Single-parent centres face the axe

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 November, 2003, 12:00am

Lawmakers fear special needs will suffer under the plan to provide all family services out of integrated offices

Five support centres for single parents are in danger of being shut under a government plan to integrate services and save $8.5 million a year, a Legislative Council welfare services panel meeting was told yesterday.

The privately run centres were set up three years ago with government funding to assist a growing number of single-parent families.

But an assistant director of Social Welfare, Fung Pak-yan, said when the single-parent centres were set up, the organisers knew they would be provided with funding for only three years.

He said one had enough savings to run for another year. The other four would have their funding extended to the end of March, although it had been due to cut out in January.

Legislators were told the department planned to 're-engineer' its family service centres and counselling units into 'integrated family service centres' from next April.

As a result, 66 family service centres - 23 of them government run - would eventually be providing more comprehensive services. Of the government operations, 15 have already been integrated under a pilot programme.

Each of the integrated centres is manned by 12 to 15 social workers.

Director of Social Welfare Paul Tang Kwok-wai told legislators the integrated centres would be able to provide 'more focused services' based on the needs of target groups, including single-parent families.

But only one of the four single-parent centres whose funding runs out in March had told the department it would change to an integrated family service centre by merging services with another agency.

Mr Tang defended the decision to halt funding to the single-parent centres by citing a Hong Kong University study commissioned by the department. It showed that 30 per cent of the users of the 15 integrated family centres were single-parent families.

Democratic Party legislator Law Chi-kwong, deputy chairman of Legco's welfare services panel, said there might be a greater demand for the single-parent centres than three years ago.

Frontier legislator Lee Cheuk-yan asked why the government could afford to shell out millions for the National Day fireworks and could not fund centres to help single-parent families.

Independent lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip criticised the 'pseudo-integration' exercise as an excuse to save money and questioned the cuts in light of the Harbour Fest expenditure.

Several groups voiced their concerns over the move to the panel. Wong Hoi-ling, of the Concern Group on Single Parent Centres, said members were disappointed, doubting whether the combined family service centres would be able to 'integrate every service under one roof'.

Leung Sau-chun, of the Concern Alliance on the Development of Social Welfare, said that she was a service user but had not been told about the government plan.