The city’s welfare minister has pledged to increase the number of childcare places by 300 in two years to help tackle hugely insufficient services in the sector as Hong Kong launched a regional summit calling for a more family friendly environment. But those in the industry noted the government was still miles away from providing an adequate number of places, while Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong acknowledged that departments needed to work even harder to catch up on an issue that was already lagging. The announcement comes as Hong Kong plays host to the Asian Family Summit from Sunday to Wednesday, a joint effort of the Consortium of Institutes on Family in the Asian Region, the University of Hong Kong, the Family Council, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and the Social Welfare Department. The summit aims to echo the 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development spearheaded by the United Nations. Writing on his blog on Sunday, Law noted the inadequate childcare services in Hong Kong, with shortfalls especially severe for those from age zero to two. “The number of day crèches has fallen from the peak of 1,530 in 1995-96 to the current 747,” he said of the services catering to children up to age two. Hong Kong ‘should learn from Singapore’ on childcare, minister says He said a study by an HKU team on childcare services, commissioned by the department, was expected to be completed in the next month or two. The government would follow up on the development of policies and services after receiving the report, he said. He noted this was in addition to the current search for suitable places to build childcare centres that was expected to yield 300 places in the next two years. A mother-of-two, with children aged five and three, attending a prelude to the summit said it would be good to have more childcare places. “If something happens at home, finding someone to help take care of my children is difficult,” she said, lamenting she did not have any family members or in-laws to help her. Hong Kong single mothers trapped on social welfare: survey At the same event, single parent Lai Lili expressed wishes for the government to increase public housing at a quicker rate and reduce the homework load on pupils so she and her daughter could have a better living environment and spend more quality time together. They live in a 100 sq ft subdivided unit, which Lai said is not conducive for her daughter’s growth. She added she could not spend much time with her child on weekdays due to her daughter’s heavy workload. Karen Yiu Kit-ling, chief officer for children and youth services at the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, said the sharp decrease in services was a result of the closure of such centres when there was a low birth rate, such as during the Sars (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003. But after the birth rate went back up, there was no planning by the government to build more centres. She said the inadequate service for the zero to two age group was more severe due to higher costs with more manpower necessary at that level. According to a government study, about a fifth of those aged zero to two would require childcare services the most, and Yiu said based on the projected population of those in the group in 2016, more than 20,000 places would be necessary, compared with just over 1,000 available after two years. But she noted not all these services needed to come in the form of a centre, and proposed to introduce a registration mechanism for nannies in Hong Kong. “Parents can have peace of mind if they are able to check whether the nanny taking care of their children has a criminal record, for example,” she said.