Small group homes no substitute for good foster care
In the report headlined 'Unwanted boy pines for mother in Chicago' (South China Morning Post, May 18), it was mentioned that the boy is in Chuk Yuen Children's Reception Centre and that the 'existing arrangement to keep the boy in foster care is only an interim measure'.
The reception centre is definitely not a foster home. As Dr Charles O'Brian pointed out in his letter to these columns on May 15, a foster home could be the best placement for this boy. It provides a normal family setting, with a normal family assessed as being suitable for the child. Families are available to foster a child at short notice, as in the case of this 11-year-old boy so traumatically dumped at the airport in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Federation of Women Lawyers was so concerned about the fate of children needing care in an emergency that it funded the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society to find four foster families for such children in 1993. Since then, the service has expanded, with government funds, and now the society has 12 of the current 16 sponsored places for children with these fostering families.
The obvious benefits, particularly in an emergency, are that the child is warmly welcomed by an ordinary family with special skills in caring for other people's children, and the child has full-time attention from one person, usually the mother in the family, who can attend to the trauma of the emergency and normalise things for the child.
The 'normal' foster care service, that is, planned arrangements for children needing out-of-home care to be placed with families, has grown from about 30 places with families in 1980 to 564 this year. This is the preferred form of care, especially for younger children. But a commitment to such care requires financial and manpower resources to enable ordinary families to afford the cost of care and for them to receive the professional advice and support necessary for the child to have positive family life experiences and to have the treatment he may require to handle the problems caused by his need for care outside his own 'natural' family.
As Dr O'Brian has pointed out, small institutions, such as small group homes, cannot meet the family needs of children to the same extent, despite the resources they have available and the best efforts of staff. Until there is this commitment to children, a strategic plan and matching resources, the care provided for children will continue to be seen as the best that can be done in the circumstances.
THOMAS J. MULVEY
Hong Kong Family Welfare Society