Hong Kong’s needy children wait for homes

Hong Kong’s needy children wait for homes

HONG KONG - Life could have turned out very differently for Mary, who like many other 12-year-old girls in Hong Kong enjoys shopping, music and going out with friends, while she dreams of one day travelling the world as a flight attendant.

Mary was taken into foster care when she was three years old, her biological parents addicted to drugs and unable to look after her as they drifted in and out of prison.

But she is one of the luckier ones in a city where a growing number of children are waiting for care as the number of couples who can afford to provide it is falling, social workers say, due to high property costs, a lack of space in the city and the fact that both partners often have to work to support a family.

"In the past there were more extended families that could help relatives in need," says Jenny Yu, senior social worker at Hong Kong's largest fostering NGO, the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society (HKFWS).

"But the family system has started to break down. People live apart from each other and even neighbours don't tend to help each other. So more children need community services like foster care."

She adds that children have to wait up to a year before they can be placed in a family. Had it not been for the bond Mary has built with her foster mother Carmen, the opportunities she now has might never have come her way.

Carmen, 47, who Mary calls "auntie", describes how the little girl was withdrawn when she first took her in five years ago - her second foster home since leaving her parents.

"She was afraid, she wouldn't say anything. She would just sit there without smiling," she said. Now the two are obviously close, holding hands when they speak and laughing together.

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