and means by which public policies can alleviate poverty and support a more caring society.

    We are also committed to improving the living conditions of the poor through highly subsidised public education, housing, welfare and medical services.  In addition, the non-contributory Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme also provides a safety net for those who are unable to support themselves financially to meet their basic needs.  However, we need to ensure that the non-contributory social security system funded entirely by general revenue can be sustainable in the long run and that public resource is allocated to those most in need.

    In the 2008-09 Budget unveiled earlier, the Financial Secretary announced a series of initiatives and measures to ease the inflationary pressure on low-income families, including provision of one additional month of the standard rate CSSA payments for CSSA recipients and one additional month of allowance for recipients of the Disability Allowance; payment of one month・s rent for lower income families living in rental units of the Hong Kong Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society; an one-off grant of $3,000 to each Old Age Allowance recipient; and injection of $1,800 to each domestic electricity account and so on.

    For those with working abilities, we seek to promote the policy of :from welfare to self-reliance; through enhancing their employability, promoting employment opportunities, providing effective employment support and suitable work incentives.  New initiatives in this area include the pilot Transport Support Scheme, improvements to the arrangement of disregarded earnings under the CSSA Scheme, as well as the relaxation of the eligibility criteria of the Employees Retraining Scheme to cover young people aged 15-29 and those with education level at sub-degree or below.

    To equip young job-seekers with the relevant work experience so as to improve their employability in the open labour market, 3,000 three-year positions for youths will be created in the NGOs in 2008-09. 

    We believe that in the longer term the most effective and fundamental way to improve the livelihood of low-income workers is to stimulate economic growth and create more employment opportunities.  However, government effort alone is not sufficient. We will join hands with the private as well as other sectors to stimulate economic growth and create employment opportunities, and strengthen and integrate training and employment assistance to enhance the abilities of the disadvantaged to adapt to economic restructuring and achieve self reliance.  We will also try out new approaches including the further development of social enterprises to assist those who are difficult to employ to integrate into the job market. 

Child Development Fund

    Intergenerational poverty is a community concern.  To promote the longer-term personal development of children from a disadvantaged background, the Government has recently established a $300 million Child Development Fund (CDF) to provide more personal development opportunities for participating children, to encourage them to plan for the future and develop an asset-building habit (both financial and non-financial assets). 

    As a start, we will implement the first batch of seven pioneer projects, one each on Hong Kong Island, and in Kowloon East, Kowloon West, New Territories East, New Territories West, Tin Shui Wai and Tung Chung.  Each project will involve a minimum of 100 children aged 10-16 from a disadvantaged background and the operating NGOs will be encouraged to take on a greater number of participants if their capacity so allows. 

    Operating NGOs will identify a personal mentor, who is a volunteer, for each participating child and provide guidance to children in drawing up and implementing their own personal development plans.  These plans will have specific short-term and long-term development targets related to capacity enhancement so as to better equip participating children for future career and personal development.  These children will also be encouraged to participate in community services.

    There will also be a savings programme under the CDF to help participating children to realise their personal development plans.  Under this programme, the savings target for the participating children is $200 per month for two years.  However, the participating children and their families can also agree with the operating NGOs to set a lower savings target.  The operating NGOs will seek partnership from the business sector and individual donors to provide matching contribution to the savings target (at least 1:1 matching contribution).  The Government will provide special financial incentive (i.e. $3,000) for each of these participating children upon completion of their two-year savings programme.

    Apart from the mentorship programme and the targeted savings, we will also set aside $15,000 for each participating child for the provision of relevant training programmes (including those related to life planning and financial planning skills).

    We hope that these children, through developing and implementing their own personal development plans, guidance from their mentors, as well as training programmes, can develop positive attitudes and an asset-building habit to accumulate both financial assets as well as non-financial assets which are important to their future development.

    We will soon be inviting interested NGOs to submit proposals for implementing the first batch of pioneer projects so that they can be launched in the latter half of this year.  In the light of experience, we will roll out subsequent batches in future.  With a funding commitment of $300 million, we estimate that at least 13,600 children will benefit from the CDF.  In this regard, I look forward to Zonta Club・s support for the CDF so that we could draw on and consolidate resources from the family, the private sector, the community and the Government to support the longer-term personal development of children from a disadvantaged background.

Closing Remarks

    Since I took office as the Secretary for Labour and Welfare last July, I have been reaching out to different welfare organisations and community groups, as well as members of the public, to listen to their views and establish closer ties with them. 

    I have shared my conviction and vision on social service on some other occasions before.  To me, social service is all about human relationships V about people helping each other and people working together to help others.  The question for every government is how best to create the right conditions for people to interact in a positive manner, so that individuals will benefit and the society will prosper.  That is why the HKSAR Government attaches such great importance to promoting social harmony. 

    I look forward to working closely with you, and exploring room for collaboration in various initiatives to foster an inclusive and harmonious community for all.  Together, we can serve the community better.

    Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, May 22, 2008
Issued at HKT 15:30


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