Legislative Council
Panel on Welfare Services Meeting on 25 January 1999
Information Paper on the Report on Evaluation Study of "Social Networking for the Elderly Project"


The purpose of this paper is to inform Members of updated progress of the "Social Networking for the Elderly Project", and findings and recommendations of an evaluation study on the Project.

Social Networking for the Elderly Project

2. The "Social Networking for the Elderly Project" (hereafter referred to as , "the Project") provided informal network of care and support and volunteer services to vulnerable elderly people who were living alone so as to enable them to continue living in the community. This 2-year experimental project which was launched in 27 multi-service centres for the elderly throughout the territory from 1 October 1996 was completed on 30 September 1998.


3. Objectives of this Project were twofold : (a) to identify and maintain a list of elderly persons requiring networking service in each administrative district; and (b) to identify service providers and volunteers from local organizations/groups to establish a network for the purposes of maintaining contacts with the elderly persons and providing them with support to prevent their isolation including making appropriate referrals for formal services whenever necessary.

Co-ordinating Mechanism for the Project

4. The Social Welfare Department had formed a steering committee with representatives from Health and Welfare Bureau (HWB), Housing Department (HD), Home Affairs Department (HAD), and Hong Kong Council of Social Service to oversee implementation of the networking system and formulation of strategies and guidelines. At the district level, District Social Welfare Officers set up 13 district committees to pool resources to identify and maintain a list of needy elderly people, to oversee the progress of implementation of the networking system and the setting up an operation of the local co-ordinating mechanism. Members of district committees included representatives from HAD, HD, NGOs, Provisional District Boards, multi-service centres for the elderly, and local leaders, etc. Those multi-service centres for the elderly which operated the Project had set up local co-ordinating mechanisms to facilitate effective group-matching and to provide volunteer services and social networking activities.

Service Statistics

5. Service statistics as at end of the Project (i.e. 30 September 1998) are as follows:

  1. No. of vulnerable elderly on the list : 14,661

  2. No. of volunteers organizations : 421

  3. No. of volunteers : 7,062

  4. No. of matched elderly persons with volunteers : 7,127

  5. No. of networking activities conducted by volunteers (cumulative):

      - Face-to-face contacts/home visits : 55,470

      - Telephone contacts : 78352

      - Referrals : 1,610

Besides, District committees had organized regular mass activities and community concern visits for both matched and unmatched elderly people. The Social Welfare Department had also published a bi-monthly newsletter to publicize this project, recruit more volunteers and promote a caring community. So far, 6 issues of the newsletter were published, and 20,000 copies were printed for each issue to distribute to volunteer organizations, individual volunteers of all age groups, local organizations, schools and local leaders for reference.

Evaluation Study on the Project

6. A research team headed by Professor Nelson CHOW from the Department of Social Work and Social Administration of the University of Hong Kong was commissioned by the Social Welfare Department to conduct an evaluation study on the Social Networking for the Elderly Project from October 1997 to July 1998. Objectives of the study were as follows:

  1. To assess the effectiveness of the Project;

  2. To examine the feasibility of continuation of the service in its present form or otherwise;

  3. To examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the computerised Client Information System; and

  4. To recommend areas for improvement.
7. The research team carried out the following tasks:
  1. Study and analyse the existing operation of the Project;

  2. Examine and analyse the client information system (computer system);

  3. Collect service information and operating models by way of questionnaire survey and intensive interviews with staff of 27 multi-service centres for the elderly;

  4. Conduct questionnaire survey on 600 elderly people to gather views and degree of satisfaction towards the Project;

  5. Conduct questionnaire survey on 211 volunteer organizations and 100 individual volunteers to obtain views on various arrangements of the Project; and

  6. Set up focus group discussions with representatives of the steering committee, district committees and multi-service centres for the elderly to understand their views on the 3-tier co-ordinating mechanism.
Major Findings of the Study

8. The major findings of the study are categorized as follows:

  1. Elderly people participating in the Project - elderly people had good memory and were living in public housing (73.2%); had retired (91.5%); had never received any education (47%). Majority of the matched elderly people (63.1%)* were from the priority list while 36.9% did not belong to the priority group. 76.6% of the matched elderly revealed that they would seek help when necessary, but family members still formed the most important source of help for the elderly people when they were in need. Elderly people coming from the priority list and those not on the priority list did not differ much. This result might imply that the mechanism through which priority cases were identified was not functional, or the priority cases were not identified according to the stated criteria.

  2. Volunteer organizations participating in the Project - 87% of the volunteers had received training. 18.1% were unable to arrange training for their volunteers. 47.8% had difficulties in following up their volunteers' services, while 38% encountered problems of frequent dropping-out of volunteers.

