Mainlanders are using Hong Kong as a place to abandon mentally handicapped and chronically ill children born in the city, a welfare group says. Charity St James' Settlement says at least two such mentally disabled children in its care have been abandoned. Since the mainland makes inadequate welfare provision for the disabled, some mainland parents see Hong Kong's welfare system as the solution to their problems. A wave of cross-border child abandonments began a few years ago, along with an influx of mainlanders giving birth in the city. In the two years to last December, police found at least six abandoned children, including an eight-month-old boy with a heart problem in Sheung Shui, and a mentally disabled boy between five and seven years old in a street in Lau Fau Shan. Both are believed to have been dumped by their parents last year. St James' Settlement says more mainlanders have been seeking its advice on caring for children to whom they gave birth in the city and who are mentally disabled or have chronic health problems. "We usually persuade them not to give up on their child," said Wendy Wong, senior manager of St James' family and consulting service, which deals with cases in the Wan Chai area. "Some parents explained their difficulties in keeping their child - the costs and the efforts needed to get special care in the mainland are too high." Mainland mothers who eventually resort to travelling to Hong Kong to abandon their children - mostly on streets or in public hospitals - have often been impossible to find. Some simply avoided contact, while others could not be found. Wong says that instead of abandoning their children, mainlanders should formally give guardianship of their children to the Social Welfare Department, which could arrange for adoptions. However, mainland parents seldom consider such an option, she says. "They either fear what other people would think of them, or they do not want to start the paperwork process at all," said Wong. The best chance of such children being adopted is if they find a family before they turn three years old. Once they reach that age, they are often moved from institution to institution as they grow up. "It makes a great deal of difference for a child to grow up in an adopted family rather than a care home," said Wong. "If the biological parents feel that they are really unable to afford to raise their own child, it may be better for them to complete the documents as early as possible and allow others to do so." The Social Welfare Department says the abandoned children are made its wards if their relatives cannot be found. The department is currently caring for 742 abandoned children under the age of 18.