Motion on “Strengthening child-minding services” (2023.07.13)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, Deputy President. Nowadays, most families in Hong Kong are dual-income and single-parent families which rely heavily on child-minding services to tackle work and family responsibilities. Nevertheless, the limited number of child care centres (“CCCs”) in the market fail to meet the demand. It is therefore necessary to strengthen child-minding services to alleviate the child care pressure on parents. I am most grateful to Mr Holden CHOW for proposing today’s motion, as well as other Members for proposing the amendments, as they provide us with an opportunity to discuss this issue.

The policy objective and goal of child care services should be based on the principle of “Educare”, instead of merely taking care of the children. Hence, I believe that child care services should be mainly provided by CCCs, supplemented by other community child care services. Currently, despite the huge demand, the service places of CCCs are limited in Hong Kong and many parents have to queue up for a place. I suggest the Government reserve appropriate premises in various districts on an ongoing basis for opening more CCCs to provide all-day child-minding services so that parents can have greater flexibility in managing their work-life arrangements.

Since it requires more manpower to care for younger children, the number of subvented places of child care services for children aged 0 to 2 is significantly lower than those for children aged 2 to 3, accounting for only 5.5% of all child care places. In 2021-2022, only one service place was provided for an average of 40 children aged below two, indicating a serious lack of service places for younger children. I suggest that the authorities allocate more resources and set down a timetable to facilitate parents who are interested in using the service to make better plans.

Moreover, child care places for children aged below two are not evenly distributed among various districts, with Tai Po, Wong Tai Sin and Tuen Mun having a particularly strong demand. Take Tai Po, the district with the worst situation, as an example. A Member has also pointed out that while there are only 14 child care places available in Tai Po, the number of children aged below two is as high as 3 796. I suggest that the authorities increase the number of subvented places of child care services according to the demand of different districts. Districts with a significant shortage of places should be prioritized to shorten the waiting time for child care services.

Apart from increasing the number of CCC places, it is also important to ensure sufficient manpower. Child care workers play a significant role in providing child-minding services as they are responsible for the daily life and education of children. Currently, all new workers are required to complete the Higher Diploma in Child Care and Education programme and obtain relevant professional qualifications to work in this industry. However, most of the graduates choose to work as kindergarten teachers as higher salaries and greater promotional opportunities are offered. This poses a great challenge for the child care industry to recruit and retain talents. Although the requirements for child care workers and kindergarten teachers are basically the same, they are provided with different remuneration packages. Manpower will naturally be concentrated in kindergartens, while the understaffing problem in CCCs remains unsolved. I suggest that the salary, career path and training grant of child care workers should be reviewed to make them comparable to those of kindergarten teachers. This will attract more qualified child care workers to join the industry, thereby ensuring a stable supply of talents and the quality of services.

On the other hand, I suggest that large-scale organizations follow the example of the Airport Authority to provide child-minding services for employees. The Airport Authority established two preschools in 2017 and this year respectively, providing a total of 136 education and care service places for young children. This measure has enabled parents to stay in the workplace, alleviating the understaffing problem in the aviation industry. The Government has indicated its intention to provide 100 child care places operated by non-governmental organizations at the Tseung Kwan O Government Offices in the future. I hope that the Government can take the lead and progressively provide child-minding services at government headquarters and offices in various districts so that employees can entrust their children to safe and reliable CCCs without worrying about child care and education. Facilitating employees to provide better care for their children will not only improve their work efficiency and quality of life, but will also help the Government retain talents.

Thank you, Deputy President.

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