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Bond between child and foster parents is strong

"It is the worst case scenario for the child," one psychiatrist says of Mary's case.

This is because her foster and biological parents have an informal arrangement with each other instead of a legally binding one, explains Dr Lim Boon Leng, a consultant psychiatrist at the Gleneagles Hospital.

He says: "The child is already confused over who her actual parents are. Such a child caught in the middle of a quarrel will probably feel responsible for causing it.

"Both sides are indispensable to the child's growth."

He tells The New Paper on Sunday that cases of informal arrangements between parents and their relatives were common in the past, where having a large number of children was a normal occurrence.

It can be a cause for conflict as the biological parents still have a legal right to be the child's guardians, he adds.

"If the parents exercise that right when the child has found attachment to his guardians, there can be problems as this attachment is a very strong one," says Dr Lim.

"Stopping this attachment will cause anxiety and loss to the child.

"If both sides fight over the child, it can traumatise her and she may be predisposed to anger management issues or anxiety disorders later in life."

The biological parents who want to reclaim the child will likely become frustrated and impatient as they may not understand the child's yearning for the foster parents, too.

Says Dr Lim: "The parents should understand that the bond between the foster parents and the child can never be broken altogether."

Singapore Children's Society director of youth services, Dr Carol Balhetchet, likens the love between the child and the foster parents as a "deeply rooted plant".

Says Dr Balhetchet: "These are the people who have given the child love, security and sustenance. Uprooting this plant and taking it to another environment will not end well."

It is worse when a dispute happens as the child will think she is "the wedge in the family", she adds.

In dispute cases such as Mary's, she believes that putting the child in a children's home is a good option.

"The child will feel safer someplace else and far away from the dispute which she may feel responsible for," she says.

"After all, the objective is to wait for the battle to be over and for calm to resume before sending her back to the family."