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LCQ4: Children left at home alone

    Following is an oral reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by the Hon Mirian Lau on children left at home alone in the Legislative Council today (November 11):


     It is learnt that it is common for parents to leave their young children at home alone for reasons such as going to work, resulting in some of these parents being prosecuted, and accidents involving children left unattended at home being reported from time to time. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of children who had been left at home alone encountering accidents, and the number of parents or guardians who were prosecuted for leaving children at home alone, in the past three years;

(b) in respect of each District Council district at present, of the number of child care centres, their average usage rate, the number of persons waiting for such services, the respective numbers of day foster care places and places in mutual help child care centres, as well as the details of the extended hours of service; whether it has made detailed assessments to see if the child care services in various districts meet the demands there; if it has, of the results; if it has not, the reasons for that, and how it will address the demands in individual districts; and

(c) whether it will increase the flexibility of subvented child care services so that occasional childminding services are available to parents on an ad hoc basis or outside regular hours; if so, of the details of the flexible arrangements; if not, how it will cater for the different needs of parents?


Madam President,

(a) It is the responsibility of parents to take care of their young children. Parents who are unable to do so temporarily for reasons such as work or other appointments should arrange for their relatives, neighbours or child minders to assist, or make use of the various child care services available. The Administration and service organisations will endeavour to assist families in need, including providing them with fee assistance.

     In all circumstances, it is extremely dangerous to leave young children at home alone. There is always the danger of causing children harm or death and putting neighbours at risk. Parents and carers may also face criminal liability arising from negligence in care.

     According to information provided by the Police, between 2005 and September 2007, the Police handled a total of 36 child neglect cases involving children being left unattended at home, of which 8 children neglected by their parents or carers had accidents and sustained physical injuries. Of the 19 cases that were dealt with by the court after police investigation, the offenders in 12 cases were prosecuted whilst the rest were given bind-over orders.

(b) The Administration subsidises non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide a wide range of day child care services.

     Standalone child care centres subvented by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) provide full-day care for children under the age of three.  Currently, there are 12 standalone child care centres across the territory. The overall utilisation rate in 2006-07 was 91%.

     Some kindergartens under the purview of the Education Bureau operate child care centres on the same premises. In September 2007, there were altogether 453 such centres. The utilisation rate in 2006-07 was 62%.

     To support parents who are unable to take care of their children because of long working hours and unforeseen circumstances, etc., SWD subsidises the child care centres mentioned above to operate extended hours service and occasional child care service. Extension of service is usually from 6pm to 7pm or 8pm from Mondays to Fridays; and from 1pm to 3pm or 8pm on Saturdays. Operators may adjust the service hours flexibly to meet the needs of parents.  Currently, a total of 1 244 places of extended hours service (including 306 free places) and 495 places of occasional child care service are available throughout the territory.

     SWD also encourages the development of community-based mutual help child care centres (MHCCC) that capitalise on community resources.  At present, NGOs operate 305 MHCCC places across the territory. The day foster care service that has commenced operation since this October provides 40 places.

     The number of standalone child care centres subvented by SWD and number of places in MHCCCs operated by NGOs, extended hours service and occasional child care service by district are at Enclosure 1. The number of child care centres co-located with kindergartens by district are at Enclosure 2. As day foster care service is territory-wide in nature, there is no breakdown by district.

     SWD does not maintain statistics on the number of applicants on the waiting lists of various types of child care services. In planning its services, SWD assesses the service needs of individual districts on the basis of their characteristics, such as their transient population, the age profile of residents and the availability of related services. District Social Welfare Offices of the SWD also consult district organisations, District Councillors and residents on the needs for various services in the districts.

(c) The Administration is aware that because of the need to work shifts and other reasons, some parents are unable to take care of their children outside the regular opening hours of the various child care services. To address their needs, we will step up efforts in promoting more responsive neighbourhood mutual help child care services. In addition to providing financial incentives to MHCCCs to enhance their services in the evenings, at weekends and on holidays, SWD has also been subsidising foster homes to provide non-residential day care service since October 2007. Within 2007-08, some small group homes will start offering day care places.

     The Community Investment and Inclusion Fund (CIIF), which promotes mutual help in the neighbourhood, also provides seed money to assist members of the community in developing mutual help networks. These networks seek to support needy families by providing services such as after-school care. Over the past five years, the CIIF has provided over $110 million to fund more than 140 projects. About one-third of the projects have a child care or after-school care element.

Ends/Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Issued at HKT 13:27


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