Why Hong Kong needs to take bigger steps on childcare: new standards are a return to the 1970s
- The focus of the latest policy address on children’s development, rather than simply on providing care, is commendable
- However, the proposed improvement in the carer to child ratio is a return to the standards of legislation in 1976
The 2018 Policy Address announced an improvement in childcare services in Hong Kong. Though most of its details are still unknown, two points are clear. Unfortunately, they are contradictory.
First, the ultimate goal of all these improvements is facilitation of children’s development. More importantly, this recognises the nature of childcare services as integrating development and care. Even though it has long been accepted by professionals related to children’s issues, foreign governments and transnational organisations around the world, the term “children’s development” rarely appeared in previous governments’ policy objectives on childcare services.
Compared with previous terms of administration which only focused on care, the move in the recent policy address is undoubtedly a step forward.
Second, the existing staffing ratios for qualified childcare workers serving childcare centres will be enhanced. According to the government’s document, the qualified childcare worker to children ratios will be improved from 1:8 (for children under two years old) to 1:6, and from 1:14 (for children aged two to under three) to 1:11. However, the former is the ratio requested by the Child Care Services Regulations passed in 1976 but which was amended to a lower standard in 1980. In other words, the “improvement” brings child care centres’ standard back to the original provision in the 1970s.
It is really an interesting question whether applying a standard formulated 40 years ago to modern childcare service should be termed an “improvement”. The government has stressed the importance of children’s development on the one hand, but has suggested an “improvement” that is very minimal on the other. The staffing ratio of 1:6 might have been appropriate for the needs of the 1970s when childcare services only focused on care. Without question, this does not fit modern needs.
Dr Law Chi-Kwong, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, stated that the suggested staffing ratio would be comparable to Finland if other supporting manpower was included. We would like to remind Dr Law that the ratio in Finland does not include assistants/auxiliary staff and the centre head, and all early childhood education and care staff of child care centres must at least hold vocational qualification in the field of social welfare and health care. Unfortunately, there is no qualification requirement for child care aid in Hong Kong.
The consultancy team commissioned by the government has listed the manning ratio of four countries, namely Australia (1:4), Finland (1:4), Singapore (1:5) and South Korea (1:3) for children under two years old. Hong Kong still lags far behind, even after application of the so-called improvement.
We call for a bolder move to a ratio of 1:3 for children aged zero to 1, and of 1:4 for children from one to two years old, so as to catch up with other developed countries.
Kang-ying Mak, on behalf of 0-3 Child Care Centre Network