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Position Paper to the LegCo Panel on Welfare Services on Consultancy Study on the Long-term Development of Child Care Services

Set up in 1981, the Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres has always fought for the rights and situations of women and carers. Carers are especially concerned about the development of children. The support of the government for childcare will directly affect the benefits of children and their carers. Children are the future pillars of our society and we must ensure that they have an ideal living environment to grow up. There has always been a lack of service quotas of childcare. As a result, many women who would like to return to the workforce can only stay at home and take care of their children, which indirectly undermines the productivity of women and eliminates the possibility for low-income families to improve their livelihood. The Consultancy Study on the Long-term Development of Childcare Services affects the future of childcare services development. The government should act in accordance with the short-, mid-, and long-term suggestions in the study report, plan and implement measures to improve the childcare services, with the participation of different stakeholders so that children can grow up in a more ideal environment and women can choose to develop themselves.


The study report suggests that in the future, the childcare objective and policy should include children development and caring elements so as to improve the overall service quality. The HKFWC agrees that this can bring about quality development of childcare services. However, the government should integrate the concepts of "caring" and "development" in different daytime childcare centres for best results.


The government responds that "the government understands the focus of early childcare and education lies in addressing the development needs for children and acknowledges the integration of 'caring' and 'development'. To further implement this philosophy, the government will launch new measures to strengthen childcare services." Will the objective and policy of daytime childcare services be changed from "caring- and benefits-oriented, offer support to disadvantaged children" as stated in the white paper in 1992, to the integration of "caring" and "development"? If yes, what will be the new services? And if not, why? The HKFWC deems that even though the government agrees to the integration of "caring" and "development", this has no contradiction with the benefit-oriented policy, and the government still has the responsibility to offer quality childcare services to disadvantaged families.


In the meeting with the Social Welfare Department on 19th December 2018, the government stated that they will only implement this philosophy in subsidized independent childcare centres instead of all daytime care centres. If the government has already agreed that the integration of "caring" and "development" will be the future direction, why don't they implement this in all daycare centres? The current quotas of childcare centres are not adequate to meet the childcare needs in the community, that's why there are schemes such as the Neighbourhood Support Childcare Project, mutual help childcare centres, and other caring schemes. However, they should not only function as respite care providers. Instead, the government should improve the quality of these schemes so that they can offer services with both "caring" and "development" elements. How to add these elements in these schemes, however, is a question the government must answer.


Conducted by the Department of Social Work and Social Administration of the University of Hong Kong, this study has spanned two years with the consultation of multiple stakeholders. It is not hard to imagine that the research team should be able to collect many concrete and viable measures. However, most suggestions in the final summary report were only directional without concrete goals and schedules.


In terms of planning ratios, the government has indeed accepted the suggestions in the report. They have set planning ratios of service quotas in childcare centres so that there will be 103 quotas for kids under 3 years old for every 20,000 populations. They have also planned to include this ratio in the “Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines” in 2019-20 to facilitate the planning of childcare centres and reserve suitable sites for operation. However, during the meeting with the Social Welfare Department, according to the prediction model of the study, in 2021, Hong Kong will still need 82 childcare centres to meet the demand. Unfortunately, there are only 12 subsidized independent childcare services currently, offering 747 quotas, which is far from enough. The government has not yet suggested any plan to meet the projected demands in 2021.


The HKFWC understands that the government is having problems finding locations to build childcare centres due to the shortage of land supply. However, affordable and convenient childcare services to low-income families are indeed a pressing issue. Childcare services can release the productivity of women so that they can return to the workforce. The HKFWC suggests that the government can refer to the Policy Address in 2018, which mentioned including breastfeeding rooms and babysitting rooms and providing childcare facilities in the condition of land sales so that the government can meet the short- and mid-term childcare quota. As the landowner of Hong Kong, the HKFWC believes that the government has the capability and responsibility to do so.


We also regret that there is still no plan for professionalization of nannies, which can push forward with the career development of nannies and attract new talents. The policy address only suggests that the government should cooperate with service providers to offer training on childcare knowledge and skills, as well as increasing the service incentives of community nannies.


The Neighbourhood Support childcare Project, after all, is a voluntary scheme. The HKFWC has been in touch with a lot of grassroots women. Although most of them have used childcare services, they are not confident in the community nannies, who have only received hours of training. Furthermore, there are a lot of partitioned flats in districts such as Shum Shui Po. Mothers fear that their children may easily get hurt in the cramped space. This kind of voluntary service, which only aims to enhance community support, clearly cannot be seen as a means to substitute standard childcare services. Why hasn't the research team accept professionalizing community nannies, as suggested by some stakeholders?


We suggest the government should push forward with the standardization of community nannies, providing standardized training to them, set up a directory for nannies, providing pertinent and flexible childcare service to family carers. They should offer them a wage that is higher than the minimum rate to attract more women to enter the workforce. This can not only create job opportunities for women but also promote the development of the nannies industry and ease their dual burdens of family and employment.


The summary report mentions that the usage rate of the mutual help childcare centres is quite low., and they have overlapped with the Neighbourhood Support childcare Project. The government should restructure the existing childcare centres in phases. The low usage rate is because the government does not subsidize its constant spending so the institutions may not have the motivation and resources to promote the services. Mandatory operation expenses such as annual fire safety inspection, electrical inspection, volunteer and third-party insurance are not subsidized, let alone the electricity tariff, water tariff, staff salaries, and promotional expenses during the service.


From our experience in operating the mutual help childcare centres, a lot of parents reflect that while community nanny service means taking their children to someone else's flat, mutual help childcare centres let children receive care in a supervised environment at a non-government organization. Hence, they don't have to worry about the risks of entrusting their children with a stranger. Among parents who have used our services, most have tried using the community nanny service, but they stopped when they realized that they had to take their children to a stranger's flat.


Mutual help childcare centres can offer emergency and pertinent respite care services to registered families. Basically, we can offer services during the opening hours as long as there is enough staff. However, community nanny service requires matching with nannies so it's hard to offer immediate support for parents.


In our mutual help childcare centres, over 310 families have registered as users and 140 people have registered as volunteers. We provide service to over 170 users every month. When compared with our proposal to the Social Welfare Department in 2014, this figure means that our service rate is over 100%, which shows the strong demand for dependable childcare services in the community, especially services for children aged 0-3. However, from government documents, we know that they are considering transforming mutual help childcare centres to centres that offer after-class care services to children aged 3-6. Currently, our service targets are children aged 0-6. If the service target is changed, where should the remaining children go for care services? Children aged 0-3 are pre-school children, which means that parents can't entrust their children to kindergartens and still require community support.


The HKFWC believes that if the government is willing to shoulder more responsibilities and increase the spendings on subsidizing organizations, they can definitely boost the usage rate of mutual help childcare centres so that it can complement with community nanny service to address the childcare needs.

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Mr Alvin Chung

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