Ian Strachan took over as Director of Social Welfare in December, saying his priority would be the family. He said visits to the Ma Tau Wai Girls Home and some boys homes for young offenders had confirmed that many had terrible home lives. In a sHere he outlines his agenda to keep families from fragmenting further. THE family is the most fundamental unit in society. Here we learn basic social and moral values, how to develop relationships, how to cope together with conflicts, crises and tragedies, and to nurture our young people from birth through to their becoming adults in the community. In many societies, unfortunately, the family is breaking up. In some, more than half the children born are to unmarried parents. Hongkong itself faces dynamic change: household sizes are decreasing, our population is ageing, more women are working outside the home, divorce and separation are increasing and population movement, especially to the new towns, is immense. Let us, however, acknowledge our strong Chinese cultural heritage, albeit threatened by erosion. Traditionally, Chinese values teach us to put emphasis on dependence within the family and to place a low reliance on other social institutions to care for members of the extended family. We place community and family above individual achievement. Taking the family more seriously is not only an issue for the Social Welfare Department, nor is it one simply for the Government; it is a challenge for the whole community. I develop my argument by asking a simple question: which is more important - learning to drive or learning to be a good parent. Most will agree that parenting is the more important. However, our community decrees that if you want to drive a car you must first sit a written examination, and then pass a practical test. I am not suggesting parents or potential parents should be asked to pass some test before being allowed to look after children. I am pointing out that we need to give greater attention to this basic human activity. For example, we do not provide sufficient pre-marriage, parenting or marriage counselling. Allow me to explain the problem we face. Are you a good parent? How did you become a good parent? Probably like me, you learnt as a child from your own parents andthen later from practical experience. Learning by experience alone is a difficult and sometimes dangerous way to bring up our children. Helping our children to grow into mature and responsible adults is a complex task. The average father spends less than three minutes each day communicating with each of his children. Yet the average child spends hours each day watching television. Where are our children getting their moral and special values from? Let me put a number of questions so you can check how much quality time you spend with your child: Name three of your youngest child's friends - first and last names. What subjects does your oldest child take at school today? What is your son's favourite book? What are your daughter's favourite pop groups? Most of us know how to satisfy our children's material needs. However, few of us know how to spend quality time with our children, share their interests and learn to listen to them. Then there is that most fundamental of parenting skills: how to mould the will but not break the spirit of our children. How should we get the balance right between self-confidence and arrogance? Are we sure the relationship with our children is such that they will talk with us freely when they need advice or help? Most parents do try hard to be conscientious towards bringing up their children. A small number, however, fail fundamentally. These are the families that social workers most often meet. What saddens me is that the vast majority of our young people who come to the Social Welfare Department requiring care and protection, probation or residential are from homes where family values and relationships have broken down. The clear conclusion is that if only we had been able to do more to help all families avoid making fundamental mistakes, and in particular in those more extreme cases where family breakdowns occur; we would have less young people in need of long-term care. More importantly, we would have prevented the hurt done to many young lives. A PLAN FOR ACTION The time has come to stop talking - positive, affirmative action is required. Let me now set out my vision for a plan of action to specifically address some of these problems. My plan is in three parts: prevention, supporting the family and services to help families in trouble. PREVENTION Prevention is always better than cure. We need to provide family activity and resource centres. These centres will provide an initial point of contact with social workers. Specifically they will provide advice and guidance for families in a group setting. They should also be able to identify families who have problems and to give them more support. Within the Government we propose to set aside resources which will be dedicated as centres for families. Existing staff will be re-deployed and accommodation upgraded to make it attractive for families and their children to come in for advice, guidance, self-help and mutual aid programmes. I WILL be encouraging social welfare agencies in the non-government sector (NGOs) to re-deploy staff resources in group work units. I will provide NGOs with capital support from the Lotteries Fund to make their premises attractive for families to use. By the end of 1994, I believe that by way of re-deployment, SWD and NGOs together can provide about 30 centres. Family life education (FLE) social workers, through community and group education programmes, promote the importance of family life and impart parenting knowledge and skills which help family members to grow into contributing and responsible members of society. Family life education is a preventive programme which