  3. Volunteers participating in the Project - most of them were female (74.7%); aged 60 or above (48.3%); married (42.8%); housewives (46%); having secondary education (42.2%). Over 80% felt that they were able to reduce the sense of isolation of the elderly, could make them happy, could show concern and increase their knowledge about social service. Over 50% of the volunteers paid visits to elderly people during special occasions, especially during festive seasons. 97.6% of the volunteers were satisfied with the operation and services of the Project. 73.6% found that the training they received was adequate in giving them knowledge about elderly people, in training them to visit and in communicating with elderly people, and in assessing needs of the elderly.

  4. Client Information System (computer programme) - the computer programme was not in compliance with other common software applications; the current options of printing elderly information could not be changed, and the current system contained only names but not details of the volunteer organizations. The statistical reports also did not reflect the number of elderly people leaving the Project. The current system could not match individual volunteers but only groups and did not have adequate supply of computer hardwares and softwares for use. The transfer of data between SWD and the operating multi-service centres for the elderly was cumbersome.
Findings of the Study

9. Results of the study indicate that elderly people and volunteers participating in the Project both considered the Project fruitful and beneficial. The Project was effective in improving the sense of well-being and social support of elderly people. The research team recommends the continuation of social networking service for the elderly, but some changes to its present form are needed to increase its impact and effectiveness. Moreover, improvement to the client information system is also required.

Recommendations from the Research Team

10. The research team recommends the following to improve the social networking service :

  1. Visits to elderly people who are living alone and detached from the community will enhance their welfare. Continuation of social networking services for the elderly is recommended.

  2. Efforts should be made to highlight the differences between the Project and other services or visits so as to establish a clear identify for the service.

  3. The Project should be integrated with the work and structure of multi-service centres for the elderly and the 3-tier co-ordinating mechanism streamlined.

  4. A new set of identification criteria should be devised so as to better identify elderly people who are in need and to increase service efficiency and effectiveness.

  5. A standardized volunteer training package should be devised.

  6. A proactive approach should be adopted to reach out to the elderly and an open referral procedure practised to encourage closer linkage between various social and medical systems, including elderly health centres and the community geriatric assessment teams.

  7. Improvement on the computer programme of the client information system is required.

  8. A feedback system for elderly people and volunteers should be established so as to encourage them to voice their opinions and to propose suggestions for improvement of the service.
Follow-up to Research Team's Recommendations

11. As the experimental period of the Project was completed on 30 September 1998, the Social Welfare Department has formulated the following action plans with the aim of taking forward the research team's recommendations for in improvement:

  1. The non-governmental organizations have been financed to set up Support Teams for the elderly from 1 October 1998 in multi-service-centres for the elderly to continue social networking services for the elderly. Objectives of the support teams for the elderly are (i) to provide social networking and outreaching services to vulnerable elderly people, and (ii) to develop elderly volunteer programme to encourage the elderly to contribute to the community. Up to now, 31 support teams have been set up, and 5 more teams will come into service before end of March 2001.

  2. Support teams for the elderly will integrate social networking service into the normal function multi-services-centres for the elderly so as to maximize the use of resources to serve needy elderly. The 3-tier co-ordination mechanism of the Social Networking for the Elderly Project has ceased to operate in view of the direct supervision being provided by Social Welfare Department.

  3. The Social Welfare Department, Hong Kong Council of social service and non-governmental organizations, have worked out a new set of identification criteria for support teams for the elderly in matching needy elderly with volunteers.

  4. Representatives of Social Welfare Department, Hong Kong Council of Social Service and non-governmental organizations have compiled a standardized training package for volunteers.

  5. A proactive approach has been adopted by the Social welfare Department to promote and publicize the services of support teams for the elderly to differentiate their services from other volunteer services. District Social Welfare Officers will assist multi-service centres for the elderly to obtain appropriate referrals of elderly people through district organizations and welfare agencies and to recruit volunteers.

  6. Support teams for the elderly have adopted an outreach approach to identify needy elderly and to link up with elderly health centres and community geriatric assessment teams or direct referrals;

  7. A feedback mechanism has been devised to collect views of elderly people and volunteers in the form of report-back forum and briefing etc.

  8. A consultant firm has been commissioned by the Social Welfare Department to prepare a new client information system (computer system) which will be ready for the use before March 1999. The new computer system will enable support teams for the elderly to gather other information, such as personal data, health condition and dialects used by elderly people. As described in the foregoing paragraphs, recommendations of the research team have been fully implemented.

12. At the end of the experimental period, the Social Networking for the Elderly Project has fulfilled its purposes as it had served over 14,600 singleton elderly and recruited more than 7,000 volunteers. Results of the evaluation study indicate that elderly people had benefited from services rendered by volunteers and the volunteers could also sustain the spirit of respect, care and for the elderly. Therefore, social networking is an effective means to serve elderly people. The Department will closely monitor the development and progress of support teams for the elderly to ensure that vulnerable elderly people will receive the services they need and that more volunteers can be mobilized.

13. Members are requested to note the attached executive summary of the Evaluation Study on the Social Networking for the Elderly Project.

Advice Sought

14. Members are requested to note and comment on the contents of this report. Elderly Branch
Social Welfare Department
January 1999