Did you know that over 4000 children are living in residential homes (homes that “offer young people, usually of secondary school age, a safe place to live together with other children away from home”), but the number of spaces has never changed, and that there are approximately 600-800 children still waiting for a place they can call home every day?
If you didn’t, you’re not alone: as a member of the Mother’s Choice Youth Leadership Council, I’ve been working with Mother’s Choice for quite a few years, but I never had the opportunity to fully investigate how the organization works and their role in their field, which is why my interview with Mother’s Choice was an extremely eye-opening experience. Despite my involvement with the organization, like many citizens, I never actively sought out the statistics behind the stories of these children, until now.
That’s why NGOs like Mother’s Choice continue to strive for awareness and change, despite the recent challenges that they’ve come to face due to the cancellation of their fundraising gala this year. Mother’s Choice is a grassroots NGO that supports teenage mothers with crisis pregnancies (pregnancies that have led to severe problems for the mother, regardless of whether they were planned or not but most likely the latter), children in need of a family, as well as families who take care of the said children to achieve their goal of giving every single child out there a loving and permanent family because children will only ever achieve their full potential when they belong with a family.
It’s been 33 years since Mother’s Choice was established by the four co-founders, but their focus and goal remains the same: as the name suggests, it aims to give these young mothers a choice and allow them to still move on with hope for their future. They shouldn’t be forced into a decision of abortion, adoption, or parenthood after their parents tell them one thing or society tells them another because, in reality, all 3 decisions are equally difficult to make. Therefore, Mother’s Choice took action by equipping these girls with the correct information that will allow them to make safe and informed decisions and move on with their lives, feeling empowered and educated.
Unfortunately, the situation won’t just resolve itself with the help of Mother’s Choice alone: government implementation of policies and practices is key.
“The government can put in laws and practices, but if it doesn’t get down to the frontlines…that’s the biggest problem…In fact, the laws in Hong Kong are written to protect the best interests of the parents and the family: they were written around 60-70 years ago based on the UK system, and have not changed since then,” says Mother’s Choice’s Director of Communications & Philanthropy Lily Ng, who willingly resigned from her corporate career in media and advertising to join Mother’s Choice and build the visions that Alia Eyres, the CEO of Mother’s Choice, shared with her years ago.
“There’s a lot of need in the city, with over 4000 children in residential homes. Out of those children, very few of them are real orphans: 95% of children have their birth families, but maybe their parents have addiction issues, are incarcerated, or have financial issues so they can’t care for their child. There’s a whole list of reasons,” says Lily.
“However, this number of 4000 children isn’t what alarms us: what alarms us about this number is that the number of spaces has never exceeded 4000, which means that at any given day, there are never more than 4000 children in residential care, and yet 600-800 children are waiting every day for a safe home to go to. And still, we know there are thousands more who don’t know where to go and where to find help.”
Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story: research has shown that the longer children spend in care, the smaller the probability that children will be able to find a permanent family.
But the average number of years it takes for children to get placed in a family in Hong Kong is approximately 8 years.
Although our society has begun to accept adoption as another way to build families, with impressive progress in the amount of time needed for children to be adopted (3-5 years to the current 6-8 months), stigma against these young mothers as “naughty”, “promiscuous” girls persists.
“This [teenage crisis pregnancies] is a taboo that people don’t talk about or do a lot of research on, so the statistic of approximately 7000 girls facing crisis pregnancies each year is just a conservative estimate. Crisis pregnancies happen across all types of schools, but the girls that we serve don’t have the resources to help themselves. If you get to understand their stories, they’re traumatic, because the pregnancies are a symptom of the broken families they were born in: it’s a vicious generation cycle. We have seen cases where there have been at least 3 generations of teenage crisis pregnancies,” says Lily.
“These children decide to be a parent when they’re not ready, they don’t have a support group, they don’t even know what a healthy family looks like! Before you know it, 6 months later, their child ends up in the residential care system. The community…they don’t know what to do about it, they don’t think there’s a problem, and then what happens is the child lives in the system, grows up in the system, and the vicious generation cycle just repeats, and repeats, and repeats… So every service here in Mother’s Choice aims to break that cycle.”
How can Mother’s Choice impact all children and help resolve the dilemma? Lily believes that Mother’s Choice will be able to achieve its goal by joining hands with communities. “The government is just one key stakeholder in this: everyone has a role to play because these children can’t speak for themselves,” she told me.
And that’s where Project Bridge, a program that aims to expand their short-term placement capacity, comes into place. As one of the 11 NGOs that provide foster care for children via the Social Welfare Department’s Central Foster Care Unit, Mother’s Choice launched this project intending to expand their short-term placement capacity. Rather than offering the financial support and incentives that the Ordinary Foster Care (OFC) system provides, Project Bridge “recruits, trains, and supports highly-motivated volunteer families to provide quality temporary health care to the children in the care system”, and has achieved the immense success that could only have been possible with the fact that every child is given their unique plan that best suits their unique needs.
Despite the successes that Mother’s Choice and her team have achieved, such as the operation of Project Bridge, Lily admits that there is still much to be done to overcome the current and future challenges ahead. “But when we look at others who are leaders in the field doing great stuff, it gives us hope that there’s a different way forward…We’re an organization filled with hope, because if we don’t have hope, how will they [teenage mothers] have hope?”
Only when NGOs, the government, and citizens work together can these issues be truly resolved: after all, as the old proverb often goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”.
Should you and your family be interested in joining Project Bridge or any of their other volunteering services, please email Mother’s Choice at firstname.lastname@example.org, and the staff will answer any queries or help you sign up for the online sessions that are held twice every month.
As a student, you might be interested in volunteering or collaborating with Mother’s Choice for school projects: you can easily email Mother’s Choice at the aforementioned email address, or you could join the Mother’s Choice Youth Leadership Council, where you’ll be able to meet like-minded, enthusiastic, and proactive students who are dedicated to making a difference to their community. Making a difference can be doing a challenge and getting sponsors from other people, such as a 20 km hike challenge, organizing bake sales in schools, or holding donation drives for Mother’s Choice, which is something that I did in Year 11 where my team and I organized a donation drive for the child care homes and received at least one hundred donations for students. It can even be something as simple as creating handmade birthday cards for the children, who love receiving creative and original birthday gifts.
If you’re interested in more information about Mother’s Choice and their services, visit their Facebook page or official website at motherschoice.org/en/, where you will find a link to monthly donations and can donate as little as 10 dollars.
Every act, no matter big or small, counts, and makes an immeasurable difference to the lives of these children as you share your love, generosity, and kindness with them. On behalf of Mother’s Choice and the children, I would like to express my utmost gratitude towards your consideration. Thank you!