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LCQ15: Assistance provided for students with special educational needs

     Following is a question by Dr Hon Fernando Cheung and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (February 11):


     Some social workers have relayed to me that students with special educational needs (SEN) from low-income families have encountered much difficulties in receiving education and rehabilitation services. While these students need to receive different rehabilitation training and treatments, such services are hardly affordable to their families as they generally charge as high as several hundred dollars per hour. Moreover, the Government does not provide specialised social services for SEN students at present. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:   

(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the number of the aforesaid type of students; if it has, of a breakdown by type of SEN at present; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) whether it will provide targeted assistance measures for the aforesaid type of students, such as providing them with a one-off subsidy for procuring assessment and rehabilitation services from the private sector; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;  

(3) given that in view of the positive comments received, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has incorporated the "training subsidy for children who are on the waiting list of subvented pre-school rehabilitation services" implemented by the Community Care Fund into the regular assistance programme, whether the Government will consider expanding the target beneficiaries of such programme to cover the aforesaid type of students; and

(4) given that no specialised social services are provided by SWD for SEN students at present, and the services offered by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on a self-financing basis are expensive and lack quality supervision, whether the Government has compiled statistics on the current quantity of such services, as well as the areas covered by such services; whether it will consider providing NGOs with recurrent subvention for the provision of such services?



     The question raised by Dr Hon Fernando Cheung is related to the policy ambits of the Education Bureau (EDB) and the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB). After consulting the other Bureau, I now provide answers as follows:

(1) As applications for subvented pre-school rehabilitation services are not subject to means test, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has not collected any information on the number of children from low-income families who are using pre-school rehabilitation services and the income level of their families. Besides, as at December 2014, 1 056 children on the waiting list for subvented pre-school rehabilitation services were receiving training subsidy under the Training Subsidy Programme for Children on the Waiting List of Subvented Pre-school Rehabilitation Services (Training Subsidy Programme) for using the self-financing services run by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) while waiting for subvented pre-school rehabilitation services. Under the Training Subsidy Programme, the monthly income of the applicant child's family must not exceed 75 per cent of the median monthly domestic household income applicable to the applicant's household size published by the Census and Statistics Department.

     Likewise, the EDB has been helping schools cater for the students with special educational needs (SEN) under the Whole School Approach through providing secondary and primary schools with additional resources, professional support and teacher training. The EDB has not collected statistics about the students with SEN from low-income families.

(2) and (3) Under the existing mechanism, the Department of Health, Hospital Authority and the EDB provide, under their respective professional coverage, early identification and assessment services for students in need of such services. Pre-school children who have been assessed as having special needs will be provided with a series of subvented pre-school rehabilitation services by the SWD. The early education and training centres (EETCs) charge an annual fee of $146, while the special child care centres (SCCCs) a monthly fee of $354 (covering lunch cost). There is no additional charge for the Integrated Programme (IP) in Kindergarten-cum-Child Care Centres. Besides, as mentioned in the reply in (1), the Government also provides training subsidy for pre-school children from low-income families who are in need of rehabilitation services, so that they may use the self-financing services run by NGOs while they are on the waiting list for subvented pre-school rehabilitation services.

     As far as secondary and primary schools are concerned, the schools will flexibly deploy their resources to appoint additional manpower and procure professional services (such as speech therapy and behavioural training, etc.) with a view to providing appropriate support for the students according to their needs. At the same time, schools need to monitor the quality of such services and apply the related strategies in daily teaching and learning activities accordingly. For the students whose families encounter financial difficulties, the Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA) provides various means-tested student financial schemes for financially needy students to meet various education-related expenses, to ensure that no student will be denied access to education due to lack of means. Specifically, the financial assistance provided by SFAA include School Textbook Assistance Scheme, Student Travel Subsidy Scheme, Subsidy Scheme for Internet Access Charges, and Examination Fee Remission Scheme, all of which are applicable to secondary and primary students with financial needs and SEN. To strengthen the assistance to the financially needy SEN students in subsidising their transport fees when travelling between home and school, the Government has, through the Community Care Fund (CCF), provided an extra 50 per cent travel subsidy for SEN students studying in special schools in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 school years. The beneficiaries are primary 1 to secondary 6 students who receive full-grant or half-grant assistance from the SFAA's Student Travel Subsidy Scheme, and are from the special schools for the physically handicapped, visually impaired, hearing impaired, and intellectually disabled. Starting from the 2015/16 school year, the Government will incorporate this CCF assistance scheme into the Government's regular assistance programme.

     In short, the secondary and primary students with SEN who come from families with financial difficulties are provided with support under the existing policy and support measures. The Government has no plan to provide extra subsidies to them for procurement of assessment and rehabilitation services from the private sector.

(4) At present, while the SWD provides subvented pre-school rehabilitation services, NGOs have also developed self-financing rehabilitation services for pre-school children, providing another option for parents who can afford such services. The sector has been making adjustments to service charges and quality through benign competition in the market.

     The Government allocated an additional annual recurrent funding of $53 million in 2014-15 to regularise the Training Subsidy Programme under the Community Care Fund. A maximum subsidy of $2,763 per month is provided for each beneficiary who is waitlisted for the EETCs or the IP. For those who are waitlisted for the SCCCs or residential SCCCs, each beneficiary will be provided with a maximum subsidy of $3,867 per month.  

     NGOs participating in the Training Subsidy Programme must go through assessment and provide the beneficiary children with training/therapy services and individual assessment and/or family support services not lower than the required number of sessions. The SWD also requires the recognised service providers (RSPs) to submit quarterly service reports to confirm that they are providing the necessary services and their service quality is monitored by senior occupational therapist.  

     Please see Annex 1 for the distribution of self-financing pre-school rehabilitation services provided by the RSPs in Hong Kong under the Training Subsidy Programme. The SWD does not maintain information on the number and spatial distribution of self-financing service teams of NGOs which are not covered by the Training Subsidy Programme.

Ends/Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:55


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