Parents in Macau Struggle to Find Therapy Services While Gaming Revenue Hits 36.5 Billion Patacas (USD 4.57 Billion) in October
Online PR News – 24-November-2013 – Macau – After nine years of providing services to Macau children with learning and developmental disorders and appealing to the Macau Government for support on multiple occasions, the Macau Child Development Association (MCDA) regrets to report that the situation in Macau for families with special needs children remains fundamentally unchanged compared to the conditions in 2004. Despite direct pleas to the office of Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On; there has been a consistent lack of response to the situation, with some Macau Government departments refusing to recognize a problem even exists.
MCDA Founder and Coordinator, Eliana Calderon stated “Since 2004, MCDA has been approached by parents representing 530 children in need of formal assessments and therapy. We can only provide services to a relatively low number of children due to severe limitations in funding and premises. Just in the first nine months of 2013, we have added 90 names to this list of children waiting for services after being approached by parents. This is a tragedy because most of these children could be helped if they were given assessments and therapies – such as speech therapy or occupational therapy – by qualified professionals. Parents tell us they are unable to find services for their children in Macau.”
MCDA approached the Macau Chief Executive’s office in 2012 presenting documentation describing the current needs and service requirements. They have yet to receive a response from the Chief Executive or other representatives from his office. The Direcção dos Serviços de Educação e Juventude (DSEJ) is the government department responsible for primary and secondary education along with other youth services in Macau. The DSEJ has stated in previous meetings and in a July 2013 letter to MCDA that they do not think children are waiting for these services in Macau. Eliana Calderon commented “The attitude of the DSEJ is both alarming and frustrating. We have presented them detailed information on the many children in Macau who need help; however they refuse to recognize these children exist. Furthermore, their definition of service levels falls very short of international standards.”
Although Macau’s gaming market grew 32% to a record 36.5 billion Patacas (USD 4.57 billion) during October, many local families struggle under the pressure of rising living costs. As the population continues to grow, the existing education and children services infrastructure is not able to keep pace. The Macau Government presents the city as an international destination for investment and tourism but services for children – especially for children with learning and developmental disorders are severely lacking. For example, local Macau media has been reporting on a shortage of places in the kindergarten system. In addition, home schooling is illegal in Macau so many parents struggle to find a place in a classroom for their child, since schools are free to reject applications if they view the child as needing extra help and can then claim they do not have the resources. It is easier for the school to reject these children even if they have relatively minor conditions since there are many other children seeking placement. According to Eliana Calderon “Macau law requires all parents to send their children to school. However, it does not require schools to accept the child’s application. The result is that some parents are forced to send their children to schools which are not suitable – either due to the curriculum language or support – otherwise they will be taken to court by the Macau Government. I previously faced this same situation several years ago with my own son.”
Macau parents may take their children to Hong Kong for assessments and therapy from private sector professionals. Due to high rents, salaries, and other costs, parents will typically pay HKD 1,300 (USD 167) for a 45-minute therapy session; not including travel costs from Macau which can add extra HKD 800 (USD 100) to the day-trip. However, average Macau household income is approximately 23,000 patacas (USD 2,960) so spending HKD 5,000 to HKD 10,000 (USD 645 to USD 1,290) each month is not possible after paying mortgage/rent, food, tuitions, and other costs. MCDA offers services rates which are typically 70-80% lower than private sector fees. Miss Calderon described the situation as follows: “Although our service fees are considered low, about 75% of all families still apply for financial aid to reduce the costs even lower. If their child needs therapy 1-2 times per week, the services quickly become a major financial burden.” The fees paid by parents only cover about 15% of MCDA’s operating costs. To make up this gap, MCDA approaches government and private sector organizations asking for funds. The gaming companies are typically not prepared to provide significant funding since they already pay taxes to the Macau Government and think the responsibility for funding sits with it. Macau’s social services department, Instituto de Acção Social (IAS), has provided funding to MCDA for a specific program helping young, English-speaking children. Miss Calderon declared “The lack of funding is very serious. I had to make the choice of either closing our doors or providing my own funds to MCDA so we can continue helping children. It is difficult to reconcile the huge wealth being created down the street at the casinos, while at the same time MCDA and other child service groups are perpetually close to ruin because we cannot secure adequate funding to help these children. About 80% of the children we serve are from Cantonese-speaking families. This is not an “expatriate issue” and limited to foreigners living in Macau. Macau has the financial resources to even become a regional leader in special education and best practices for helping children with learning and developmental disorders. Early intervention is the key. Investing in these children is cost-effective. It increases the chance they will grow up into happy and independent adults. It is much more expensive for the government to provide services to adults should they need social services or fall victim to substance abuse, gambling addition, and criminal activities. We are pleading with Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On to listen and take action. The children are waiting.”
MCDA (www.macaukids.org) is a non-profit association founded in 2004 which offers services to children with developmental, communication, and learning disorders including Autism, Dyslexia, and others. These services include a range of therapies, and educational support programs. During 2012, MCDA provided services to 120 children. MCDA seeks to help all children in Macau to grow into healthy, productive, independent, and happy adults by providing therapeutic support services and advocating for the inclusion of all children in the community through public awareness and education.