Two reasons ‘improved’ childcare does not mean better childcare in Hong Kong
- The government’s pledge to “improve” childcare services has undercut its achievement on pro-child policies. It must boost staffing ratios, for a start
One of the key achievements of Carrie Lam’s administration so far has been on children’s affairs. At the structural level, the government finally heeded community appeals for a Commission on Children. At the policy level, it increased investment in primary and secondary education, launched a pilot scheme on social work service for pre-primary institutions and tried to improve childcare services. However, the proposed “improvement” of childcare services has greatly compromised its original achievement.
The so-called “improvement”, as proposed in a consultancy report, contradicts its policy objective. While the improvement aims at facilitating child development, the staffing ratio is a return to the standard of 1976 – that is, 1:6 for children aged under two. It neglected the better ratio of other developed countries (from 1:3 to 1:5), listed in the consultancy report submitted by the University of Hong Kong to the government, and the motion passed by the welfare panel of the Legislative Council requesting further enhancement to 1:3.5.
As explained by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong, the government is sticking to the old ratio because it believes there are not enough qualified childcare workers available for hire. But if that is the case, why not formulate a timetable for improvement?
In any case, given that there are over 10 tertiary institutions providing early childhood education programmes, I cannot see any difficulty in meeting this human resource demand.
Yet another proposed measure under this policy, as set out in the chief executive’s policy address last year, is “to alleviate parents’ financial burden in paying service fees” by increasing subsidies for childcare centres. Unfortunately, most of the increase will go towards meeting the higher staffing costs.
The monthly median income of a three-person household is HK$34,400, while the monthly fee for a place in a childcare centre ranges from HK$4,385 to HK$6,500. A slight reduction in monthly fees won’t help much. Many potential service users will still find such services unaffordable.
In other words, the so-called “improvement” of childcare services will fail on two counts: it won’t be able to effectively facilitate child development, or to alleviate the financial burden of parents.
Lam once told us that “the current-term government sets no easy goals and avoids no difficult tasks”. On childcare policy, is that really the case?
K.Y. Mak, 0-3 Child Care Centre Network