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Social Welfare Programmes

Family and Child Welfare

The overall objective of the family and child welfare programme is to preserve and strengthen the family as a unit through assisting individuals and families to identify and deal with their problems, or to prevent problems from arising, and to provide for needs which cannot be met from within the family. A comprehensive network of family and child welfare services is provided by the department and NGOs.

Services for Families

The department adopts a three-pronged approach to provide a continuum of services to support families.

At the primary level, prevention of problems and crises is effected through publicity, education, empowerment and early identification. The publicity campaign on Strengthening Families and Combating Violence continues. Family Support and Resource Centres provide drop-in service, mutual support and early identification and referral of cases in need of welfare service. Resources of these centres, among others, will be pooled to form IFSCs in 2004-05. The department's hotline service also provides information on social welfare services, and a Family Helpline manned by social workers provides immediate telephone counselling for individuals and families facing crisis.

At the secondary level, a range of support services, from developmental programmes to intensive counselling is provided through a network of Family ervices Centres and Integrated Family Service Centres. A total of 83 205 cases were handled during the year. There are also two integrated services centres serving specific areas in Tung Chung and some parts of the outlying islands.

At the tertiary level, specialised services and crisis intervention are provided through five Family and Child Protective Services Units, the Family Crisis Support Centre and the Suicide Crisis Intervention Centre. In addition, four Refuge Centres provide 162 short-term residential places for individuals in need, including battered spouses and their children. They accept admission on a 24-hour basis. Two projects on the prevention and handling of elder abuse are also being piloted.

Services for Street Sleepers

The problem of street-sleeping is tackled through a package of integrated services, including outreach visits, counselling, group activities, personal care, employment guidance and training, emergency funding, immediate shelter/hostel placement as well as service referrals. These services are provided by three NGO-operated integrated services teams for street sleepers, together with urban hostels for single persons operated by other NGOs. The Family Services Centres/Integrated Family Service Centres also provide outreach, counselling, financial and accommodation assistance, referral for treatment and other support services to street sleepers.

Services for Children

The department provides a wide range of child welfare services. The adoption service arranges permanent homes for children abandoned by their parents or whose parents are unable to support them. Residential child care services are provided for children and young people who need care or protection because of family crises or their behavioural or emotional problems. At year-end, there were 765 places in foster care service, 944 places in small group homes and 1 331 places in children's homes, boys' and girls' homes and hostels.

Child care centres provide day care services for children under the age of six years. At year-end, there were 28 660 day nursery places, 960 day creche places, 711 occasional child care places and over 1 500 extended hour places provided in 270 aided child care centres. All child care centres have to register under the Child Care Services Ordinance and Regulations. Low-income families meeting a social need and means-test criteria will receive financial assistance to pay fees for child care centres.

An inter-bureau/departmental working group has been working on the details for implementing the harmonisation of pre-primary services currently provided by child care centres and kindergartens which serve children of a similar age. To re-define the service scope and to align the existing different requirements between the two services, a Child Care Services (Amendment) Bill 2005 will be introduced into the Legislative Council in April 2005.

A legislative amendment to the Adoption Ordinance has been introduced to improve local adoption arrangements and give effect in Hong Kong to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Intercountry Adoption. The Adoption (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Legislative Council on July 9, 2004 and the Adoption (Amendment) Ordinance was gazetted on July 23, 2004. Further legislative amendments to the subsidiary legislation are being worked out.

The Administration commissioned the Duty Lawyer Service to run the Legal Representation Scheme since October 1, 2003 for children and juveniles involved in care or protection proceedings who are deprived of liberty and detained in a gazetted place of refuge under the Protection of Children and Juveniles Ordinance. The Administration plans to enhance the scheme by extending its scope of service to children and juveniles deprived of liberty and detained in places other than a gazetted place of refuge.

Social Security

The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme and the Social Security Allowance (SSA) Scheme form the mainstay of Hong Kong's social security system. They are supplemented by three accident compensation schemes: the Criminal and Law Enforcement Injuries Compensation Scheme, the Traffic Accident Victims Assistance Scheme, and Emergency Relief. There are 37 Social Security Field Units administering these schemes across Hong Kong.

