WhyItMatters

Older kids need foster homes too

At present, only about two-fifths of children who need care live with foster families.

Among those who may miss out are older children and those with special needs. Part of the challenge is the notion that younger children are easier to bring up, while others may be adolescent grouches or face more serious underlying traumas.

"People say, 'Oh, those older children are not like a blank slate, and they come with their own characters and issues'," said Ms Audrie Siew, the Ministry of Social and Family Development's director of children in care services.

While it is understandable for foster families to have concerns about their ability to look after vulnerable children, those who work with these children say it is a two-way street. Madam Asiah Mohamed Salleh, 58, whose foster children include a teenager with Down syndrome, said: "Despite what many parents may think, foster teens do open their hearts to you if you open your heart to them."

More can be done but a key challenge has been the recruitment of new foster families. While the number of foster families has grown by more than 70 per cent since 2013, and stands at around 420 as at Dec 31, 2016, this is still some way off from the government target of 500 foster families by 2020.

In a speech last November, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin explained the benefits of foster families. "Children grow best within a family environment as it provides a more natural and nurturing environment for the child's development," he said. "Such settings allow these children to receive love and care - a powerful healing ingredient for children who have been hurt."

The Government will be on a drive to recruit more foster parents and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Faishal Ibrahim made an appeal to care for infants, older children and teenagers, and those with special needs.

The most vulnerable need not just an open home, but a heart open towards embracing others, and not shying away from the ugliness of trauma, neglect or hurt in the community.

Annabeth Leow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline 'Older kids need foster homes too'. Print Edition | Subscribe