'LEARNING through play is what we encourage children to do,' says Yue Mui-ying, principal secretary of social services for Po Leung Kuk. On the Leighton Road campus of the second-largest local charity organisation, Ms Yue talks about the Residential Child Care service and how it helps Hong Kong's children. 'Founded in 1878, the Kuk started out suppressing the abduction of women and children and providing them with a home and an education. Babies would be left on our doorstep, and we were known as an orphanage,' she says. Since the 1950s, the economy has improved and families have more income, so they can better afford to bring up children. 'Hong Kong currently has the lowest birth rate in the world!' Ms Yue says. 'This shows that the concept of birth control is now widely accepted and the traditional concept of conceiving many children - especially sons - has waned with a family-planning aware public.' With the decline in orphans, the Kuk went from being just an orphanage to covering many social and welfare services. The Residential Child Care Service helps 392 children, from newborn babies to 21-year-olds. Most children have mentally disabled parents, are illegitimate or abused. 'The children are categorised by age, with a babies section, a kinder section for young children, and a section for teenagers. 'Whenever possible, we try to reunite the child with his family,' Ms Yue says, 'and encourage him to be independent. We provide the most caring and nurturing environment possible.' Children are taken camping in Sai Kung; and teenagers regularly discuss dating and careers with the staff. Family-oriented activities are also arranged, including educational talks for parents on topics such as 'How to handle children's negative emotions'. 'The most rewarding model child is one who stems from a troubled and poor family. Taking advantage of the opportunities we've given him, he is driven to lift his status through hard work at school and in his future job. Not many children have that understanding of education, which can pull them out of the rut they were born into,' says Ms Yue. Although the Kuk calls itself a non-government organisation (NGO), 90 per cent of its funding comes from the government. In return, the government monitors the Kuk, and the Social Welfare Department is responsible for checking a child's eligibility. 'With the recession in Hong Kong these past few years, family situations have worsened. Parents work longer hours for less pay, and children can feel dejected or pressured. There have been more family problems recently,' Ms Yue says. 'To counteract this, families should be more understanding in these difficult times, more tolerant. After all, it's important for a family to work things out.'