The CSSA Scheme

The CSSA Scheme is non-contributory but means-tested. The scheme provides cash assistance to people suffering from financial hardship, enabling them to meet basic needs. Applicants should satisfy the stipulated residence requirements. At year-end, there were 295 694 CSSA cases benefiting 542 017 persons, compared with 290 206 cases and 522 456 persons in 2003. Total expenditure on CSSA during the year amounted to $17.67 billion, an increase of 2 per cent over the previous year.

Elderly CSSA recipients who have received CSSA for not less than three years are allowed under the Portable CSSA Scheme to continue to receive assistance if they choose to retire to Guangdong Province.

The SSA Scheme

The non-contributory SSA Scheme provides allowances to meet the special needs of the severely disabled and elderly persons. The scheme comprises Normal Disability Allowance, Higher Disability Allowance, Normal Old Age Allowance and Higher Old Age Allowance. At year-end, 566 446 people were receiving SSA, compared with 563 880 in 2003. Total expenditure during the year was $5.24 billion, a decrease of 0.6 per cent over the previous year.

Revised Residence Requirements for Social Security Benefits

From January 1, 2004, to be eligible for CSSA or SSA, an applicant must have been a Hong Kong resident for at least seven years and have resided in Hong Kong continuously for at least one year immediately before the date of application. The adoption of the seven-year residence requirement is to ensure a rational basis for allocation of public resources. This requirement does not apply to those who became Hong Kong residents before January 1, 2004. Hong Kong residents aged below 18 applying for CSSA or a disability allowance under the SSA Scheme are exempted from any prior residence requirement.

Accident Compensation Schemes

The Criminal and Law Enforcement Injuries Compensation Scheme offers ex-gratia payments on a non-means-tested basis to innocent victims injured or to dependants of those killed in crimes of violence or through the action of a law enforcement officer using a weapon in the execution of his duties. During the year, $11.67 million was paid out in 630 cases, compared with $9.68 million in the previous year. The Traffic Accident Victims Assistance (TAVA) Scheme offers speedy financial assistance for people injured or for dependants of those killed in road accidents on a non-means-tested basis, regardless of the element of fault leading to the occurrence of the accident. During the year, $157.38 million was paid out in 6 190 cases, compared with $154.70 million in 2003.

Emergency Relief

Emergency relief in the form of cooked meals or cash grants in lieu of cooked meals and other essential relief articles is provided to victims of natural and other disasters. Grants from the Emergency Relief Fund are paid to eligible victims (or to their dependants in cases of death). Emergency relief was given to 60 victims on nine occasions during the year.

Social Security Appeal Board

The Social Security Appeal Board considers appeals against the SWD's decisions concerning CSSA, SSA and TAVA. It heard 204 appeals during the year.

Services for Elders

The basic principle underlying services for elders is to provide senior citizens with a sense of security, a sense of belonging and a feeling of health and worthiness. The aim is to promote the well-being of people aged 60 and above in all aspects of their life through provision of services that will enable them to remain active members of the community for as long as possible, and, to the extent necessary, to provide residential care suited to their varying needs. The department has been operating an Opportunities for the Elderly Project since 1999 to provide subsidies to community organisations to plan and implement programmes to promote a sense of worthiness among elders and enhance community care for them. During the year, 291 programmes were implemented, with grants amounting to $2.7 million. These programmes are in line with the Government's ongoing initiative of promoting active and healthy ageing.

Community Support Services

Community support services are provided to elders who require assistance to continue living at home. Support is also provided for their care-givers. At year-end, there were 260 centres for the elderly (including district elderly community centres, day-care centres/units for the elderly, social centres for the elderly and neighbourhood elderly centres), 110 elderly services teams (including district-based integrated home care services teams, enhanced home and community care services teams, support teams for the elderly, and a home help team), and one holiday centre for the elderly. In August 2004, integrated home care services (frail cases) were extended to people with disabilities and suffering from a severe physical handicap. They provide a comprehensive package of care services including personal and nursing care and rehabilitation exercises to disabled persons to help them live in the community.

