150 more families needed to foster older children: Desmond Lee

An exhibition of photos by children under foster care and staff of Ministry of Social and Family Development MSF at the launch of Foster Care Week at Punggol Waterway Point. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Mr Gerard Nonis and Madam Susanna Daniels are foster parents to six children, including 17-year-old Timothy, one of the participants in the event's photo exhibition. ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS

SINGAPORE - There is a demand for 150 more families to foster older children and teenagers over the next few years as a third of foster charges are now aged 10 and above.

Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF), urged more families "to open up their hearts and homes" to foster children, in his speech at the launch of Foster Care Week at Waterway Point on Monday (Sept 25).

To raise awareness of foster care and to encourage more families to join the scheme, MSF is rolling out the second edition of Foster Care Week. The inaugural week was held last September. The theme this year is "Fostering Changes Lives".

The launch event is a photo exhibition featuring images taken by foster children and teenagers depicting how their lives have been positively impacted.

For instance, there is a photograph taken by a foster teenager of a walk at the beach with her foster family, while another photograph showed a foster child's improvement in grades from 56/100 in February to 87/100 in July this year.

The leap in scores signals that the child felt safe and supported enough to be able to focus on her studies, said Mr Lee, who was at his first MSF event since he began helming the ministry on Sept 11 following Cabinet changes announced on Sept 5. Mr Lee is also Second Minister for National Development.

The exhibition will run daily till Sunday Oct 1, from 11am to 9pm at these locations: Waterway Point, Junction 8, Westgate Indoor Atrium, and Paya Lebar Square.

Mr Alvin Goh, the director of MSF's Children In Care Service, said the ministry's aim is to have more children under their fostering scheme.

Currently the proportion of children in residential care such as children's homes, compared to children under the scheme, stands at 60 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.

Counsellor Dolly Loh, 57, has been fostering a child for two years now. She said the foster child, 5, used to throw tantrums 10 times a day as he was unable to verbalise his feelings.

But with care and therapy, his tantrums have dropped to just one or two a week.

Ms Loh said: "It was challenging, but he improved so much and he has changed from an angry, young boy to one who is so happy and cheerful. Children need a family environment with tender, loving care to grow up in."

Meanwhile, foster parents police man Gerard Nonis, 54, and his wife, homemaker Madam Susannah Daniels, 51, have taken six multi-racial foster children under their wing, on top of their own four children who are Afro-Asian.

Madam Daniels, who makes it a point to prepare dinner for the family each night that includes favourites such as macaroni and cheese and shepherd's pie, said: "We started doing this 17 years ago because we both came from big families and we love children."

They now currently foster three children. The family of nine lives in a 5-room flat in Woodlands. Their foster son, Timothy (not his real name), 17, participated in the event's photo exhibition.

Timothy, who is considering joining the Navy full-time, said that having foster parents around during the important teenage years is crucial. "We need support to help make some key decisions including what to do as a career."

The MSF Fostering Scheme, established in 1956, has helped 5,500 foster children to date.

It caters to children below the age of 18 who have been abandoned, neglected or abused by their parents, or because their parents cannot care for them due to imprisonment or illness.

As of July this year, the scheme had 430 foster parents and 450 foster children.

Over the past three years, MSF has ramped up recruitment and improved support for foster parents so that fewer children end up in institutions.

In 2014, the ministry announced an $8 million, three-year pilot scheme to boost the foster-care system by having dedicated fostering agencies to support parents in better caring for foster children. They are the MCYC Community Services Society, Boys' Town and Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura.

Last year, four out of every 10 children unable to live with their own families were cared for by foster families - up from 3 out of 10 in 2013.

Upon being placed with a child, foster families receive fostering allowance. This allowance aims to help defray the cost of caring for a foster child.

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

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