Cold comfort for hotline youngsters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 May, 1995, 12:00am

HUNDREDS of young people seeking counselling from a telephone hotline are losing out each day because of a manpower shortage.

Just 70 out of the 1,300 troubled children who call the line each day manage to get through. Social workers are calling for more funding from the Government so they can expand the service.

Figures released yesterday by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups showed a great demand for telephone counselling.

The federation's Youthline, set up in July 1993 in response to a spate of teenage suicides, has received more than 573,000 calls, or an average of 1,300 a day.

But only 35,800 of the total calls, or an average of 70 a day, are dealt with. Most of the callers, aged between 11 and 15, said they had problems in dealing with schoolmates, lovers and with study pressure.

Some 300 said they were thinking about or had made an attempt to commit suicides when they dialled the hotline.

Social workers failed to deal with the rest of the calls because they were at full stretch. These callers could only leave messages on answering machines.

'We try to do our best,' said Yolanda Chiu Wai-kan, the federation's senior supervisor.

'But we still can only handle 70 calls a day. There is a very great service gap. We are actively exploring ways to expand the scope of our service. We hope to increase our full-time counsellors from six to 10 to handle more calls.' Ms Chiu said the hotline was a two-year project sponsored by the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club at a cost of $4 million. The money will pay for the service until July.

Governor Chris Patten in his policy address last year pledged to provide a subsidy for the hotline, but the federation has received no such funding.

'We are still discussing it with the Social Welfare Department. The department said there is a lot of paper work to finish. We hope to get the money as soon as possible and hope the funding will be enough to employ more staff,' said Ms Chiu.

The federation's figures also showed that many teenage girls indulged in telephone sex lines and casual sex. It also found that boys were unable to deal with their sexual fantasies after reading pornographic comics.

Many primary school children also dialled in for help.

'It is worth noting that about 20 per cent of the callers were as young as six to 10,' said counsellor Annis Fung Lai-chu.

She said parents should spend more time with their children.

The hotline, 2777 8899, operates from 2 pm to 2 am, Monday to Saturday.