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Our system fails foster care children

Researcher & Writer: Eugena CHAN

Illustrator: Ashley ZHANG


Prior to reading, please note that this article tackles topics surrounding child abuse and suicide. For more information, visit https://www.swd.gov.hk/vs/index_e.html.


Over the course of the decade, the foster care system has improved dramatically. However, the children in the care of the system are still faced with a dark reality: foster care is not all sunshine and rainbows, but instead a world that can leave them vulnerable to neglect, endangerment and severe mental health issues. Here’s a brief overview of the foster care system currently in place in Hong Kong:


First things first, what is foster care? Unlike adoption, foster care is a temporary form of care where a child under 18 is looked after by a volunteer family. Often, this system applies to children whose parents cannot sufficiently care for them or have a complicated family situation that prevents them from living with their parents. In some rare cases, the child has been abandoned or orphaned, resulting in them being sent to foster care. Children living in foster care can be adopted, reunited with their biological family or live independently once they turn 18 as they are considered adults.

As of 2015, there are more than 4000 children living in institutional care that is either funded by the government or a non-profit organization and usually, it’s the latter. This is due to the limited funding available to support the children needing a roof over their heads. In 2022 alone, there were 954 foster families in Hong Kong and 921 children were placed in homes. Though this may sound like good news, there is still a devastating truth. The Hong Kong Christian Service surveyed 118 foster families and revealed that 18.5% were planning to withdraw their service in the coming 3 years. Emigration and health concerns play a large part in why these foster families leave the service. Because of this, over 300 children were still waiting to be placed into foster care by the end of March.


Since the government has shifted their attention to pandemic control, less light has been shone on the treatment of children living in foster care. Children in institutional care can be subject to emotional, mental and sometimes physical abuse. In 2021, there was an all-time high in the number of reported child abuse cases, with a total of 871 cases where children were victims of abuse under the care of the Children’s Residential Home (CRH). According to the Social Welfare Department, there were still 50-60 children living in the CRH, with more than 30 of them being hospitalized after showing signs of abuse as of January 17th. All of these statistics have one thing in common: they are proof that the Hong Kong childcare system is a danger to foster children everywhere.

These toxic environments enable a breeding ground for developing anxiety and severe depression. When a child is neglected after being placed in foster care, they often assign the blame to themselves, thinking that their behaviour or personality are reasons why the foster parents ‘don’t want them’. Doing so creates a toxic mentality that can lead to a spiral of self-hatred. These overwhelming feelings of hatred leave children vulnerable to developing feelings of severe depression. It has been found that children in foster care are 4x more likely to commit suicide due to the abuse and neglect they are exposed to. Some children also do not feel accepted or loved by their foster families which causes them to feel isolated and alone. The lack of stability and consistency in the foster care system is just one of many reasons for its failures.


Many people who grew up in the foster care system have opened up to what life was like during their childhood, and it isn’t great. Alyssa Schukar, being one of them, decided to write about her experiences from her teenage years and touched on the flaws of the system. The foster care system hardly does background checks on those who have volunteered because there are so many children that need “families”, they cannot afford to turn away people who are willing to take

in children. Some people decide to take in multiple children to gain a welfare cheque as those who foster children are given extra funds meant to be put towards raising the children. In her New York Times article, she discusses how foster placements are randomly allocated and do not take into account the compatibility of the child and the foster parents. This makes it difficult for both sides to connect and form long-lasting relationships, which can make the child feel lonely and unwanted.


The fact is that, globally, we are doing a terrible job at protecting our children. With more funding and resources being made available, it allows charities and institutions to provide the very best for those in need. The foster care system still has endless amounts to improve on and it’s important for us as individuals to speak out to ensure the well-being of the next generations.



Bibliography


(2021, June 16). Statistics on Foster Care Service - Information on Foster Care Service by number of Foster Homes and by number of Foster Children in Placement. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://data.gov.hk/en-data/dataset/hk-swd-fcw-key-statistics-on-cfcu-service/resource/23e97c06-ac36-4617-a5db-59935aa635f1


(2022, March 17). City needs rigorous plans for child abuse prevention. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://www.ourhkfoundation.org.hk/en/report/36/healthcare-and-ageing/city-needs-rigorous-plans-child-abuse-prevention


Chau, C. (2022, November 1). Hong Kong expected to lose 20% of foster care families in 3 years, survey shows, as group urges more support. HKFP. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://hongkongfp.com/2022/11/01/hong-kong-expected-to-lose-20-of-foster-care-families-in-3-years-survey-shows-as-group-urges-more-support/


Hong Kong foster system 'on brink of collapse'. (2016, March 13). South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education-community/article/1924019/hong-kong-foster-system-brink-collapse


A look at how Hong Kong is handling legislation on child abuse. (2022, September 10). South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/3192058/look-how-hong-kong-handling-legislation-child-abuse


Opinion | Our Foster Care System Is Fundamentally Broken. (2021, September 16). The New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/16/opinion/foster-care-children-us.html


The Problem — Foster America. (n.d.). Foster America. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://www.foster-america.org/the-problem


Scully, A., Sihombing, S., Lynch, K., & Knudsen, E. I. (n.d.). Reforming Hong Kong's Child & Family Justice System – Integrating Legal, Comparative & Multidisciplinary Approaches. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://www.motherschoice.org/app/uploads/2016/10/Being-a-Voice-for-Children-in-Residential-Care-Reforming-Hong-Kongs-Child-and-Family-Justice-System-Alia-Eyres-and-Stephanie-Persson-CUHK-2016.pdf


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