Plea for more cross-border social services cash

Catherine Ng

FUNDING should be provided for cross-border family social services to tackle problems caused by increasing contacts, say social workers.

A pilot project launched by the Hong Kong branch of the International Social Service (ISS) has pioneered co-ordination with mainland officials in solving cross-border family and child problems.

The ISS is the only local agent providing services in China while serving Hong Kong-based clients.

The service has been running for a year but does not have financial support from the Government.

Juliana Soo, programme co-ordinator of the ISS, said cross-border family problems had manifested themselves with the influx of Hong Kong workers to the mainland over the past few years.

The professional services of Hong Kong social workers were needed, but the concept of having social services was alien to mainland people, she said.

A social worker for the ISS China project, Irene Liu Kam-fung, said the Chinese Government provided remedial services only to those in trouble, but preventive services were urgently needed.

Miss Liu is one of two social workers sent by the ISS to work in its new branch in Guangzhou.

She has to take on administrative work in addition to her main duties of providing social services.

If cases involve court procedures such as custodial rights for children, Miss Liu has to provide professional assessment and report on clients' situation on the mainland.

Mrs Soo said that because the pilot service scheme was not sufficiently funded, it was difficult to recruit more social workers to help lessen the workload in the Guangzhou branch.

She said more money was needed for the Hong Kong branch ''so we can recruit more manpower to help take up administrative work in the Hong Kong office''.

A lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, Dr Cecilia Chan Lai-wan, said the Government's cost planning should incorporate trial projects taking care of new social problems.

''In the past, many of those trial services have been aborted because of the failure to win government support,'' Dr Chan said.

The director of the Hong Kong Christian Social Service, Ng Shui-lai, said: ''The Government should especially allocate resources to help people whose needs can't be fulfilled by the existing services.

''To provide services for those having cross-border marital troubles or those newcomers having difficulties adapting to society needs specialised skill and knowledge,'' said Mr Ng.

He said though cross-border social issues emerged some time ago, they had come to the fore because of increased contacts over the past few years.

Assistant director of the subventions branch of the Social Welfare Department, Paul Wong, however, denied there was a special need for extra services.

''All those problems can be taken care of by the existing family and child services provided in Hong Kong,'' he said.

A review of subvention policy was examining any need to provide funding to newly created services.

''But basically the department will only subvent Hong Kong-based activities,'' he said.