At Mother’s Choice childcare home in Hong Kong, a caring Christmas thanks to volunteers and staff
- Set up in 1987, Mother’s Choice cares for pregnant teenagers, and for babies and young children awaiting adoption
- ‘It’s amazing how many volunteers want to come here and spend time with the children on Christmas Day,’ says assistant director
December is a busy time at Hong Kong charity Mother’s Choice as Christmas approaches.
Its care home, which looks after pregnant teenagers and children without families, has been spruced up for the holiday season, with Christmas trees and decorations adorning the various common rooms.
All hands are on deck to ensure it’s the most wonderful time of the year for the children.
Earlier this month, they were visited by the Hong Kong Male Welsh Choir for a second year, for a performance of Christmas carols.
Also on the agenda is a trip to see the Christmas lights on buildings lining Victoria Harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui East, and every year the children visit the JW Marriott hotel for its Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony, listen to the children’s choir and interact with others, says Charmaine Tidmarsh, the assistant director of child development, children services at Mother’s Choice.
On Christmas Day, Santa Claus will visit the home, a colonial-era building on Bowen Road in the Mid-Levels neighbourhood of Hong Kong Island that has been retrofitted to provide care for children ranging from newborns to six years of age.
They will be dressed in red jackets with white trim, and get to sit on Santa’s knee to receive a gift.
“Some of the children will cry, some of them will be so cautious,” Tidmarsh says.
Up to 44 children live at the home, where they are cared for 24 hours a day, seven days a week by childcare workers, and by an army of 500 volunteers.
“On the 25th of December, a public holiday, it’s amazing how many volunteers want to come here and spend time with the children,” she says.
During the holiday season, Mother’s Choice also receives a large number of corporate and individual donations. Some corporate sponsors buy items requested by the charity, such as milk formula, massage oil and nappies.
If volunteers want to buy individual Christmas presents for the children, therapists will specify appropriate gifts to match a child’s developmental needs.
In the common rooms, volunteers of various nationalities talk to children in Cantonese and English. In a room for children with special needs, they sit together in chairs, while one volunteer tells them a Christmas story.
Volunteers hold hands with their charges, while others coo to babies to get them to nap.
Tidmarsh indicates a large schedule with times and names. Volunteers come in for three hours at a time, and the ratio is one adult for every three children.
“In Hong Kong, most care homes like this it’s usually one to eight,” she says.
Mother’s Choice volunteers undergo strict training to ensure care is consistent and standardised, and that they have commitment. For example, Tidmarsh, says it is important for them to pick up and hold babies the same way, so that the child doesn’t have to adjust to the different volunteers.
“Children need the extra loving touch, and in some cases they get a daily massage to give them the extra secure feeling, particularly ones that have had a long hospital stay,” she says.
“When we give them cuddles, it gets them to their proper weight, and that helps them in turn to socialise, interact and play.”
Mother’s Choice was founded more than three decades ago when two couples, Gary and Helen Stephens, and Ranjan and Phyllis Marwah, were moved by a series of newspaper articles published in 1986 about the alarming number of teenage pregnancies in Hong Kong. The following year, they opened Mother’s Choice to give girls and babies a place to live, and to arrange adoptions.
On average, the children spend just over a year at the home. Those with special needs stay for about a year and a half, because many of them are adopted overseas, which takes longer to arrange.
Tidmarsh says more than 50 per cent of the children are “family reunion cases”, with parents who are not yet ready or able to look after their child, while the others are babies of young women 25 years and younger, and there are children with mental and/or physical disabilities.
Mother’s Choice tries to give as much love and attention as a family would give their own child, she explains.
“We want every child to be in a safe, loving family, so we think of their permanency plan. We want to give them the best care and the warmth they want, at the same time we need to know their future, because they need to be surrounded by the family and community.”
The young pregnant women stay in a hostel and are taught pre- and postnatal care. It is up to them to decide whether they want to keep their child. If they do, Mother’s Choice will help them care for the child until they are ready to take them home.
Tidmarsh says the aim of Mother’s Choice is to get children whose mothers cannot care for them matched with their “forever family”.
“We really think about permanency. We don’t want the child to not be in a family,” says Tidmarsh. “We invest time, money and professionalism for the child to be part of a home.”
Everything at Mother’s Choice is individualised for the children, from meals that are labelled with their names to ensure they receive their nutritional needs, to clothing, and even the quilts on their beds.
The Hong Kong Quilt Club and a volunteer in Australia make the quilts to fit the children’s cots, complete with their names. When the children leave Mother’s Choice to be with their “forever family”, the quilt goes with them.
They also receive a “Life Book”, with a page covering each month they spent at Mother’s Choice, with pictures and a few words about their development, from their first smile or first tooth, to their first words and steps.
“It gives them a sense of belonging, so that the child has memories through the life book with their forever family,” says Tidmarsh.
For more information about Mother’s Choice, go to motherschoice.org.