Speech by SLW at International Conference on Parenting in the 21st Century (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the International Conference on Parenting in the 21st Century (ICP21) today (October 20):
Professor Peter Mathieson (President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong), Mrs Katherine Ma (Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals), Dr Margaret Wong (Chairperson of the Organising Committee of ICP21 and Assistant Community Services Secretary (Youth & Family) of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals), Professor Samson Tse (Chairperson of the Organising Committee of ICP21 and Professor and Associate Dean (Undergraduate Education) of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Hong Kong), distinguished speakers and guests, ladies and gentlemen,
     It gives me great pleasure to address this prestigious and high-powered three-day international conference which focuses on the important issue of parenting in the 21st century. Let me extend a very warm welcome to all overseas speakers and delegates.
     I would like first to pay warm tribute to our hosts - the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Department of Social Work and Social Administration of the University of Hong Kong - for their concerted effort in bringing together leading local and international academics, professionals, parenting specialists, policymakers as well as parents and youngsters to share with us their insights and the best practices of healthy parenting from around the world.

     Young people are our hope and the leaders of tomorrow. We must do our best to nurture them and enable them to develop and realise their potential. The question of how families and parents, and the community for that matter, should go about nurturing our next generation is an issue of paramount importance.

     Devising effective and innovative approaches and services to ensure the well-being of our younger generation involves not only cross-sectoral collaboration but also multi-disciplinary input and expertise. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. This is especially true as we are living in a world of rapid social, economic, political and technological changes. The experience sharing and evidence-based discussion over the next three days will no doubt shed useful light on how best to map out our future service development directions.

