Sanctuary for kids closing its doors

Ms Risela Darmawan (left) and Ms Gillian McConnell are among the staff running the Sanctuary Care service at Boys' Town, which has taken over the foster care service provided by Sanctuary House.
Ms Risela Darmawan (left) and Ms Gillian McConnell are among the staff running the Sanctuary Care service at Boys' Town, which has taken over the foster care service provided by Sanctuary House.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Charity which cares for babies temporarily and abused kids cannot find and retain staff

Sanctuary House, a small charity which looks after abused children and babies whose mothers are unable to care for them, is to close down soon.

Boys' Town, another charity, is taking over its foster care service.

Mr Wong Meng Kong, who is on Sanctuary House's board of directors, told The Straits Times that the charity is closing as it has been difficult to attract and retain staff.

It has been run largely by just one worker in the past few years - when it needed five employees - and the board felt it was not feasible to continue, given its manpower woes.

"We are very small, so it is very hard to get social workers to join us," said Mr Wong.

"Even if we can match the pay of what other charities are paying, people may think their prospects here are limited."

Sanctuary House's accounts are being audited, after which it will hand over its assets of about $600,000 in cash to Boys' Town and apply to de-register as a charity. All winding-up procedures should be completed in the next two months.

A STRUGGLE

We are very small, so it is very hard to get social workers to join us. Even if we can match the pay of what other charities are paying, people may think their prospects here are limited.

MR WONG MENG KONG, who is on Sanctuary House's board of directors, on why the charity is closing.

Sanctuary House was started in 2005 by a group of volunteers to care for babies temporarily, while their mothers decided whether to keep their infants or give them up for adoption.

As the charity grew, it took in children sent by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). They had often been abused or had parents who were incapacitated and unable to look after them.

At its peak, Sanctuary House had about 50 foster parents who volunteered to care for between 50 and 100 children a year. The children lived in their foster parents' homes for months and sometimes years, depending on their circumstances.

While it has a steady pool of volunteer foster parents, Mr Wong said it struggled to hire and retain the professional paid staff to manage the cases and volunteers.

When Sanctuary House decided to call it quits last year, it sounded out Boys' Town about taking over the foster care service.

Boys' Town executive director Irene Loi said: "We felt Sanctuary House's service was very valuable and much needed. It complements the service we run."

Boys' Town already provides a foster care service for abused or neglected children sent to it by the MSF. In January, Boys' Town started Sanctuary Care, the service it is taking over from Sanctuary House.

It will assist low-income parents who need short-term childcare help, such as those who are ill, or facing a family or pregnancy crisis.

 

Its foster parents will look after these children for up to six months, while social workers help the parents work through their problems so they are better able to care for their children. The service is free.

Ms Jennifer Heng, director of Dayspring New Life Centre which supports women facing a pregnancy crisis, said that Sanctuary House was the only non-governmental organisation offering a foster care service to help women struggling to raise their newborn babies on their own.

Such women, who may be teens or young adults with no family support, need help in caring for their babies temporarily while they get their lives in order by finding a job or a place to stay, for example.

• Sanctuary Care can be contacted via its helpline on 6221-0588 or by e-mail at sanctuarycare@boystown.org.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'Sanctuary for kids closing its doors'. Print Edition | Subscribe