Under the Senior Citizen Card Scheme, 958 191 Senior Citizen Cards have been issued by year-end. A total of 8 263 companies, organisations, government departments with 14 819 units and outlets, and 1 854 medical units with 2 074 branches participated in the scheme to provide concessions, discounts and priority services to senior citizens.

Residential Care Services

Residential care services are provided for elders who need daily care and are unable to live at home for various reasons. At year-end, there were 26 987 subsidised residential care places for the elderly, including 7 398 self-care (S/C) hostel places and home for the aged (H/A) places, 11 587 subsidised care-and-attention home places, 1 765 subsidised nursing home places, and 6 237 purchased places in private residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs).

To meet the growing care needs of elders, SWD will gradually convert existing S/C and H/A places into long-term care places starting from 2005, to provide frail elders with continuous of care up to nursing home level.

The Residential Care Homes (Elderly Persons) Ordinance provides legislative control over all RCHEs. Upon all RCHEs meeting the required licensing standard in 2002, a number of service improvement measures have been taken to further upgrade the service quality, particularly that of private homes. These initiatives include the enhancement of infection control measures in RCHEs since end-2003, dissemination of information to the public and stepping up prosecution actions against non-compliant homes. Meanwhile, the department is reviewing and amending the Code of Practice for Residential Care Homes (Elderly Persons) to strengthen the health care and service quality of RCHEs to safeguard the well-being of residents.

Rehabilitation Services

A variety of rehabilitation services are provided by government departments and NGOs to meet the needs of people with disabilities, with the objective of integrating them into society and helping them to fully develop their capabilities. These services are coordinated by the Commissioner for Rehabilitation on the advice of the Rehabilitation Advisory Committee.

Services for Children with Disabilities

At year-end, the NGOs provided 1 776 integrated programme places in ordinary child care centres, 1 344 special child care centre places (including 102 residential places) and 1 924 early education and training centre places for pre-school disabled children. For autistic children, an enhanced training programme with input from clinical psychologists was provided in special child care centres. In addition, there were 66 small group home places for school-age mentally handicapped children requiring residential service.

Services for Adults with Disabilities

The Marketing Consultancy Office (Rehabilitation) of the Social Welfare Department provides assistance in the marketing and business development of sheltered workshops and supported employment services. With a view to promoting integration of people with disabilities into society, 1 655 supported employment places were provided in 2004 for those who were able to work in open settings with the necessary counselling and support service. For those not yet ready to compete in the open job market, 5 154 sheltered workshop places were provided to help them develop work skills. In addition, 453 places in integrated vocational training centres provided a series of vocational training and rehabilitation services. Some 2 889 places in integrated vocational rehabilitation services centres provided such services to people with disabilities in a one-stop setting. There were 3 981 day activity centre places for mentally handicapped people and 230 training and activity centre places for ex-mentally ill people to help them become more independent. Five social clubs for ex-mentally ill persons and 17 social and recreational centres for others with disabilities were set up to encourage participation in the community through various leisure activities.

As for residential services, there were 5 912 hostel and home places, and 279 supported hostel places for people with disabilities who could neither live independently nor be adequately cared for by their families. For aged blind people who were unable to look after themselves adequately, or in need of care and attention, 899 places were provided in homes for the aged blind and in care-and-attention homes. For chronic and ex-mentally ill patients, there were 1 005 long stay care home places and 1 349 halfway house places.

Professional Back-up and Support Services

Professional back-up services from clinical psychologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists are provided for people with disabilities in rehabilitation day centres and hostels. A speech therapy service is also provided for disabled children attending pre-school rehabilitation centres. In addition, there are other support services, including home-based training and support services for mentally handicapped and severely disabled persons, a community mental health link and after-care service for dischargees of halfway houses, and a community rehabilitation network for people with a visceral disability or chronic illness. A respite service for handicapped persons, occasional child care service for disabled pre-schoolers and six parents resource centres are also provided to meet the special needs of families with disabled members.

Medical Social Services

Medical social workers provide patients and their families with individual and group counselling, financial aid, housing assistance or referral to other community resources to facilitate their treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration into society. To provide easy access to patients and their family members, medical social workers are stationed in public hospitals and specialist clinics so that immediate advice and assistance can be given to those in need. During the year, 152 600 cases received services from 349 medical social workers.

