News

On the search for selfless individuals to foster needy children

With 310 children in foster care, the Government is looking for people to become foster parents. CHAI HUNG YIN (chaihyn@sph.com.sg) talks to a housewife who has fostered 11 kids and a first-time foster mother

'You need patience of a saint'

She cried her heart out when it was time to return her foster child to her natural parents.

It was more than eight years ago but Madam Lourdes Thomas Audrey still recalls the excruciating separation.

"I went to the toilet and bawled. I wouldn't come out. Not even when my husband bought me ice cream. Even giving birth was not as painful," says the 45-year-old housewife.

The mother of one confesses that she was so devastated she did not want to ever take in another child again.

Yet, two months later, she gave her love to a three-year-old who needed help.

Her natural son, Jarryll, then seven, had egged her on. He told her: "Mum, there're a lot of other kids out there who need a home."

Foster families such as Madam Audrey's provide shelter, stability and love to children who have been abandoned, neglected or ill-treated, or when their birth parents cannot look after them due to physical or mental illness, incarceration and other social issues.

There are 310 children under foster care and 254 foster parents registered under the fostering scheme by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

More than 5,000 children have benefited from the scheme since its inception in 1956.

The ministry held a roadshow at Compass Pointearlier this month to recruit more foster parents. Seventeen families signed up.

"By recruiting more foster parents, we hope that every child in need will have the opportunity to live in a caring home-based environment, feel safe and loved as well as have his potential fulfilled," says Ms Fong Wai Mian, senior assistant director of MSF Fostering Service.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said in Parliament last year that his ministry was looking to enlarge its fostering scheme for children in need of a home.

While the scheme previously provided care for babies and children under six, it has now expanded to include older children below 18 as well.

Madam Audrey has fostered 11 children so far.

Her current charges are two boys: John, five, and Michael, nine, who has been with her since he was six weeks old.

We are not using their real names as their identities are protected under the law.

While Jarryll can be accommodating, Madam Audrey has had to deal with sibling rivalry among her foster children.

She tells The New Paper on Sunday: "Michael says John cannot call me mummy."

Madam Audrey treats all her foster children as if they were her own. She showers them with love, guidance and care, and also disciplines them where necessary.

She takes them to the hospital and cares for them when they are sick.

"My bond with Michael is the strongest as he falls sick more often and gets admitted frequently. Once he had pneumonia," she says.

"He has taught me a lot of things. Even though he is in this unfortunate situation, he still loves us unconditionally.

"He has taught us a deeper meaning of love."

Dealing with older foster children can be challenging.

She says: "Some take time to settle down. Some are afraid to act out in case you send them back. You need to have the patience of a saint when dealing with them."

She has never stinted on her love even though she knows she will be hurt in the end. She even prepares them for the eventual return to their natural parents.

She says: "They should still love their parents. If they get too comfortable with you, it is hard for them when they leave.

"I keep telling them: You are not my child. You are my foster child. But I still love you unconditionally."

In fact, she does not give out her phone number so her previous foster children won't look back.

It is important that the kids forge relationships with their birth parents, even if it hurts.

She adds: "It is painful. But who else is going to look after them?"

Her satisfaction comes from knowing that she has made a difference in a child's life.

She says: "The best part of being a foster parent is seeing my foster children achieve their potential.

"Also, bonding and building relationships with them and going through thick and thin as a family."

She hopes that Michael will always remember her. She says: "He wrote a poem for me. That was the first time he made me cry."

When asked what he wants to say to Madam Audrey, Michael replies: "Thank you for taking care of me and feeding me."

'A child should be protected'

NURTURING: Madam Roszalita Mohamed and Mr Abdul Latif Jaafar with their foster child.                  

She confesses that she is extra protective of her foster child.

In fact, Madam Roszalita Mohamed is more careful with him than she was with her sons - now aged 13 and eight - when they were babies.

"It's because he is somebody else's child and I'm responsible for his safety. I don't want him to get hurt. If anything happens to him, I'm answerable. So I'm extra careful," she says.

Now that the toddler is learning to walk, the 36-year-old housewife says she holds him close at all times.

She recalls the day in 2012 when she first met the then one-month-old baby.

"The natural parents were there. I was a bit sad to see the child part with his family."

But there was also the excitement. She says that her foster son is easy to love.

She and her husband, administrative executive Abdul Latif Jaafar, 41, signed up with the Ministry of Social and Family Development's foster parenting scheme two years ago and this is their first foster child.

They had heard about the scheme from their cousins, who are also foster parents.

Says Mr Abdul Latif: "We learnt that some of the children may come from difficult situations. Most of the time, it is due to the errors of the adults.

"We feel that children should be protected from the problems of the adult world. They are too young to understand what's going on.

"They should be given space to grow.

"They need to be nurtured especially in their formative years so that they develop a sense of security that the world is safe for them."

Another foster parent, Madam Libby Vine, 41, feels that to be able to help is a gift.

The director of non-profit organisation Sanctuary House says: "The best thing you can give a child is love."

Her fostering journey started in early 2012 when she took in a sickly one-month-old baby and looked after him for two years."When I met him, I felt a real desire to care for him. I knew it was the right thing to do. It was meant to happen. My instinct was to protect him. It was a very overwhelming feeling."

A few months ago, the child went home to be with his natural parents.

"It is a grieving period you go through. It has been about seven months since he left and I'm still not ready to get rid of his cot yet," she says.

Emotionally, it has not been easy on her and her family, but looking after him has inspired her to look after other children.

She says: "We are so happy we did it. I encourage people to be foster parents because that's how you can make a difference in a child's life."

Be a foster parent

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is on the lookout for more foster parents.

Senior assistant director of MSF Fostering Service, Ms Fong Wai Mian, says: "Our foster mothers open their homes and their hearts to these vulnerable children.

"They give them love and shelter.This is vital as many of these children cannot live with their own families because of neglect, abandonment and abuse.

"With patient care, these foster mothers put the children on the path of healing."

Among the criteria, an applicant is preferably married, at least 25 years old, is medically fit to care for children and is willing to provide a nurturing environment.

An allowance of $936 a month is provided to the foster parent for each child they care for to cover the child's daily necessities.

If the child has special needs, this amount is raised to $1,114.

Fostering is different from adoption - a foster child keeps his identity and continues to be the legal child of his natural parents, with whom he will reunite.

But when this is not possible, there have been instances where the foster child stays on for a longer term, with his best interest at heart, says MSF.

The next roadshow by MSF will be from Aug 25 to 31 at Novena Square 2.

To find out more, call 6354-8799 or visit www.msf.gov.sg/fostering.