Union warns one-stop centres will lack the staff to deal with families' problems The government is risking more family tragedies by forcing overworked social workers to take on huge caseloads, a social workers' union warned yesterday. The Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union opposes the creation of so-called integrated family service centres in which some 12 social workers would serve 100,000 to 150,000 people. But the Social Welfare Department called the union's criticisms unreasonable, and said it was still consulting social services groups about the proposal and had not finalised details of the policy. The union cited the case of a mother and two daughters stabbed to death in Tin Shui Wai in April, hours after seeking police help. Critics said the social work network had responded inadequately to their plight. Under the new policy, 61 integrated family service centres will be set up by the end of next March to provide one-stop services for families. A third of the centres will be formed by merging existing family services facilities run by non-governmental organisations, while the rest will be run by the Social Welfare Department. But under a funding agreement with the government, the centres will have to shoulder a large number of responsibilities, including education, voluntary services and outreach work. The agreement might also require the centres to be open 60 hours a week instead of the current 44 hours. Cheung Kwok-chu, chairman of the social workers' union, accused the department of using the agreement to make the centres responsible for the family problems in their area. 'To increase our roles without more resources is unhealthy, and unfair to social workers,' he said at a news conference yesterday. 'If there is an emergency case and the centre is already stretched, should the social workers leave their more minor cases on hand? If they do, the minor problems may grow into a big disaster. In that case, the centre will need to shoulder the responsibility.' He said the government should deploy additional resources to centres serving Tin Shui Wai, Ma On Shan and Tseung Kwan O - the three districts most plagued by social problems. Mr Cheung said he worried about a repeat of the Tin Shui Wai tragedy if the government turned a blind eye to their pressures. Alman Cheng Min-man, a registered social worker at Caritas, said an increasing number of his colleagues could not cope with their workloads, which had grown with the increase in social problems triggered by economic woes in recent years. 'My colleague broke down in tears when we were discussing our centre's future responsibilities. I have never seen him cry before,' he said.