The SWD administers the Trust Fund for SARS. The Fund was established to provide ex-gratia relief payments for eligible families of deceased SARS patients and ex-gratia financial assistance for eligible recovered SARS patients or 'suspected' SARS patients treated with steroids who suffer from longer term effects attributable to SARS (including the effects of medication received), that might have resulted in some degree of relevant dysfunction. By year-end, a total of 1 083 applications had been received, involving 317 deceased patients and 766 from recovered/suspected patients. Of these, 855 applications had been approved, involving $107.77 million.

Services for Offenders

Under related ordinances, the department discharges statutory functions and provides community-based and residential services to help offenders reintegrate into the community and become law-abiding citizens.

The probation service serves offenders aged 10 and above. Probation officers assess the offenders' suitability for probation supervision and make recommendations to the courts. They also monitor probationers' compliance with probation orders. During the year, 2 897 offenders were placed on probation. Probation officers also prepare reports on long-term prisoners and petition cases for consideration of early released.

Offenders aged 14 or above and convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment may be placed on Community Service Orders which require offenders to perform unpaid community work. During the year, 1 843 offenders were put under such orders.

Six residential homes, with a total capacity of 380 places, provide educational, prevocational and character training for juvenile offenders as well as children and young persons with behavioural or family problems.

The Young Offender Assessment Panel, jointly operated by the SWD and the Correctional Services Department (CSD), provides the courts with coordinated professional views on sentencing options for offenders aged 14 to 24. The Post-Release Supervision of Prisoners Scheme, another joint service of the SWD and CSD, assists discharged prisoners in their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. During the year, 423 ex-prisoners were placed under supervision. One NGO is subvented to provide hostel and supportive services for ex-offenders.

Services for Young People

The overall objective of welfare services for young people is to help those aged between six and 24 years to develop into mature, responsible and contributing members of society through a range of preventive, supportive and remedial services.

At year-end, 131 Integrated Children and Youth Services Centres (ICYSCs) were providing children and youth centre services, outreach social work services, school social work services and, where possible, family life education under one management to address the changing needs of youth in an integrated and holistic manner. At the same time, 18 ICYSCs with additional resources provided overnight outreach services to address the needs of young night drifters. During the year, joint funding from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and the Lotteries Fund was approved for 34 ICYSCs throughout the territory to undergo the second phase of the modernisation programme. Through improving the physical environment and providing modern furniture and equipment, these centres have been made more appealing to contemporary youth.

At year-end, 484 secondary schools were each provided with one school social worker unit to identify and help students with academic, social and emotional problems maximise their educational opportunities, develop their potential and prepare for responsible adulthood. Sixteen District Youth Outreaching Social Work Teams addressed the needs of high-risk youth and dealt with juvenile gang issues.

For early identification of the developmental needs of students and, where necessary, timely intervention with a primary preventive programme, the Understanding the Adolescent Project was implemented in 292 secondary schools in the 2004-05 school year.

The Community Support Services Scheme (CSSS) assists young people who have broken the law or are at risk. By year-end, six CSSS teams, one operated by the department and five by NGOs, had provided services to the targeted clientele.

With a view to enhancing support for young offenders, the department and the Police Force were reviewing the mechanism of 'Family Conference' for juveniles cautioned under the Police Superintendent's Discretion Scheme introduced in October 2003.

With the aim of helping young drug abusers abstain from drug-taking habits and reintegrate into the community, a multi-modal approach has been adopted to provide drug treatment and rehabilitation services. At year-end, the department was subventing 15 voluntary drug treatment and rehabilitation centres/halfway houses, five counselling centres for psychotropic substance abusers and two social clubs for ex-drug abusers. Under the requirements of the Drug Dependent Persons Treatment and Rehabilitation Centres (Licensing) Ordinance, 38 certificates of exemption and six licences valid for drug dependence treatment centres had been issued or renewed by year-end.

To enhance cooperation among relevant youth services, 18 Local Committees on Services for Young People, chaired by the District Social Welfare Officers, coordinate the provision of youth services at district level.