Call for alternative childcare support
Sylvia Chan and Cheung Chi-fai
The government should provide more financial resources to support community networks that offer emergency childcare services, social welfare groups and children's rights agencies urged yesterday.
The call came a day after two children suffered serious burns in a fire after they were left unattended in their Tuen Mun flat on Sunday by their parents who had to work in shifts.
At a joint press conference, the groups said existing childcare services - whether subvented, daytime or extended hours - were not sufficient to cope with some demands from working parents.
There are about 200 temporary childcare centres operated by NGOs, providing 500 places. Some childcare centres also offer extended services to 8pm on weekdays and 3pm on Saturday.
Instead of these conventional services, they called on the government to offer more financial support to mutual-help childcare centres which could provide flexi-hours services on a daily basis and even on weekends. Mutual-help childcare centres are those operated within the community, where one family helps look after the children of another family.
All 28 existing mutual-help centres are now operated by NGOs or religious bodies on a non-profit basis with the help of volunteers.
Ken Chan Kam-ming, of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, said it was very costly for NGOs to run childcare service centres 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the mutual help network, formed by training parents to help each other, should therefore be further encouraged.
'Parents in the neighbourhoods can help each other through the networks,' Mr Chan said.
Social workers also proposed legislation to make leaving children home alone a clear offence.
Anna Mak Chow Suk-har, assistant director of social welfare, rejected suggestions that inadequate childcare services were to blame for Sunday's events, saying the services had not been fully utilised.
She told RTHK that the parents of the two children had never sought help with childcare.
A spokeswoman for the department also said the existing laws were enough to protect children from ill-treatment and negligence. She said the government would consider offering subsidies to mutual-help childcare centres.
Pressure is growing for legislation to tackle the problem of home-alone children
Between 1989 and 2006, the number of unattended children who have died as a result of mishaps 171
Source: Coroner's Court