Prof. NG Yat Nam Petrus
The fiscal year 2022-23 had brought forth numerous challenges. We had to respond swiftly and effectively in terms of services, human resources and finance. Nevertheless, we managed to maintain steady and sustainable development through the collaborative efforts of the Executive Committee, our team of staff members and various stakeholders.
Ongoing Development after the Pandemic
The 3-year long pandemic not only affected the usual operation of the service units, but also caused significant disturbances and changes to the daily lives, physical and mental well-being, economic conditions, and social relationships of the service users. Even the pandemic alert levels subsided and our service units resumed normal operations, the service delivery continued to be modified, such as, retaining some online group activities for community support services, more community engagement and interpersonal social skills training for service users. At the individual level, apart from addressing the noticeable increase in service demands, we spent more efforts to assist service users in coping with heightened emotional distress and feelings of loneliness due to prolonged separation from family and friends. Throughout the year, our clinical psychologists not only provided direct case assessments and psychological counseling services, but also enhanced on-the-job training for professional staff, enabling them, especially those with less experience, to quickly grasp intervention techniques in both case and group settings.
In summary, even after the pandemic and the resumption of normal social activities, some online activities within service units continued as needed. The demands for offline services had increased both in terms of quantity and quality compared to the past. As such, our staff members needed to enhance their work efficiency while continually enriching their service skills.
Despite the challenging service environment, we have launched several innovative services this year. One of these is the "JC JoyAge 3.0" program sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, in collaboration with the Department of Social Work and Social Administration of the University of Hong Kong. It provides different levels of elderly mental health services for those who are experiencing depression and mental distress in the community, by adopting Stepped Care Model and Evidence-Based Practice approaches. Additionally, we have certain projects funded by the Advisory Committee on Mental Health, including the "Family League" Caregiver Support Project; the "Project KoL": Key Incentives of Living - Mental Health Support Project for Elderly in Residential Homes; and the "RE:Bound": a user-friendly mental health online platform for caregivers and individuals facing mental distress. We are selected to operate a mental health support hotline starting from December 2023, which is one of the ten measures proposed by the Advisory Committee on Mental Health to strengthen support for people-in-recovery and individuals with mental health needs. The development of these new initiatives has solidified our organisation's important role in advocating for and providing mental health services in Hong Kong in recent years, also demonstrating our commitment to advancing towards the vision of being at the forefront of mental health.
After four years of learning and practice, we have adopted "Recovering Citizenship" as the core concept of our services, emphasising mutual learning and community participation based on service users' experiences. Therefore, we highly value the involvement of peer support workers in the service delivery process. The postponed Asia Pacific Forum, titled as the "Asia Pacific International Mental Wellness Conference 2023", was held in Hong Kong from 7th to 9th December this year. The theme of the Conference was "Mental Wellness: Recovering Citizenship" and had featured Professor Michael Rowe from Yale University as a keynote speaker. Several staff members presented at the Conference, sharing our experiences in practising the Recovering Citizenship model. On the final day of the Conference, we arranged the recent graduates of the 6th Recovering Citizenship training group to share their personal learning experiences, showcasing our organisation's achievements in localising the concept of Recovering Citizenship while engaging in discussions and exchanges with the other professionals in the industry.
The Paramount Importance of Human Resources
In recent years, there has been a noticeable outflow of talent in the Hong Kong social service sector, coming with a significant number of our staff members leaving their positions within the past year. To address this issue, we have implemented proactive measures, such as streamlining our recruitment process and introducing various talent retention strategies, including using our reserve accounts to provide incentives to current employees and increasing the starting salaries for the frontline social workers with university degrees. As always, we remain committed to provide comprehensive staff training programs. As of 31st March 2023, our overall job vacancy rate was only 4.4%, allowing us to maintain a stable, efficient, and adequately staffed team to provide continued services to the citizens of Hong Kong.
To celebrate our 40th anniversary and encourage our staff to continue our legacy, we organised a UK study tour in August 2023 with the theme of "Discovery and Exploration Journey". A group of staff members from different positions and service units visited London and the surrounding regions to connect with relevant professionals and organisations, including Ms Elly Jansen, the founder of the Richmond Fellowship, the Richmond Fellowship of UK, the Recovery & Wellbeing College, and Professor David M Clark from Oxford University. Participants in the study tour would share their experiences with the other staff members, helping us further develop our services.
Prudent and Proactive Financial Strategies
Over the past two years and the next two years, our funding will decrease by one percent annually in line with the government's tight fiscal situation. In the coming years, the ratio of institutional fiscal contraction is expected to increase significantly. In addition, as our staff turnover rate has decreased recently, our reserve account quota will continue to decrease. In this context, we have adopted a policy of "living according to our means" and closely monitor our expenses. Although the Social Welfare Department recently has released guidelines on cost allocation, which allows organisations to categorise different funding sources based on their nature as Funding and Services Agreement (FSA) activities, FSA-related activities, and non-FSA activities. We have always strictly separated our funding sources into different categories. This would mean less significant impact of our budget on other service projects even the government funding continues to reduce.
While strictly monitoring our expenses, we remain motivated to develop new services and must solicit other sources of revenue. This year, in addition to the previously mentioned organisations, we received funding from The Board of Management of The Chinese Permanent Cemeteries, The Hong Kong Freemasons, the Arts Development Fund for Persons with Disabilities, and the Education Bureau to support our new service development projects. JUSTONE, the 24-hour mental health support hotline is sponsored by the Lee Hysan Foundation, Chow Tai Fook Charity Foundation, and Kerry Group. I would like to express my gratitude to these funders and departments for their continual support in promoting mental health services development.
In addition to striving for service funding, we have also faced unforeseen emergencies in this fiscal year. On the evening of September 7th to September 8th, 2023, a 16-hour rainstorm flooded many low-lying areas across Hong Kong. It also destroyed our Integrated Vocational Rehabilitation Center located at New Jade Garden in Chai Wan. The center's facilities, furniture, supplies, and clients' commodities were all severely damaged. It is estimated that over ten million Hong Kong dollars will be needed to repair and reopen the center. Fortunately, the Chai Wan West and East Integrated Family Service Centers of the Social Welfare Department, Youth Square, Chinese Christian and Missionary Alliance Chai Wan Church, Bethel Baptist Church, Quarry Bay Community Hall, St. James' Settlement Jockey Club Upward Bound Chai Wan Integrated Service Center, and Richmond Welbiz Limited have generously provided immediate support by lending their premises to our service unit for the continuous provision of vocational rehabilitation services. The Social Welfare Department has also expedited the application process for Lotteries Fund and collaborated with the Architectural Services Department for on-site assessment, allowing us to proceed renovation without having to go through a new tendering process. And we can apply for supplementary funding on top of the existing major renovation project. If the process goes smoothly, all supplementary construction projects might be completed within 150 days of construction time. Currently, we are awaiting formal approval of the Lotteries Fund. I would like to take this opportunity to express special gratitude to these organisations and individuals who have assisted us in overcoming these difficulties.
As we enter our 40th anniversary, despite facing numerous challenges, we will continue to move forward with determination, overcoming various obstacles and upholding our commitment to stay "On the Forefront of Mental Health". May we all encourage and support one another in this endeavor!