SANDY Kwong is looking for a few good couples. Their hearts should be larger than their flats, their patience more dependable than a bonus cheque. Being good at caring is as important as speaking fluent Cantonese.
The social worker with the Hongkong Family Welfare Society spearheads a new programme, the Emergency Foster Care Service. It enables children in crises to have residential care instead of being temporarily institutionalised.
During this month and next, Ms Kwong and her colleagues will be accepting applications from couples wishing to participate as emergency foster care parents.
''When caring for an infant or a one-year-old,'' said Ms Kwong, ''being able to speak Chinese isn't important. For school-age children, it is.'' She is looking for couples who are willing to care for one or more children at short notice - a day, even hours. An illness in the family, death or desertion of parents or child abuse often put a child in need of care.
Studies by the Welfare Society's agencies have shown that children in this situation are already traumatised. Being sent to an institution can be even more damaging, especially to younger children.
''The care is often impersonal and regimented. Children forced to leave their family are already emotionally needy. Going to an institution only adds to the frustration.'' After the applications are studied, suitable couples will be screened at home by a social worker. If approved, they will then be asked to undergo a medical examination at the agency's expense.
Couples approved for the programme will attend classes in child care geared specifically to foster children. The age range of the children is from infants to eight years old.
Prospective couples will be asked for their preferences regarding a child's age, sex and circumstances and what months they will be available for service.
Once the programme gets underway, Ms Kwong said there would be a minimum of four couples available every month.
''We anticipate many of our regular foster care couples will also volunteer to help.'' One couple has already done that. The Fongs are both 38. She is a full-time housewife and he works in the garment industry. They became foster parents a year ago. Besides their natural 10-year-old daughter, they care for an eight-year-old girl.
Though raising children in general is not easy, Mrs Fong contends that the rewards of having a foster child outweighs the frustrations. It has been a positive experience for the entire family.
Their natural daughter has become more independent, more giving in terms of sharing playthings and appreciates her home life more. Since the couple has a steady income and enough space in their home, they feel they are suitable for the emergency care programme.
Ms Kwong said that eligible couples must be between the ages of 25 and 60, in good health, have adequate space in the home and a steady income.
Child minding experience is desirable. The Welfare Society's staff will assist foster parents in training and counselling. Couples will be given fostering payments and a special allowance. For more information or applications, contact Sandy Kwong, Hongkong Family Welfare Society, East Kowloon (Ngau Tau Kok) Centre. Tel: 798-8411.