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LCQ14: Foster care service
     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong, in the Legislative Council today (March 28):
     The foster care service implemented by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) provides children in need with the service of residential family care. It is learnt that between 2013 and 2016, there was on average a wastage of 60 (about 6 per cent) foster families each year. However, due to recruitment difficulties, the number of newly-recruited foster families could not offset the wastage, resulting in a drop in the number of foster families from 938 in 2013 to 901 in 2016. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether, in respect of those children who needed to change foster families in the past three years, SWD has compiled statistics on the (i) average number of times for which each child changed foster families, and (ii) average length of stay in various foster families of each child;

(2) of the current number of children waiting to be placed with foster families;

(3) whether SWD will step up its public education and publicity efforts to enhance the public's approval of foster care service, so that more qualified families will be willing to become foster families; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) whether SWD will (i) increase the manpower and resources for offering child care courses for foster families, (ii) provide foster parents with leave which does not entail deduction of allowances, and (iii) improve the mechanism for seeking relief families for foster families, with a view to reducing the wastage rate of foster families; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether SWD will strengthen its support for fostered children's families of origin, so that fostered children may be returned to their families of origin for care under appropriate circumstances; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) whether SWD has measures in place to follow up the situation of children living with foster families, so as to ensure that they receive proper care; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply :
     My reply to the six parts of the question is as follows:

(1) Foster care service provides residential family care for children aged under 18 who cannot be adequately taken care of by their families due to family problems or crises, so that they may continue to enjoy family life before they re-unite with their families, join an adoptive family or live independently. 

     The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has no record on the average number of times for which each foster child changed foster families and his/her length of stay in each foster family. With regard to the children discharged from foster care service in 2017-18 (as at December 31, 2017), their average length of stay in foster care service was 35.2 months.

(2) As at end-December 2017, there were four children waiting for matching with suitable foster families, while 216 children were under matching for suitable foster families.

(3) In order to let more general public learn about foster care service and recruit more suitable foster families, the SWD launched a set of television/radio Announcement in the Public Interest and posters in respect of foster care service in April 2017, so as to strengthen the promotion of foster care service. The SWD also organises the Foster Families Service Award Presentation Ceremony on a biennial basis to encourage and recruit suitable persons to join as foster families through recognition and commendation of foster parents' long-standing commitment to foster care service. The SWD will continue to collaborate with the 11 foster care agencies to promote and recruit foster families through various channels and the media.

(4) To enhance the quality of foster care service, the SWD regularly organises various training programmes for foster parents so as to enhance their knowledge and skills in taking care of foster children.  To further understand the needs of foster families, the SWD keeps contact with foster parents through the Liaison and Sharing Groups in different districts so as to understand the service provision. Besides, all the foster care agencies regularly conduct training programmes and supportive groups that can meet the needs of the foster parents under their supervision, so as to strengthen service effectiveness. 

     In order to further support foster families in need and recruit more families to provide foster care service, the SWD has raised various foster care allowances by more than 20 per cent since December 1, 2017. The SWD has also introduced a new grant of extra incentive payment for taking care of children under the age of three, so as to encourage foster families to take care of young children.
     Under the existing arrangement, if a foster parent has to take leave due to personal reasons, the foster care worker will provide assistance by arranging the foster child to temporarily receive care under another foster family.Since double-payment of foster care allowance (including incentive payment for foster parents and maintenance grant to foster children) is not allowed, the foster care allowance concerned can only be made available to the parents providing foster care service during the time.

(5) The case social workers will formulate suitable long-term welfare plan for children receiving foster care service in accordance with the circumstances and needs of individual cases. In order to strengthen family functioning, the case social workers will provide counselling and support services to children and their birth families when the children are staying with foster families. Case review meetings will also be held regularly to follow up on the conditions and welfare needs of the children concerned. When it is practicable and in the best interests of the children concerned, the case social workers will strive to facilitate the reunion arrangement for the children concerned with their birth families or other relatives.

(6) To ensure that children staying with foster families receive proper care, the SWD and the non-governmental organisations providing foster care service conduct assessments and thorough investigations on families applying for the provision of foster care service, including the applicant's family life condition, home environment, experience and capability in taking care of children, etc., so as to assess whether or not the applicant is suitable to join as a foster family. During the time when the children are staying with foster families, foster care workers keep in view the conditions of children at the foster families through regular home visits, interviews and telephone contacts, and provide support and professional advice to foster parents. The SWD also keeps regular contact with foster parents through the Liaison and Sharing Groups in different districts to understand the needs of foster families and the condition of foster care service, as well as providing support and professional advice to foster parents to ensure that the foster children receive proper care.
Ends/Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Issued at HKT 17:25
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