The impact of poverty on children in out-of-home care services in a Chinese context and the application of multiple family group therapy to enrich their family lives

Mooly M.C. Wong, Joyce L.C. Ma and Londy C.L. Chan - Children and Youth Services Review


The majority of Chinese children placed in out-of-home care in Hong Kong come from economically disadvantaged families. These children have experienced poverty and multiple difficulties (e.g., parents' mental illness, substance abuse) in their families. The removal of children from their homes, with the social worker's intention of protecting the children's welfare, has inevitably interrupted the parent-child attachment, which may be a traumatic experience for both the children and their parents. Owing to limited family resources, the out-of-home children seldom have quality family time with their parents and siblings before and after placement. The children's family lives are seriously affected. Despite the evident needs of the children in these areas, out-of-home care services in Hong Kong emphasize behavioral management, discipline and control of the children under care, rather than helping to re-establishing parent-child relationships and fostering quality family life. In view of this service gap, the authors have launched a service initiative; that is, the use of multiple family group therapy (MFGT) in an out-of-home care service provided by a local non-government organization, with the aim of improving parent-child relationships, fostering quality family time and empowering families to provide mutual help and mutual support. In so doing, hopefully we can bridge the service gap and promote the knowledge of family-centered care practice for out-of-home services in Hong Kong. In this article we shall (a) critically examine the impact of poverty on looked-after children and their families and identify unmet service needs; (b) describe the model of the MFGT we have adapted to suit our purpose; (c) highlight the intervention strategies used to foster quality family time, re-establish parent-child relationships and build a network of supporting families; and (d) report the children's experiences and feedback from the groups. At the end of the paper, we shall discuss the implications for the services in a local context.