By Allison Lee
Hong Kong, 10 June 2022: A modest but significant ceremony was staged by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) last month to celebrate a group of unsung heroes of the pandemic, namely foster families. The dedication shown by foster parents and, in many cases, their birth children in providing a temporary home for a needy child is worthy of the highest praise, even more so when Covid-19 has brought unexpected challenges.
The Foster Families Service Award Presentation Ceremony 2022, held via video as Hong Kong continued to emerge from its fifth wave of infections, commended 398 foster families for their selfless commitment. The Director of Social Welfare, Gordon Leung, highlighted the devotion shown by families prepared to offer protection and shelter to some of Hong Kong’s most vulnerable young people.
Various long-service awards were presented. There were two families who had been providing foster care services for more than 30 years, while 11 families had been serving for more than 25 years. One couple, foster parents since 2006, spoke warmly about the close bonds they had formed with the children in their care. Another lady, serving as a foster parent for 15 years, described how she had been inspired by her friend to join the programme and the immense feeling of satisfaction it had brought her.
Amid these heartwarming stories, it is worth reiterating exactly what fostering entails and the benefits to both child and family. Fostering offers substitute family care for children whose parents cannot properly look after them due to family problems. It allows such youngsters to continue enjoying family life until they can be reunited with their parents or when other long-term welfare plans are arranged for them. In standard foster care, a child’s stay typically lasts several months or even years. There is also emergency fostering, which provides immediate and short-term residential family care – usually not exceeding six weeks – for minors whose parents cannot look after them due to crisis situations.
For foster parents, the rewards are emotional and life-affirming. The feeling of assisting a vulnerable child, perhaps even transforming his or her life, is immensely powerful. They also learn a lot, about themselves and the child in their care. Research shows that foster parents have greater ability to empathise, understand other people’s struggles and appreciate their own upbringings. There are lessons, as well, for birth children who welcome a new “brother” or “sister” into their home. They learn to care and share with others, appreciate the difficulties that children less fortunate face, and often develop a greater sense of compassion.
Currently, there are 11 NGOs providing foster care services in Hong Kong – recruiting families, conducting training programmes and giving continuous support – with their efforts being co-ordinated by the SWD’s Central Foster Care Unit, which was established in 1982. More information is available here. At present, this city has around 950 registered foster families, with about 920 children receiving foster care services.
Each foster family honoured in the ceremony had a different story to tell but, as well, they had much in common: a fondness for children and experience in caring for them; endless patience, positive attitude and a balanced outlook on life; stable background and adequate income; and an overriding sense of community.
It should be noted that foster care is different from adoption. Foster parents are not legal guardians of foster children, they do not have rights of adopted parents and they do not have custody rights of the children. Pursuant to section 10 of the Guardianship of Minors Ordinance (Cap. 13), only the parents of the children or the Director of the Social Welfare Department can apply for custody of the children.
Fostering is a mission, one that carries considerable responsibility yet offers tremendous sense of worth. Here at Boase Cohen & Collins, we are experienced in all areas of Family Law and are happy to provide essential legal advice on matters relating to children.
A Senior Associate with BC&C, Allison Lee is experienced in matrimonial and family matters, having worked with clients on applications for divorce, separation, financial disputes, asset division, maintenance and child’s custody and care arrangements. She also has experience in general civil litigation, including employment issues. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.