Her daughter set flat on fire
Some single parents are unaware that there are organisations that can give them a helping hand. In Madam Suputhra Devi Rengasamy's case, that nearly ended in tragedy
She used to dread school holidays.
This is because Madam Suputhra Devi Rengasamy has to leave her 10-year-old daughter alone at home.
"I am always scared that something bad will happen to her," said Madam Devi, 43.
Her fears came true when her daughter started a fire at home on March 16 during the school holidays.
The girl was at home with her 12-year-old cousin, who goes to Madam Devi's three-room-flat in Telok Blangah Cresent to play during the school holidays.
Hungry, the two girls tried to cook instant noodles for breakfast and accidentally started a fire.
"By the time we realised, the flames were quite high and the smoke almost reached the ceiling," Madam Devi's daughter told The New Paper.
A neighbour who heard their shouts for help rushed over to douse the flames while the cousin called the authorities for help.
The fire was eventually extinguished by their neighbour.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was alerted at 9am and arrived at the scene at 9.14am. There were no injuries reported.
The fire left burn marks up to 1.5m high, but did not do serious damage. Madam Devi found out about the fire only when she met her daughter for dinner that day, after work.
She admitted that it was partly her fault, leaving two young girls home alone, but she said she has no choice.
Being the sole breadwinner and the main caregiver, she often faces the dilemma of choosing between staying home to watch her daughter and going out to work.
Madam Devi is a widow who works as a health attendant in Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Her husband died 10 years ago.
"It is easier during the school-term as she can stay in school. But during the school holidays, there is nobody around to watch her," said Madam Devi.
NOT ENOUGH MONEY
Madam Devi declines to reveal her monthly salary, but said she does not earn much and hence does not have enough money to send her daughter to an after school care centre.
School-based centres can set parents back by $300 a month while private centres can charge up to $500 a month.
A Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda) spokesman said it is willing to help as "it is clear she is a low-income single mother".
When told, a relieved Madam Devi said she would be getting in touch with Sinda.
By the time we realised, the flames were quite high and the smoke almost reached the ceiling.
- Madam Suputhra Devi Rengasamy's daughter, on accidentally starting a fire while cooking instant noodles
Approach school for help with children
Parents who wish for their child to have adult supervision can approach the school for help, said Mr Lawrence Tan, manager of Touch Young Arrows, an academic coaching and mentoring programme for children from low-income or single-parent families.
He said:"Many schools have student care centres or after school programmes.
"Some schools also link up with external student care centres and can recommend one to the student."
There are also subsidies available for families in financial difficulty, he added.
Despite this, cases of children being left alone at home are not rare, said Mr Tan.
He said: "Most children who are left at home alone are from single-parent families.
"The parent is often the sole breadwinner of the family and has to work."
Ms Vivian Pan, 31, founder of the Single Parent Support Group, said that of the single mothers she sees who do not receive help from their family, about half do not enrol their children in after school care programmes.
Said Ms Pan, a single mother herself: "Some of them earn less than $1,200 a month. After paying for bills, food and transport, they are given no choice but to leave their kid at home."
Senior assistant director of Fei Yue Community Services, Ms Rachel Lee, said that children should typically not be left at home without adult supervision.
"The child might loiter when left alone. He may leave the house and mix with the wrong company and there may be moral dangers for girls, she said.
"Children may also spend long hours on the computer viewing potentially dangerous material."
The lack of interaction and social stimulation at home may also not be helpful for the child's development, she added.
- KRYSTAL CHIA