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Health and wellness

Head of autism group calls for more support for Hong Kong youths ‘on last step’ before joining workforce

  • Outgoing Heep Hong Society CEO Nancy Tsang says there is insufficient help in the period between graduation and employment
  • NGOs should take initiative to try out welfare services as it is difficult for government to launch programmes without seeing results, she says
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 9:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 9:01am

More needs to be done to prepare Hong Kong youths with special education needs for the workforce, according to the outgoing head of an NGO which has been serving the city’s children in need for more than half a century.

While Heep Hong Society CEO Nancy Tsang Lan-see acknowledged the government’s efforts to help those with special education needs at the kindergarten and primary levels, she lamented the insufficient support given to such youth in the period between graduation and employment.

“For example, while many of these teenagers are autistic, they are high-functioning with working abilities,” Tsang, who retires at the end of the year after 37 years of service at the NGO, said earlier this month.

As such, while many of these youths could not enter universities or tertiary institutes offering mainstream vocational education, she said it would be a waste to enrol them in services such as sheltered workshops and day activity centres.

Sheltered workshops are targeted at disabled youths with basic abilities aged 15 and above and focus mainly on basic skills training such as packaging, while day activity centres provide care and training in daily living skills and simple work skills to mentally disabled youth.

There were around 53,160 children with special education needs enrolled in public schools in the 2017/18 school year, including those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.

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Concerns have mounted over the possibility of the government neglecting support for education for special needs youths after it was revealed that one of the campuses of Shine Skills Centre, situated in Kwun Tong, would be torn down to build a civil service college with upgraded facilities for staff training.

Many parents with high-functioning teens prefer Shine, which offers job training programmes for disabled people aged 15 and above, because it focuses more on education and is run by the Vocational Training Council, the city’s largest provider of such education.

While Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong last week said the council could run another job training centre in the works in Kwun Tong, parents were still worried with nothing confirmed.

Tsang believed the government should put more resources to help these high-functioning special needs youths.

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“There are a lot of resources in the preschool and school levels, if we do not help them with the last step before entering the workforce, it is a pity,” she said, noting that Heep Hong’s studies had shown that these youngsters had difficulty getting jobs if they did not get support.

A survey conducted by Heep Hong from November last year to February this year found that less than half of 45 youths with autism managed to stay in a job for more than a year, despite all of them having graduated from secondary school and half earning tertiary qualifications.

Heep Hong runs a scheme to assess and train those aged between 16 and 35 for jobs.

Participants are coached in social skills and given career planning and internship opportunities at Heep Hong, such as courier and data input work and at an in-house cafe. Heep Hong also connects these youths to other companies for internship and work opportunities.

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Tsang, who led the development of the first resource centre for parents and relatives and on-site preschool rehabilitation services, also said NGOs should take the initiative to try out welfare services as it was difficult for the government to launch programmes without results.

For example, the on-site preschool programme, which involved professionals helping children with mild disabilities in kindergartens, was launched by the government as a pilot scheme, and then regularised after seeing its success at Heep Hong.

Tsang recalled using private donations to launch the project in 10 kindergartens. She later got the University of Hong Kong to do research on the project and the results gave the government a reason to implement the project.