Legislative Council
Panel on Welfare Services Meeting on 14 September 1998

Information Paper on
Social Networking for the Elderly Project


The purpose of this paper is to inform members of the progress and future development of the Social Networking for the Elderly Project.


2. Hong Kong has an elderly population of around 900,000 aged 60 and over. Excluding elderly people living in institutions, it is estimated by the Census and Statistics Department that about 100,000 elderly persons reside in one-person households, some of whom do not have any social network nor support from their family members or relatives. Formal welfare services as well as informal helping network are required to assist these vulnerable elderly persons to achieve maximum independence in the community.

Social Networking for the Elderly Project


3. For the purpose of building up a list of vulnerable elderly people and an informal network of volunteers, the Social Networking for the Elderly Project was set up in October 1996. This project was instigated by the cold spell in early 1996, and was funded by a Lotteries Fund grant of $21,972,000. All 27 multi-service centres for the elderly (M/E) were provided with one Social Work Assistant each to implement this project from 1 October 1996 on an experimental basis for 2 years.


4. Objectives of this project are:

  • to identify and maintain a list of elderly persons requiring networking service in each District Board administrative district; and

  • to identify service providers and volunteers from local organizations/groups to establish a network for the purpose of maintaining contacts with the elderly persons, to provide them with support to prevent their isolation as far as possible, including making appropriate referrals for formal service when necessary.

Service Targets

5. Service targets are elderly persons aged 60 and above who are in need of social support and who wish to be regularly contacted by volunteers. Priority for networking service will be given to elderly persons who are more vulnerable or are at risk according to the following criteria:

  • those living alone with or without co-tenants, or living with somebody who cannot take care of him/her (e.g. another elderly person, an infirmed spouse, or a disabled dependent etc); and

  • those without an existing network in place, e.g. those not regularly visited by Estate Liaison Officer, home helpers, relatives or others persons, and

  • those of advanced age (e.g. aged 70 or above); or those with poor health, e.g. bedridden/users of wheelchair/walking aid, or with chronic illness/ disability that affects daily living skills( poor health or disability is to be assessed by simple observation); or those living in unfavourable or hazardous environments.


6. A Steering Committee was formed and chaired by the Deputy Director of Social Welfare. Members include representatives from Health and Welfare Bureau (HWB), Housing Department (HD), Home Affairs Department (HAD), Hong Kong Council of Social Service. The Steering Committee oversees the implementation of this project and formulates strategies and guidelines for the project.

7. At district level, District Committees on Social Networking for the Elderly are formed which are chaired by the District Social Welfare Officer of respective districts of the Social Welfare Department. The District Committee pools resources from different sources to network the elderly persons; identifies and maintains a list of elderly persons requiring networking service in each district; oversees the establishment of networks for elderly persons, and oversees the setting up and operation of the co-ordinating mechanism in the local areas. Members of the District Committee include representatives from HAD, HD, NGOs, District Boards, local organizations and multi-service centres for the elderly, etc.

8. Individual multi-service centres for the elderly which operate the project also set up local co-ordinating mechanism to arrange matching of vulnerable elderly persons with participating agencies and bodies providing volunteer service as well as other networking activities.


9. As at end of July 1998, service statistics of this project are as follows:

  • No. of vulnerable elderly on the list : 14,580

  • No. of volunteers organizations : 422

  • No. of volunteers : 7,059

  • No. of matched elderly persons with volunteers : 7,073

  • No. of networking activities conducted by volunteers (culmulative):

    1. Face-to-face contacts/ home visits : 48,752

    2. Telephone contacts : 68,852

    3. Referrals : 1,513

    10. Besides, mass activities and community concern visits are regularly organized for both matched and unmatched elderly people known to the project.

    11. To publicize this project, recruit more volunteers and promote a caring community, a bi-monthly newsletter on this project has been published. So far, 5 issues of 20,000 copies each have been printed and distributed to volunteer organizations, individual volunteers of all age groups, local organizations, schools, and local leaders, etc. Moreover, the Elderly and Medical Social Services Branch of the Social Welfare Department and the District Committees on Social Networking for the Elderly of respective districts also regularly arrange large-scale publicity and promotional activities of this project.

    Evaluation study

    12. To gauge the effectiveness of the project, the Steering Committee has recommended the University of Hong Kong to conduct an evaluation study of the project. The research team of the University of Hong Kong has conducted the study since November 1997 and will submit recommendations by the end of August 1998. Feedback and data received so far have confirmed that the project has met its objectives.

    Way Forward

    13. Funding for the Social Networking for the Elderly Project will end on 30 September 1998. In order to serve the needs of vulnerable elderly people in an integrated manner, a new service - "support teams for the elderly" will be set up from 1 October 1998.

    Support Teams for the Elderly

    14. Support teams for the elderly will take over the functions of Social Networking for the Elderly Project and also those of Older Volunteers Programmes, Volunteer Workers Programmes and Outreaching Teams for the Elderly At Risk. Its main tasks are as follows:

    1. to provide social networking and outreaching services to vulnerable elderly people; and

    2. to develop an elderly Volunteer Programme to encourage elderly to contribute and participate as active members of the community.

    Support teams for the elderly will be based in multi-service centres for the elderly and each team will be provided with 1 Senior Social Work Assistant, 1 Social Work Assistant and 1 Clerical Assistant. As pledged by the Chief Executive in his policy address in October 1997, 36 support teams will be set up in all existing multi-service certres and new centres coming into service by March 2001 to provide dedicated social networking and outreaching services to vulnerable single elderly. To implement this initiative 32 teams will be set up in 1998/99, 2 in 1999/00 and 2 in 2000/01. The new service will be funded through regular subvention from the Social Welfare Department.


    15. Social networking service for the elderly will grow from strength to strength with the setting up of support teams for the elderly. Social Welfare Department will closely monitor the development of this new service and will ensure that this new initiative will be a success.

    Social Welfare Department
    September 1998