     The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government attaches great importance to providing an environment conducive to the whole-person development of our young people. This is because human capital is Hong Kong's single most valuable asset. This is also why we have been investing heavily in education. Government spending on education for 2016-17 is estimated to reach $75 billion, accounting for a significant 21.5 per cent and the lion's share of the Government's total recurrent expenditure.
     We also strive to build multiple pathways for our youths, strengthen family core values, enhance life-planning at the school and community level and promote upward social mobility.
     With Hong Kong facing the dual challenges of a fast ageing population and a dwindling workforce, every single young person is, indeed, an asset to our society. The number of young people aged between 11 and 23 is expected to fall from a high of 1.16 million in 1996, or 18.5 per cent of the entire population, to 841 000 or 11.4 per cent in 2024. It will hit a low of 725 000 or 9.7 per cent of the population by 2054. With a rapidly dwindling youth population, we simply cannot afford to leave any youth behind, for every one counts.
     Conditions facing our younger generation have changed, and parents and youth workers are confronted with more challenges in helping children attain well-balanced moral, intellectual, physical, social and aesthetic development. One of these challenges is the changes in the family structure. Many children in Hong Kong are now living in one-child families and single-parent families. Hong Kong's total fertility rate (1 195 per 1 000 female population) is among the lowest in the world and our divorce rates are growing. Our education system is, many would say, too examination-oriented and overly competitive, resulting in the phenomenon of a booming private tutorial business. The extensive exposure to the social media has also changed the patterns of communication and undermined human interactions which are crucial for building bonds and friendship. These are problems that could not be addressed by just investing more money.
     In fact, investing time, attention, care and patience rather than money is far more important to the upbringing of children. In their formative years, no one is better than parents to help them develop decency and manners, respect diversity, cultivate independent thinking and pursue their goals in life. Solid foundation has to be laid for them at an early age to become responsible and contributing citizens.
     Recognising that the family is the cornerstone of society and the cradle for young people's character formation, the Hong Kong SAR Government leaves no stone unturned in enhancing family harmony, building a cohesive community and alleviating the social problems facing young people.
     We have developed a comprehensive network of social services to cater for child welfare and family needs. More specifically, we have put in place a range of preventive, supportive and remedial family and child care services to address the multifarious needs of parents and families under the "child-centred, family-focused and community-based" direction and the guiding principles of accessibility, early identification, integration and partnership. To this end, the 65 government-funded Integrated Family Services Centres and the two Integrated Services Centres run by the Social Welfare Department or non-governmental organisations provide individuals and families in need with a continuum of preventive, supportive and therapeutic welfare services. 
     We have taken an important step by setting up in 2007 the Family Council. This is a high-level cross-sectoral and cross-bureau consultative body and is tasked to advise the Government on family-related policies. The Council is currently chaired by Professor Daniel Shek, who is also one of the speakers in this conference. With effect from April 2013, a mandatory assessment of family implications has been introduced for all government policies. Government bureaux and departments are also encouraged to consult the Family Council on new policies which carry family implications.
     The Family Council has dedicated itself to promoting the core values of "Love and Care", "Respect and Responsibility" and "Communication and Harmony". These six cardinal principles are the essential ingredients for nurturing confident, positive, caring and resilient young people who can survive and thrive in the ever-changing and challenging world of today and tomorrow.
     Despite the many challenges on the political front, I must stress that the current-term Government is steadfastly and fully committed to building a caring and fair society. Poverty alleviation, elderly care and helping the disadvantaged top our policy agenda. Recurrent spending on social welfare in the current financial year will reach $66.2 billion, second only to education, and accounting for 19 per cent of the total, whilst medical and health services come third, at $57 billion and accounting for 16.5 per cent.
     We are working doubly hard to enhance the longer-term development of disadvantaged children and reduce intergenerational poverty. Let me cite a few prime examples.
     First is the Child Development Fund (CDF) set up by the Labour and Welfare Bureau in 2008. CDF projects are designed to enhance the self-confidence and resilience of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the nurturing capacity of parents. It has so far benefitted almost 10 000 children. To boost the Fund's capacity and ensure its sustainability, the Government has recently injected an additional $300 million into the Fund and this will benefit another 10 000 new participants.
     Another new and major policy initiative which my bureau has rolled out on Labour Day in May this year to tackle child and working poverty is the Low-Income Working Family Allowance. This pro-children scheme is also pro-employment. It seeks to encourage self-reliance and reward hard work. Eligible working families will be given a basic allowance tied to employment and working hours. Families with eligible children and young members will receive an additional child allowance to promote inter-generational upward social mobility. The scheme has benefitted over 26 000 families so far comprising over 95 000 people of whom half are children, with total payments at $305 million.
     What is more, the current-term Government also injected $200 million of dedicated funding into the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged run by the Social Welfare Department to provide more after-school whole-person learning and support programmes for primary and secondary school students from grass-roots families. We expect the scheme to benefit some 30 000 students this year. The scheme operates on a dollar-for-dollar matching fund basis to encourage private sector donation.
     We firmly believe that good health is fundamental to a child's development. The Department of Health provides a comprehensive range of healthcare services from birth to adolescence to ensure that our children's physical and mental health are well looked after. We also support parents-to-be by means of parenting programmes to equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to raise happy and healthy children.
     To facilitate early identification of the health and social needs of the target users and to enhance inter-sectoral and inter-disciplinary collaboration, the Department of Health, Hospital Authority and Social Welfare Department have recently jointly developed an assessment framework on parenting capacity. It will enable social and health workers to better assess the capacity of the families in protecting children aged between 0 and 3 years from risk, enhancing their developmental experiences and formulating feasible welfare plans.
     Another major step forward in nurturing our children will be the extension of free and universal primary and secondary education from the existing 12 to 15 years starting from the 2017 school year by implementing the Free Quality Kindergarten Education policy, providing three-year half-day kindergarten education free for all eligible children. Under the policy, we will enhance the quality of kindergarten education by improving the teacher-to-pupil ratio so as to allow teachers to better focus on the individual needs of our children.
     For children with special education needs, we fully understand the importance of timely identification and early intervention. Through the concerted efforts of health, education and social welfare agencies and government departments, we have rolled out a flagship pilot scheme to provide on-site pre-school rehabilitation services at kindergartens and kindergarten-cum-child care centres late last year for some 2 900 children on the waiting list for training. This pilot has received an overwhelmingly positive response from parents, schools and all stakeholders. To underline the Government's political courage and determination in tackling the problem head-on rather than tinkering around the edges, we have earmarked $470 million annually to run this service on a permanent basis after the pilot scheme. Our aim is to reduce the waiting time for such much-needed rehabilitation services to zero so that all 7 000 pre-school children with special education needs on the waiting list will receive timely training and services within the "golden period of training" of 0 to 6 years of age.
     Finally, the Government will commission a consultancy study on the long-term development of child care services in Hong Kong. We are in the process of inviting tenders from interested organisations.
     On this note, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude by extending my warm appreciation to all participants for your commitment to promote healthy parenting and the well-being of young people. I wish you all a fruitful and stimulating conference. I am sure that after this three-day intellectual feasting, you will all come away with much good food for thought on how best to bring up and nurture our next generation. Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, October 20, 2016
Issued at HKT 12:58