aims to obviate family breakdown. At present we spend $29 million on FLE, and 15 NGOs provide 67 social workers for this programme and current planning is to provide another 10 social workers by 1997. Within the FLE service we will concentrate efforts on four target groups. First, for young people in general, helping them to prepare for marriage and parenthood. Secondly, for young adults just before they get married. Thirdly, for parents-to-be; and fourthly, a programme which helps married couples to enrich their marriages. In a survey conducted in 1990, 68 per cent of the population was aware of FLE but only five per cent had taken part. Clearly the service provided is insufficient. We need to examine how to interface FLE with family activity and resource centres and with those who require in-depth family case counselling. SUPPORTING THE FAMILY We will continue to support children and their parents who need specific help both at home and with child care. Let me give some specific examples. Child Care We have a comprehensive programme to expand the number of government-aided places in child care centres from 21,190 at present to almost 27,000 in 1997. We have a separate programme to provide three additional places in each aided child care centre. We will start to subvent this programme this year with 75 centres providing 225 places. By 1997, all 235 child care centres will provide occasional child care. This will greatly assist families who need short-term temporary care for their children and who, otherwise, might leave their children at home without care. Family aide workers provide training on home management for parents who have inadequate home-making skills. Last year we only had four such workers: 16 more will be provided this year and a further 22 over the next three years. Home helpers also provide cost-effective care to keep people within the community. These helpers develop family skills and assist families who have disabled elderly or young children. Last year, we subvented a total of 72 home-help teams. This number will be increased by 44 teams over the next four years. Again, we need to consider whether to further increase this provision since it is not only good value for money but provides real help within vulnerable family households. HELPING FAMILIES IN TROUBLE Despite our best intentions, families will encounter problems. We need to be there to help them. Family service centres provide in-depth casework counselling to families facing serious problems. However, in another survey conducted in 1990, only 30 per cent of the population had heard of family service centres. Among those who knew about these services, only 15 per cent who were aware of a family problem had approached a centre. I believe there is clear evidence we are not yet meeting demand in full for families who require in-depth casework counselling. At present each social worker has to look after about 80 cases. As long ago as 1981 we accepted the commitment to reduce the caseload to 50 cases for each social worker. Over the next four years to 1997, we will be provided with an additional 52 case workers. We are not putting enough resources into casework counselling. To achieve a caseload of 1:70 would require a further 90 caseworkers. If we are to reduce the caseload to 1:50 we would have to increase the number of social workers from 436 this year to about 800 by 1997. If these additional resources are provided we must ensure effective management of cases and the provision of a computer database system. These are the families who most need professional social work intervention. At present we are not giving them the quality of service they so desperately need. Child abuse is a complex problem. The Child Protective Service Unit was set up in 1983 specifically to deal with child abuse. The level of social worker was upgraded in early 1991 to social work officer. We will continue to provide resources to publicise this service so as to ensure that families and children come forward to seek professional assistance. We are about to reconvene the Working Group on Child Abuse. This will be chaired by me, have wide multi-disciplinary membership, will review recent improvements made and propose whether additional measures are necessary in the reporting, recording and handing of child abuse cases. Residential care provides temporary care for children who, for a variety of reasons, cannot continue to live at home. We have an ambitious programme to move children from large institutions into small group homes and foster care. EACH home will look after eight children in a family-like setting. This year we will establish 24 small group homes and by 1994 only a small minority of children will be in larger institutions. We also have funds to rapidly expand foster care. At present we have 320 foster parents and hope to provide an additional 160 places this year. This will enable more children in need of temporary care to live within a family environment. In order to improve the quality of our care to families we will expand the number of clinical psychologists from 13 to 34 by 1997. In particular, we want to provide more clinical psychologists to help with child abuse, child custody and family tragedies. I have set out an ambitious plan of action. Our underlying policy objectives are to preserve and strengthen the family, assist parental and marital commitment and stability, especially when children are involved. Our policies and programmes support and supplement the family rather than substituting for family functioning. We recognise that even the most troubled families can change with help. We treat families as partners in providing services to them. Through our social security programmes we help those families in greatest economic need. Such families will continue to receive the high priority they rightly deserve. from a caring Government.