Madam Choo Kheng Huay, 58, has four children and seven grandchildren. She also has 14 other ‘children’ whom she has cared for under the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) Fostering Scheme.
It all started when her second daughter showed Madam Choo an article in the newspapers about a child who didn’t have a safe home. Madam Choo felt for the child and decided to find out about the network of foster families who look after such children.
In 2002, she became a foster mother to a seven-year-old girl who stayed with her for over two years. “At that time, my children were all grown up and busy with their lives,” recalls Mdm Choo, “It was great to have a little girl in my home again.”
Bringing Love to Kids
A foster child could be as young as a newborn or an 18-year-old teenager. The Fostering Scheme under the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) provides care arrangements for children who have been abandoned, neglected or ill-treated by their parents or guardians, or those whose parents or guardians are in ill-health and, therefore, unable to look after them.
It provides children with a much-needed conducive home environment and while this is usually only for the short-term, there have been cases where fostering turns into a long-term arrangement if suitable care arrangements can’t be worked out for the child by the parents or guardian.
More than 5,000 children have benefitted from this scheme since its inception in 1956. A spokesperson from the MSF told us that there are currently 310 foster children and 254 foster parents registered under the Fostering Scheme. Under the scheme, foster families provide shelter, stability and love to these children.
In order to apply to become a foster parent, you have to fulfil a basic set of criteria:
- A resident of Singapore
- At least 25 years of age
- Medically fit to care for children
- Household income of at least $2,000 a month
- Preferably married couples
- Preferably experienced in caring for and living with children, with strong parenting skills and commitment to the well-being of the child
- Willing to ensure a child-safe environment
Potential fosters parents are assessed to ensure the safety and well-being of the children. This process takes six to eight weeks and includes interviews with applicants and members of their household, as well as home visits. Fostering differs from adoption in that the child keeps his/her own identity as the legal child of his/her natural parents.
The MSF stresses that those who are interested in becoming a foster parent should first seek the consent and support of everyone in their household.
“We’re looking for foster parents who want to make a difference to vulnerable children and are able to provide them with a caring environment where they can heal and grow to the best of their potential,” added the spokesperson. “Foster parents would also need to be good team players who can work with MSF officers and professionals in the care of the children and integrating them back to the birth families when it is appropriate.
“Foster parents need to provide a caring environment for the foster children to heal and grow up in. Foster families provide a family environment, love and care, shelter, food, education and opportunities to be part of a family and live like normal children. Foster parents need to have the heart for these vulnerable children and ensure that the children’s needs are met. For many, their role would be similar to caring for their own children.”
Indeed, fostering is not simply a matter of bringing a child back home and expecting him or her to behave perfectly. Madam Choo, who is currently fostering two boys aged nine and three, remembers one child who had difficulty adjusting. For several months, he would cry and vomit every night. She patiently cleaned up after him and soothed him back to sleep each night. By showering him with love and attention, his vomiting bouts soon stopped and he began to laugh more. “It was humbling that I could make an impact on someone’s life,” she says.
Foster parents are given financial support to help with the costs involved. A monthly allowance of $936* per child is given. If the child has special needs, the allowance is increased to $1,114*. This covers the child’s daily necessities, food, clothing, education, pocket money and transportation.
The fostering period depends on the situation of each child. While the child is being fostered and cared for, professionals continue to work with the family to stabilise the home environment such that the foster child can return to a safe home when reunited with his or her birth family.
“The placement with the foster family is meant to be a temporary arrangement, until the parents/guardians of the child are ready to resume care and responsibility again. It can range from a few weeks to months or years,” said the MSF.
There is no limit to the number of foster children one can take on. This depends on the living space in the foster parents’ home and their personal capacity to care for the children. Foster parents can take in as many children and for as long as possible as long as they are medically fit and are capable of meeting the needs of the children.
“We have foster parents who have been fostering children for more than 20 years and foster parents who are grandparents caring for their own grandchildren as well as their foster children,” said the MSF.
The Fostering Experience
Madam Maimunah, 51, is currently caring for three foster children. Two of them, a set of siblings aged nine and 10, have been with her for nearly seven years. The other foster child is aged four and has been under her care since he was a toddler.
She and her husband haven’t had any challenges in looking after their foster children, apart from the initial settling-in stage. “This is expected of any child entering a stranger’s home. They will surely cry and want to go home,” said Madam Maimunah.
But having brought up three children of her own, Madam Maimunah is used to having to calm and comfort. “Once we help the children settle in, we are rewarded with their smiling faces and laughter around the house,” she said.
Madam Maimunah has even inspired three of her neighbours to get involved. “Previously, I was influenced by my neighbour and I am now pleased that my other neighbours have seen the value of fostering. This will surely help more children who are in need of fostering.”
Interested in fostering? Call the MSF at 6354 8799 or visit their website on fostering in Singapore.
*accurate at time of print